After a tense, up-and-down (and-up-and-down-and-up) game, with some smart batting and quick thinking from Johnny Damon, and yet another monster (centaur-ish, even?) Alex Rodriguez hit, the Yankees beat the Phillies 7-4 and took a 3-1 lead in the Series. Now they’ve got three more chances to get that 11th postseason win… but for the sake of older Yankees fans and those with hypertension or weak hearts, let’s hope this thing doesn’t go to Game 7.
For one thing, while CC Sabathia came through and pitched a solid game tonight, he wasn’t quite the dominant force he was against the Angels; he’s now thrown 266 innings this year, so it would hardly be shocking if he was getting a little worn out. The Yankees staked him to a 2-run lead right away, on Jeter’s single, Damon’s double, Teixeira’s RBI groundout, A-Rod’s third HBP of the last two games, and Posada’s sac fly; for a little while, it looked like Blanton might implode. But either he got it together or the Yankees let him off the hook, depending on your point of view, and in the bottom of the first Sabathia gave back a run on two doubles – the second hit by Sabathia’s current arch-nemesis Chase Utley (who now, with that hair, looks like the sidekick to the snobby frat-guy villain of a Revenge of the Nerds sequel).
Both pitchers clamped down after that, until the bottom of the fourth, when Ryan Howard – you remember Ryan Howard – singled and scored on Pedro Feliz’s hit to left, tying the game. It didn’t last long: the Yankees rallied right back in the top of the fifth, with Jeter and Damon coming through again, knocking in Nick Swisher and Melky Cabrera respectively, and making it 4-2 Yankees.
Since it was That Kind of Game, that score didn’t last, either. In the seventh Utley destroyed yet another Sabathia slider, pulling the Phillies to within a run, and ending Sabathia’s night at a workmanlike 6.2 innings with three earned runs, six strikeouts and three walks. The Phillies went on to tie it up the eighth, when Pedro Feliz of all people rudely interrupted an otherwise-excellent Joba Chamberlain inning with a big blast to left: 4-4.
Charlie Manuel brought in Brad Lidge for the ninth, and the Philly closer made pretty quick work of Hideki Matsui and Derek Jeter. I admit that at this point, I was trying and failing to imagine the Yankees surviving an inning of Phil Coke. Johnny Damon’s two-out at-bat, though, turned everything around, not just for Lidge but very possible for the Phillies. It took nine tense pitches, as Damon fouled off several sliders and fastball after fastball, looking for something he could hit – and when he finally got it, he dumped it into left field.
With Mark Teixeira up, Damon immediately took off for second base, slid in with a little room to spare… then popped up, paused for just a fraction of a second, and took off for third. “I was like, ‘Where is he going?!’” said Jorge Posada after the game, and that makes two of us. Joba Chamberlain said he had “a mini heart attack” watching the play, while Brett Gardner’s initial reaction was “Uh oh.” I think most Yankee fans could probably relate to one if not all of those responses, but in fact, Damon simply realized that because on the shift on Teixeira, no one was covering third base – no one was even close to covering third base – and that given where Pedro Feliz had caught the ball, he wasn’t in any position to outrun Damon. Hence, two stolen bases on a single pitch.
Teixeira was hit by a pitch – I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, but still, Phillies pitchers: if you can’t pitch inside without hitting people, maybe don’t throw inside so much – and that brought up Alex Rodriguez. Of course. Lidge seemed rattled by then, and his second pitch to Rodriguez was a fat fastball that was promptly redirected towards the left field wall. The Yankees went up 5-4, and then up 7-4 on Jorge Posada’s two-run single. That was all they’d get, but not once in Mariano Rivera’s postseason career has three runs not been enough, and tonight was no exception.
(Incidentally, I love how Yankee fans have embraced the whole centaur thing. Personally, I think it’s hilarious if true – and it’s almost too weird to be invented – but anyway, Rodriguez has hit so well for most of this postseason, it would take a pretty serious felony for anyone to be bothered at this point).
Needless to say, the Series ain’t over til it’s over, as someone who’d know once put it, and you don’t have to try too hard to imagine ways in which the momentum could shift – Cliff Lee tomorrow, just for instance. But the Yankees are awfully close now… so stock up on the self-medication of your choice and get ready for another wild night.