It took nine years, which admittedly is nothing by the standards of this Cubs fan (they haven’t even REACHED the World Series in my PARENTS’ lifetimes, and both are nearing 60). But that’s an eternity for Yankees fans. Last night, their “wait” ended when the Yankees clinched their 27th championship with a 7-3 win over the Phillies in Game 6 of the World Series.
Hideki Matsui won MVP honors after getting three hits and six RBIs in the clincher. I wish he would have ditched the translator when he got the MVP trophy and for once sounded human. But he had a truly incredible night and is a class act.
Andy Pettitte started on three days’ rest and got the win – his third series clincher in this year’s playoffs. Mariano Rivera got the final five outs. Pettitte, Rivera, Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter – the core remaining from the group that won four titles from 1996-2000 – got their fifth titles. And Alex Rodriguez, who finally had a very good postseason (albeit with a mediocre World Series), got the first title of his 15-year career.
I’m no Yankees fan. But I do have ties to the organization from covering the Yankees’ Double-A affiliate – the Trenton Thunder – from 2005 to 2007. Congratulations to Dave Eiland (pitching coach from 2005-06), Brett Gardner, Melky Cabrera, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Coke and everyone else in the organization who I had the pleasure of working with. I’m happy for those guys.
Only 3 1/2 months until pitchers and catchers report and we start the long slog known as baseball season all over again.
The Phillies’ bullpen, and perhaps Charlie Manuel’s slow trigger, made it far more dramatic than it should have been. But the Phillies extended the World Series with a 8-6 victory in Game 5 last night in the final game of the season at Citizens Bank Park. Cliff Lee wasn’t as good as he was in his first four playoff starts, but he was more than good enough. And the Phillies’ offense finally broke out, in spite of Ryan Howard tying the Major League record for strikeouts in a single postseason.
The series returns to New York for Game 6 on Wednesday and, if necessary, Game 7 on Thursday. I predicted Yankees in 6 before this series started and have no reason to think differently now. I don’t think Pedro Martinez will fool the Yankees again like he did for much of Game 2. And while Andy Pettitte will be on short rest, he and the Yankees offense should be good enough.
The Yankees’ millions may not have been able to buy them reliable middle relief. But they have the vastly superior closer, and it was enough to put them on the brink of their 27th championship with a 7-4 victory last night in Game 4 of the World Series.
After Joba Chamberlain flushed a win for C.C. Sabathia in the bottom of the eighth, Johnny Damon worked out a two-out single in the top of the ninth after a lengthy at-bat against Brad Lidge, who had blown away the first two hitters of the inning. Damon stole second, then alertly took third when Jimmy Rollins tried to bait him to run when Lidge wasn’t covering third base. Damon then scored two batters later when Alex Rodriguez doubled to left. Jorge Posada tacked on two more insurance runs with a base hit, and Rivera needed only 8 pitches in the bottom of the ninth to get the save.
It will be up to Cliff Lee, so dominant this postseason, to keep the Phillies alive in Game 5 tomorrow night. But even if he does so, the Phillies are toast. Game 6 would be a rematch between Pedro Martinez and Andy Pettitte (albeit with the latter on short rest) and Game 7 would be Sabathia against either the struggling Cole Hamels (who said following Game 3 that he can’t wait for the season to end) or J.A. Happ, who has started once in the last month.
It’s just a matter of time until the Yankees parade down the Canyon of Heroes and A-Rod never has to hear about his postseason failures again.
You know your starting pitcher is having a lousy night when he gives up an RBI single to a pitcher from the American League, one who can probably count the number of at-bats he’s had all season on one hand.
Yup, Cole Hamels didn’t have it yet again last night. After starting off well, he got torched for five runs in the fourth and fifth innings as the Yankees regained home field advantage in the World Series with a rain-marred 8-5 win in Game 3 last night at Citizens Bank Park.
Included in that aforementioned carnage were home runs by Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui, Pettitte’s RBI single and clutch hits by Jorge Posada. Pettitte threw 51 pitches in the first two innings, giving up three runs. But he was great over his final four innings to get the win.
After two good performances and one mediocre one in his first three playoff starts, A.J. Burnett delivered a gem last night when the Yankees most needed one, pitching seven innings of four-hit, one-run ball with nine strikeouts in the Yankees’ 3-1 victory over the Phillies in Game 2 of the World Series. It was his first career playoff win.
Amidst the expected taunts of “Who’s Your Daddy?” from Yankee fans, Pedro pitched well himself, certainly much better than I expected from him. He left two batters into the seventh inning, allowing six hits and only three runs (one of which scored after he left) and striking out eight. But solo home runs by Mark Teixeira and Hideki Matsui and Burnett’s own dominance were too much to overcome.
Of course, there were more umpiring blunders. Ryan Howard turned a line-drive double play despite replays showing he fielded the ball on a hop. And Chase Utley was called out at first to end the top of the 8th inning despite replays showing he beat the throw to first.
The series moves to Philly for Game 3 tomorrow.
Cliff Lee did it again for the Phillies on Wednesday, pitching a complete-game six-hitter and out-dueling Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia in a 6-1 victory in Game 1 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium.
Lee improved to 3-0 in the playoffs. He struck out 10, including three against Alex Rodriguez. Sabathia was good too, but the two solo home runs he gave up to Chase Utley were too much on this night.
Alarming for the Yankees are their relievers not named Mariano Rivera. Phil Hughes, Dave Robertson and Brian Bruney combined to give up four runs in the last two innings, squashing the Yankees’ hopes of a comeback.
A.J. Burnett has a lot of pressure on him in Game 2.
The 2009 World Series begins tonight at Yankee Stadium. And I believe the two best teams in baseball are playing for the title.
I also believe the Yankees will end up winning that title.
If the Phillies’ pitching staff were the same as last year, I’d really like their chances. But right now, they have only one reliable starting pitcher (Cliff Lee), and he’s going to be matched up against the Yankees’ best pitcher in C.C. Sabathia. In other words, a Phillies win there is anything but a sure thing. And the rest of the Phillies’ rotation? Cole Hamels has been very ordinary all season and has continued that in the postseason. Pedro Martinez was great against the Dodgers in a day game in warm Los Angeles. I doubt he’ll be nearly as effective in colder weather at night against the Yankees’ lineup. Joe Blanton certainly isn’t going to scare the Yankees’ lineup. And while the Phillies’ bullpen (especially closer Brad Lidge) has pitched better in the playoffs, it still hasn’t improved enough to make me think it can shut down Jeter, Texieira, A-Rod and company late in the game.
For the Yankees, while A.J. Burnett has also been rather ordinary in the playoffs, Andy Pettitte is solid and steady, and we all know about Sabathia. Lefty relievers Damaso Martie and Phil Coke will likely play big roles in this series – both will have to get late-inning outs against Phillies sluggers Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez.
The Phillies are no pushovers and have proven their toughness over the last three seasons. They won’t self destruct the way the Twins and Angels did in big spots. But the Yankees are a bit deeper in the starting rotation, have a much more reliable closer and will be a little too much offensively.
Yankees in 6.
One theme that came out of all four Division Series matchups was the importance of having a closer who can finish off games under postseason duress. All four series were decided at least in part because of a closer’s inability to seal the deal.
Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, who hadn’t allowed an earned run in 26 innings over 17 career postseason appearances, gave up three after retiring the first two batters in the top of the 9th inning Sunday, allowing the Angels to complete a sweep. Minnesota’s Joe Nathan added to his lousy postseason track record by blowing a two-run ninth inning lead in Game 2 against the Yankees and giving up a pair of crucial insurance runs in Game 3. While Cardinals’ left fielder Matt Holliday should have caught that fly ball that would have ended Game 2, Ryan Franklin melted down after that, allowing the Dodgers to take a 2-0 series lead that eventually became a sweep. And Rockies’ closer Huston Street denied his team a chance to play a winner-take-all Game 5 against the Phillies by blowing a two-out, two-run lead in the top of the 9th inning of Game 4….after the Phillies’ much-maligned pen had blown a lead the previous inning.
Just in case Mariano Rivera wasn’t appreciated enough for his remarkable consistency over the years.
Most baseball pundits say the starting rotation is more important in the playoffs, and for the most part, they’ve been right. But many teams with good rotations have lost series because their bullpens didn’t rise to the moment. The 1986 Angels in the ALCS (Dave Henderson’s home run off Donnie Moore), the 1993 Phillies in the World Series, the 1997 Orioles in the ALCS (Armando Benitez blowing two saves and being the losing pitcher three times)…the list goes on. Starters very rarely go the distance anymore, even in the postseason (yay pitchcounts!).
Which brings me to this year’s NLCS, which starts Thursday in Los Angeles. The Dodgers have an outstanding bullpen led by the likes of George Sherrill and Jonathan Broxton, but a very ordinary starting rotation. The Phillies, on the other hand, have a very good 1-2 starting rotation punch in Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels and others like J.A. Happ, Joe Blanton and Pedro Martinez who can be good when they’re on. But getting the final outs of the game is an adventure every night.
So what will give in this series? The beginning of the game? Or the end?
The bullpen is the Phillies’ biggest question entering the playoffs. But the bullpen is a moot point when your starting pitcher delivers the way Cliff Lee did today.
Lee pitched a complete-game six-hitter in the Phillies’ 5-0 victory over the Colorado Rockies in Game 1 of their National League Division Series. Lee came within one strike of a shutout in his first career playoff start. He also got a hit and stole a base.