"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Tag: 2009 World Series

They Live

Joe Girardi pulls A.J. Burnett with none out in the third (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)In a way it was classic A.J. Burnett. Just when I was ready to make my peace with his presence on the Yankees and accept him as a key contributor to a championship club, he took the mound in the potential World Series clincher and managed just six outs before getting the hook.

Burnett’s stinker was especially hard to take as Cliff Lee, whom most expected to shut down the Yankees again in Monday night’s Game Five like he did in Game One, was vulnerable. The Yankees managed just an unearned run in the ninth against Lee in Game One, but last night they jumped on the board in the top of the first on a Johnny Damon single and an Alex Rodriguez double. That lead was gone in the blink of an eye, however, as Jimmy Rollins greeted Burnett with a single back up through the middle, Shane Victorino got hit on the right hand attempting to bunt Rollins up, and Chase Utley crushed a first-pitch fastball for a three-run homer that put the Phillies up 3-1 before Burnett had recorded an out.

Burnett stranded a subsequent walk to Ryan Howard and worked around a two-out walk to Rollins in the second, but when he started the third with two more walks, both of which came around to score on singles by Jayson Werth and Raul Ibañez, Joe Girardi had seen enough. The first four batters reached against Burnett in two of his three innings of work and he had walked four and given up five runs on four hits without getting an out in the third, using up 53 pitches in the process.

With runners on the corners and none out, Girardi turned to David Robertson, who allowed the man on third to score on a fielder’s choice, but avoided an escalation of the inning, then pitched a perfect fourth. The Yankees got a run back in the fifth when Eric Hinske walked for Robertson, went to third on a Derek Jeter single, and scored on a Damon groundout. Alfredo Aceves then pitched in two scoreless innings, but after Jerry Hairston Jr. flied out for Aceves, Phil Coke was unable to answer in kind.

Utley connects for a record-tying home run (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)Brought in to face Utley, Howard, and, if necessary, Ibañez, Coke was greeted by yet another solo homer by Utley, his fifth dinger of this World Series, tying Reggie Jackson’s single-Series mark set in 1977. Two outs later, Ibañez also went deep off Coke, inflating the Philadelphia lead to 8-2.

Those two runs would prove to be the difference in the game as the Yankees immediately answered back. Damon led off the top of the eighth with an infield single which was followed by doubles by Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, the latter of which plated both Damon and Teixeira and bounced Lee. With Chan Ho Park on in relief, Rodriguez moved to third on a groundout and scored on a shallow sac fly to center by Robinson Cano.

That cut the Phillies’ lead to three runs at 8-5 and, after a scoreless frame by Phil Hughes, the Yanks got right back at it. Having watched Brad Lidge blow the game the night before, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel chose Ryan Madson for the ninth inning this time and only narrowly avoided a similar result.

Madson was greeted by a double by Jorge Posada and a single by pinch-hitter Hideki Matsui. Facing the potential tying run, Madson fell behind Derek Jeter 2-0 before getting the Captain to ground into a sadly predictable double play (I say that only because I, sadly, predicted it). Posada scored on the DP, however, and Damon followed with a single that brought Mark Teixeira to the plate as the tying run.

With the Citizens Bank Park crowd roaring and waving towels like 46,178 Phil McConkeys, Madson threw Teixeira a first-pitch fastball on the outside corner for strike one followed by a trio of changeups that dove out of the zone. Teixeira swung over the first as Damon took second, took the second for ball one, then swung over the third for strike three, giving the Phillies an 8-6 win and sending the Series back to the Bronx for Game Six.

Neither of the last two games unfolded exactly as expected, but the results were the same. When the Series moved to Philadelphia tied 1-1, I said the Yankees would win behind Pettitte and Sabathia, lose to Lee, and head home up 3-2, and that’s exactly what they’ve done. I’m sure any fan, as well as the Yankees themselves, would have signed up for that three games ago, as the Yankees now have two chances two win the Series at home and a significant pitching advantage in a potential Game Seven with CC Sabathia going against an as-yet-unnamed Philly starter that could be the struggling Cole Hamels or the largely unused J.A. Happ.

Though he wasn’t all that impressive in this game, the Yankees can sleep well knowing they won’t be facing Lee again, and that they’ve made noise against both of the Phillies’ closer options. Losing a game that could have clinched a world championship isn’t fun, but the Yankees are in great position to win either of the final two games of this Series. As Teixeira said after the game, the Yankees were in a similar position in the ALCS, losing a potential clincher in Game Five. They then went home and wrapped up the series in Game Six behind Andy Pettitte. I won’t be surprised if they do it again.


If the first two games of this World Series could have gone either way, the pitching matchups in Games Three and Four clearly favored the Yankees and, though they came close, it was the Phillies’ inability to break serve that has them one win away from failing in their bid to repeat as world champions.

Tonight’s pitching matchup calls for a Phillies victory that would send the Series back up the Turnpike with the Yankees leading 3-2. The Phillies haven’t lost a game started by Cliff Lee this postseason as Lee has been flat-out dominant. In four starts, he has tossed two complete games and twice struck out ten men without walking a batter, and doing both of those things in Game One of this World Series against the Yankees. In his four starts combined, Lee has walked just three, given up no home runs, and allowed just two earned runs, giving him a 0.54 ERA, 0.69 WHIP, and 10.0 K/BB. Opponents are hitting just .171/.192/.214 against Lee this postseason. His worst start saw him give up three runs, two of them unearned in 7 1/3 innings against the Rockies in Game Four of the NLDS. However good you think Cliff Lee has been, he’s been better.

That’s why the Phillies’ decision not to try to get three starts out of Lee drastically reduced their chances of repeating. Sure, Lee had never pitched on three-days’ rest before, but that doesn’t mean he can’t or that he wouldn’t succeed if he tried. One could argue that the Phils were better off getting two guaranteed wins from a fully-rested Lee than risking the second win by trying to milk a third out of him, but that only works if a) the Phillies can somehow win two other games (with a maximum of three games left in the series they’ve still won only Lee’s one start) and b) if they win tonight.

As I said, tonight’s pitching matchup clearly favors the Phillies, but that doesn’t mean A.J. Burnett is chopped liver. Despite all of my complaints about his contract and his inconsistency (both of which remain problematic, the contract especially), Burnett has answered the bell every time the Yankees have rung it. He took his turn every five days during the regular season, surpassing 30 starts for just the third time in his career, and, save for a bad first inning in Game Five against the Angels and his usual assortment of walks, hit batters, and wild pitches (resulting in 18 free bases in 25 1/3 innings), has been nails in the postseason. Burnett’s Game Two start against the Phillies would have bested Lee’s Game Four outing against the Rockies, so there’s more than momentum to cling to for those hoping the Yankees will wrap things up tonight.

The old baseball saying is that momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher, but sometimes in postseason series a heartbreaking loss that puts a team one game away from elimination really does carry over to the next game. Think of the Giants in the 2002 Series or the Cubs in the 2003 NLCS (both walking-dead Game Sevens by Dusty Baker managed teams), the Cardinals in the 1985 World Series after Don Denkinger’s call opened the door to their collapse in Game Six, or the Angels in the 1986 ALCS after Dave Henderson’s Game Six home run ripped the pennant out of their hands. The Red Sox got a lead in Game Seven of the 1986 World Series, but I doubt even they believed they’d hold it after their crushing loss in Game Six.

The Phillies weren’t on the verge of the championship last night, they weren’t even really on the verge of tying up the series (they never had a lead in the game), but Pedro Feliz’s game-tying home run and Brad Lidge’s return to perfection in the first two rounds of the postseason made them believe they had the game in hand with the score tied 4-4 and two outs in the top of the ninth. The crowd even thought they had the final out in that inning when Johnny Damon foul tipped a would-be strike three from Lidge early in his game-changing at-bat. The sequence of events that followed (Damon’s single and steal of second and third on a single pitch against the shift, Alex Rodriguez’s ringing go-ahead double, and Jorge Posada’s two-RBI single, which gave Mariano Rivera some unneeded breathing room) was legitimately heartbreaking for a Phillies team that was flush with excitement after tying up the game in the previous half inning. They’d be right to wonder if they couldn’t complete that comeback what hope have they of coming back in the Series.

At the risk of rousing the ghosts of 2004, I’d say none. The only question is whether or not this series goes back to the Bronx, like the ALCS did, or Burnett and company get it done tonight despite the presence of Lee.

Major League Baseball has yet to approve the Yankees’ request to replace the injured Melky Cabrera, who tore his hamstring running to first last night, but Brett Gardner would be in center field either way and is tonight. With Jose Molina catching Burnett yet again, that gives the Yankees a bottom five of Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner, Jose Molina, and Burnett. That against Cliff Lee. Molina hits lefties better than righties (.259/.306/.384 career) and Gardner is at least Melky’s equal (beyond the gains in speed and defense, he posted a .272 EqA this year to Melky’s .267). Still looking at that lineup, one suspects we’ll get a sixth game out of this Series after all.

Sticking To The Plan

Pettitte prepares for Game Three (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)Given the starters’ previous performances this postseason, the pitching matchup in Saturday night’s Game Three of the World Series, which pit Andy Pettitte against Cole Hamels, heavily favored the Yankees. That advantage played out as the Yankees took a 2-1 lead in the series behind a solid performance by Pettitte that included an unexpected game-tying single.

By his own admission, Pettitte was a bit off his game when the game began after an hour-twenty-minute rain delay. That manifested itself most in the second inning, when he had trouble finding the strike zone. Pettitte started the inning by falling behind Jayson Werth 3-0. Werth then reached out and yanked a 3-1 curve that was low and away into the seats in left to open the scoring. After Pettitte struck out Raul Ibañez, Pedro Feliz doubled into the right-field gap on a 1-0 pitch and, with the pitcher on deck, Pettitte walked Carlos Ruiz on five pitches.

Cole Hamels followed with a bunt to the third base side of the mound. Pettitte ran over to field it, but hesitated thinking Jorge Posada was going to make the play coming out from behind home. Posada similarly hesitated seeing Pettitte beat him to the ball and those two brief pauses allowed Hamels to reach safely, loading the bases with out a play. Pettitte then walked Jimmy Rollins on five pitches, forcing in a run, and after Shane Victorino inexplicably swung at two pitches out of the zone, gave up a sac fly to Victorino that made it 3-0 Phillies.

Pettitte rallied to strike out Chase Utley to end the second, then didn’t allow another hit (or walk) until the sixth inning, when Werth again led off with a solo homer, this one an absolute bomb off the facing of the second deck in left. By then, however, the game situation was very different.

The camera hit by Rodriguez's home run (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)When Mark Teixeira walked with one out in the fourth, he was just the second Yankee baserunner of the game (Alex Rodriguez was hit by a pitch in the second), but Rodriguez followed with an apparent double off the top of the wall in the right-field corner for the first Yankee hit. Upon further review, however, the ball hit into the lens of a television camera just above the fence. The right field umpire admitted that the ball made an odd sound when it hit, so the officials went to the video replay for the first time in World Series history and came back, almost instantaneously, with the correct call, giving Rodriguez a home run and bringing the Yankees within 3-2. (Coincidentally, Rodriguez also hit the first reviewed home run in regular season history.)

An inning later, Nick Swisher, whose struggles this postseason led to his being benched in favor of Jerry Hairston Jr. in Game Two, led off with a double. With the pitchers’ spot on deck, Hamels struck out Melky Cabrera. Had Cabrera walked, Andy Pettitte likely would have bunted the runners up, but with one out, he was swinging away and flipped a first-pitch curveball by Hamels into shallow left center for a game-tying RBI single. It was the first World Series RBI by a Yankee pitcher since Jim Bouton drove in a run in the 1964 classic.

Pettitte's game-tying single (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Derek Jeter followed Pettitte with another first pitch single that fell in front of a sliding Victorino in center, then nearly ran up Pettitte’s back as both were plated by a double by Damon, which gave the Yankees a 5-3 lead. An inning later, with lefty J.A. Happ on in relief of Hamels, Swisher delivered again with a solo homer to left. That put the Yankees up 6-3 when Werth connected for his second homer. The Yankees then got that run back in the top of the seventh when Damon drew a one-out walk, stole second (though replays showed he was out), and scored on a single by Posada.

With Pettitte at 104 pitches having battled through a night in which he claimed not to be able to control his pitches or throw his curveball for strikes, yet still struck out seven Phillies, including Chase Utley and Ryan Howard twice each, Joe Girardi turned to his bullpen for the seventh. The biggest concern for the Yankees heading into the game was how the set-up relievers would perform in between Pettitte, who has maxed out at 6 1/3 innings this postseason, and Mariano Rivera, who was unlikely to go more than an inning after throwing 39 pitches on Thursday night.

No worries. Joba Chamberlain needed just nine pitches to set the top three men in the Phillies lineup down in order in the seventh. After Hideki Matsui increased the Yankee lead to 8-4 with a pinch-hit home run in the top of the eighth, Damaso Marte then came on and struck out not just Howard, but also Werth, then got Raul Ibañez to line out to third for another perfect inning of relief. A crack appeared in the ninth, when Phil Hughes gave up a one-out solo homer to Carlos Ruiz, setting the final score at 8-5, but with that Girardi brought in Rivera, who got the last two outs on five pitches.

The Yankees now have a 2-1 lead in the Series, making them the first team to hold a  series lead on the Phillies since the Rockies in 2007, and CC Sabathia going up against Joe Blanton in Game Four. A win behind Sabathia would put the Yankees one win away from their first world championship since 2000. That was the plan all along, and the Yankees are doing a hell of a job of sticking to it.

Taking Advantage

The first two games of this World Series could have gone either way and did. CC Sabathia allowed just two runs in seven innings in Game One, but Cliff Lee allowed just one unearned run in nine as the Phillies cruised to a 1-0 lead. Pedro Martinez was sharp in Game Two, striking out eight in six innings while allowing just three runs, but A.J. Burnett was better, striking out nine and allowing just one run in seven, setting up a six-out save by Mariano Rivera which tied the series at 1-1.

The conventional wisdom is that when the road team splits the first two games of a best-of-seven series, they’ve succeeded in making it a best-of-five series in which they have the majority of the home games. That’s true, to a point, but it overlooks the sizeable advantages the Yankees retain in this series. To begin with, they still have home field advantage for what are likely to be the two most important games of the Series, Games Six and Seven, both of which will find at least one team a win away from the championship. The Yankees also have the edge in at least three of the remaining pitching matchups, including tonight’s and tomorrow’s.

Yesterday, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel announced that Joe Blanton, not Cliff Lee, would start Sunday’s Game Four. Lee will only have had three-days’ rest heading into Sunday, and he’s never started on short rest in his major league career. He also threw 122 pitches in his Game One shutout. Thus, Blanton, which gives the Yankees a sizeable advantage as Joe Girardi announced today that he will indeed start CC Sabathia on short rest in Game Four. Pitching on three-days’ rest in Game Four of the ALCS, Sabathia held the Angels to one run (on a solo homer) in eight innings. Sabathia also dominated in three consecutive short-rest starts for the Brewers as the 2008 season drew to a close (0.83 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 21 K, 4 BB, 0 HR in 21 2/3 IP). Until he was bested by Lee in Game One, the Yankees had won all three of Sabathia’s starts this postseason, and with Blanton opposing him in Game Four, the Yankees have to be heavily favored in that game as well.

Entering the Series, when it seemed that Manuel would start Lee on short rest, tonight’s game looked like most favorable pitching matchup for the Yankees. Cole Hamels pitched the Phillies to the title last year, but this postseason he’s been just shy of awful, posting a 6.75 ERA while allowing six home runs in just 14 2/3 innings over three starts (that’s 3.7 HR/9). That bad run actually extends back through Hamels’ last three starts of the regular season, giving him a 6.89 ERA and 1.50 WHIP over his last six starts.

The Phillies have actually won two of Hamels three postseason starts, both against the Dodgers, but did so by scoring a combined 18 runs. That doesn’t seem likely to happen tonight as Andy Pettitte has been his usual reliable self. Pettitte has lasted 6 1/3 innings in all three of his starts this postseason, walked just one man in each, and only once allowed as many as three runs. In fact, Pettitte’s last six postseason starts dating back to the 2005 NLCS have been quality starts (2.15 ERA, 4.0 K/BB), and in his last 13 postseason starts, including all of the 2003 playoffs and World Series, he’s posted a 2.64 ERA and turned in 11 quality starts. In his one regular season start against the Phillies this year, Pettitte gave up four runs in seven innings, but three of those runs scored on a home run by John Mayberry Jr., who isn’t even on the Phillies’ World Series roster.

Hamels is starting at home, where he his ERA was nearly a run and a quarter lower than his road mark this year, but Pettitte was significantly better on the road and has allowed just one earned run in 12 career innings at Citizens Bank Park. This matchup clearly favors the Yankees, and it will be on the offense and the bullpen to cash in these next two games, especially with the dominant Lee starting on full rest in Game Five (likely against A.J. Burnett on short rest).

Judging by the starting pitching matchups alone, this Series should return to the Bronx with the Yankees leading 3-2 and should find Sabathia, pitching on short rest for the second time in a row, lined up to face Hamels in a Game Seven matchup that also heavily favors the Yankees.

The only catch is the weather. If any of these games is rained out (and there’s a 70 percent chance of rain tonight, though the teams believe they’re going to get the game in), it could wipe out the Yankees’ hopes of starting Sabathia twice more and could line up his then-only-remaining start with Lee’s on Monday, thus making CC a near non-factor rather than the expected difference maker. If that happens, it will make taking advantage of something like tonight’s Pettitte-Hamels pairing all the more crucial to the Yankees’ success in this series.

Nick Swisher returns to the Yankee lineup tonight. He’s never faced Hamels before. Hideki Matsui rides pine due to the lack of DH at the National League Park. Expect a pinch-hitting appearance from Matsui in the late innings, but don’t expect to see him in the field unless there’s a substitution crunch (the Yankees have Gardner, Hinske, and Hairston who can go out to the field before Matsui would have to), particularly on a wet field. The Phillies’ lineup is standard.

Cliff ‘Em All

For seven innings of Wednesday night’s opening game of the 2009 World Series, the hotly anticipated matchup of left-handed aces and former Cleveland Indians teammates lived up to its billing, but in the end there was just Cliff Lee.

Cliff Lee delivers (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Lee, who shutout the Rockies in the first postseason start of his career in Game One of this year’s NLDS and entered the game having allowed just two earned runs in 24 1/3 innings this postseason, was simply dominant. On a cold, wet night in the Bronx, Lee was quick, sharp, almost robotic in his efficiency, and seemed utterly indifferent to significance of the game.

In his first two innings of work he allowed just a Jorge Posada single and struck out four. After allowing another hit in the third, a two-out double by Derek Jeter, he struck out Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Jorge Posada in order in the fourth. For both Teixeira and Rodriguez it was their second strikeout in as many at-bats against Lee.

The Yankees got the leadoff batter on in the fifth on a Hideki Matsui single, but he was promptly erased by an unusual double play on a sinking flare off the bat of Robinson Cano to Jimmy Rollins at shortstop. Rather than charge the ball to catch it chest-high, Rollins stayed back on the ball in an apparent attempt to snag the short hop and turn a conventional double play. After gloving the ball, Rollins did just that, stepping on second and firing to first, but Cano beat the throw. The trick was that Rollins actually caught the ball on the fly, thus his throw to first doubled off Matsui. It took the umpires a while to figure that out, but after huddling up they eventually got the call right.

Lee pitched around a Johnny Damon single in the seventh, then didn’t allow another baserunner until the ninth.

Meanwhile, CC Sabathia, after surviving a two-out bases-loaded jam in the first, nearly matched Lee, with two crucial exceptions. With two outs in the third, Chase Utley battled Sabathia for nine pitches. Chase Utley goes deep for the first run of the Series (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)The last was a knee-high fastball that was supposed to be in, but drifted over the plate, allowing Utley to deposit it in the first few rows of the right-field box seats to give the Phillies an early 1-0 lead. The home run was a short-porch shot to be sure, but likely would have been out of the old Stadium as well.

Utley’s next at-bat came with one out in the sixth. Sabathia had retired every man he faced since Utley’s home run and got two quick called strikes on Utley, who then fouled off the third pitch. Sabathia’s fourth offering was a thigh-high fastball that was supposed to be inside, but drifted over the plate, allowing Utley to deposit it in the first few rows of the right-field bleachers, a no-doubter that gave the Phillies a 2-0 lead. Given Lee’s dominance and the fact that the Yankees were down to their last nine outs, that deficit felt much larger than it actually was.

As if to accentuate his command of the game, Lee got Johnny Damon to hit a badminton birdie back to the mound in the bottom of the sixth. Lee barely moved his feet to catch Damon’s floater. He simply stuck out his glove and made a casual, one-handed catch as if he was receiving a return throw from his catcher. The next inning, Jorge Posada hit a chopper to the first-base side of the mound. Rather than flip it to first base, Lee ran directly at Posada in a play reminiscent of the last out of the 2003 World Series, and rather than tag Posada on the chest or stomach with two hands, Lee gave the hot-headed Yankee catcher a roundhouse pat on the rear end to retire him. In the next frame, Robinson Cano led off with a hard hopper that Lee casually caught blindly behind his back. It was Cliff Lee’s night, the Yankees and the 50,207 fans in the stands were merely supporting players, and mild-mannered ones at that.

Other than Utley’s two homers, the Phillies managed just two hits against CC Sabathia, one of them a Ryan Howard double in the first inning, but they worked deep counts, drew three walks, and bounced the Yankee ace from the game after he threw 117 pitches in seven innings. That allowed the Phills to sink their teeth into the Yankees’ suddenly shaky middle relief corps.

Phil Hughes was the first lamb to the slaughter. He started the eighth by walking Jimmy Rollins on eight pitches and Shane Victorino on seven more before getting a quick hook. Damaso Marte came on and struck out Utley and got Howard to fly out, but David Robertson, in to face the righty Jason Werth, loaded the bases on a four-pitch walk, then gave up a two-run single to Raul Ibañez that doubled the Phillies’ lead. Brian Bruney, who hadn’t seen game action since the regular season, got two quick outs in the ninth, but Rollins reached on a slow roller that stopped short of Alex Rodriguez on the infield grass, and Victorino followed with an RBI single. Joe Girardi then turned to Phil Coke to face Utley and Howard. CoRollins and Victorino score in the eighth (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)ke fell behind Utley 3-1 before getting him to fly out, then Howard doubled into the right-field corner, plating Rollins to increase the lead to 6-0.

Those insurance runs were killers, particularly after Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon opened the ninth with singles off Lee that otherwise would have given the Yankees hope of yet another comeback. The shutout was lost when Rollins threw wild to first base trying to turn Mark Teixeira’s ensuing grounder into a double play, but Lee stopped the Yankees there by striking out Rodriguez and Posada on a total of eight pitches to give the Phillies a 6-1 win and an early 1-0 lead in the Series.

2009 World Series: Yankees vs. Phillies

The Yankees and Phillies have more in common than just winning their respective league pennants. Both boast their league’s best offense (the first time the two top offenses have reached the World Series since the Red Sox and Cardinals met in 2004). Both are likely to try to get three starts out of a left-handed ace who won the Cy Young with the Cleveland Indians and has been dominant in three postseason starts this month. Both will have a lineup that includes three lefties when an opposing lefty is on the mound (both have two left-handers in their rotation). Both have seen their elite set-up men struggle in the playoffs to this point. Both play good defense and steal bases efficiently with speed not only at the top of the lineup, but from some of their big power guys as well. Both are home-run hitting teams that play in homer-friendly ball parks. Both have been led by a superstar cleanup hitter who has been white hot in this postseason. Both won the Eastern division and beat the Wild Card and Western Division champion to reach the World Series. Both have lost just two games all postseason. Both already have one championship this decade and are looking to tie the Red Sox with the most in the decade with another win.

The Yankees return to the World Series after a five-year break (which, amazingly, is their third longest pennant drought since the acquisition of Babe Ruth) as the favorites, but that seems disrespectful to the defending World Champions. The Phillies are the first team to win back-to-back pennants since the 2000 and 2001 Yankees, and the first championship team to defend their title in the World Series since that ’01 Yankee squad. When the Yankees last went to the World Series in 2003, many were of the mind that their knock-down, drag-out ALCS against the Red Sox was the real championship and that the ensuing World Series, which saw a battered Yankee team stumble to a six-game defeat, was an afterthought. That is not at all the case this year. While the ALCS was tightly contested six-game series against a hated rival, the Yankees were clearly a better team than the Angels going in. They are likely still a better team than the Phillies on paper, but the margin has closed to such a degree that the difference between the two teams is almost negligible.


Derek Jeter (.334/.406/.465, 18 HR, 30 SB @ 86%)
Jimmy Rollins (.250/.296/.423, 21 HR, 31 SB @ 79%)

Providing a nice set of bookends for the 2009 season, Jeter and Rollins began the year sharing the shortstop job for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic and will now conclude it as opposing shortstops in the Fall Classic. Back in March, I thought Rollins was the obvious choice to start over Jeter in the WBC as the two had been comparable at the plate in 2008, and Rollins was clearly superior in the field. Then the regular season started and Rollins fell into an awful slump that lasted three months (.205/.250/.319 though July 1), while Jeter rebounded from what had been one of his worst offensive seasons in 2008 to have a near-MVP-quality season. What’s more, Jeter, working with new first base and infield coach Mick Kelleher, had perhaps his finest defensive season, while Rollins brought his struggles out to the field. As a result, Jeter trumped the 2007 NL MVP in every phase of the game in 2009.

Rollins made a nice comeback over the last three months, hitting .288/.334/.510 with 20 steals in 23 tries after July 1, but he’s looked more like the first-half Rollins thus far this postseason, hitting .244/.279/.317 with no walks or steals to Jeter’s .297/.435/.595.

Johnny Damon (.282/.365/.489, 24 HR, 12 SB @ 100%)
Shane Victorino (.292/.358/.445, 13 3B, 25 SB @ 76%)

Damon’s road numbers (.284/.349/.446) look a lot like Victorino’s overall line this year, while switch-hitter Victorino get’s a nice spike against lefties (.314/.385/.459). If this Series goes seven games, Damon will get four games at friendly Yankee Stadium (.279/.382/.533, 17 HR), while Victorino could make four starts against lefty pitching. Damon shook off his Division Series slump with a .300/.323/.533 line against the Angels in the ALCS, but Victorio, is a career .299/.370/.577 hitter in 26 postseason games and has been red-hot this October, hitting .361/.439/.722 with a trio of homers. Folding in the larger regular season sample, I’m going to call this one even.

Mark Teixeira (.292/.383/.565, 39 HR, 122 RBI)
Chase Utley (.282/.397/.508, 31 HR, 93 RBI, 23 SB @ 100%)

Add those 23 stolen bases in 23 attempts to Utley’s total bases and his slugging jumps to .548. And, yes, Teixeira can switch-hit with similar results from both sides, but lefty-hitting Utley hit .288/.417/.545 against lefty pitching this season. Teixeira has been slumping this postseason, but he does have three big hits (the bloop before Alex Rodriguez’s game-tying blast in Game Two of the ALDS, the game-winning home run in that contest, and his bases-loaded double in Game Five against the Angels), and was 4 for his last 9 in the ALCS, which means a big World Series breakout could be around the corner. Utley, meanwhile, has just one extra-base hit this postseason. Tex has the edge here, but it’s small enough to be meaningless in a short series.

Alex Rodriguez (.286/.402/.532, 30 HR, 100 RBI, 14 SB @ 88%)
Ryan Howard (.279/.360/.571, 45 HR, 141 RBI, 8 SB @ 89%)

These are the mashers. Both men have had their share of postseason struggles in the past, but both have put those concerns to bed this postseason. Howard has hit .355/.462/.742 with a hit and an RBI in every game until the clincher against the Dodgers. Rodriguez has hit .438/.548/.969 with five home runs and has had a hit in every game and an RBI in all but one. In nine games, Rodriguez has 12 RBIs to Howard’s 14 (the record for a single postseason in 19 held by David Ortiz ’05, Scott Spiezio ’02, and Sandy Alomar Jr. ’97, while the homer record is 8 by Carlos Beltran in ’04).

Howard, who has hit 45 or more home runs in each of the last four seasons, has more pure power, if that’s possible, but Rodriguez is the better overall hitter and player (though Howard is underrated in the field and on the bases because of his bulk). Most significantly, Howard is the one starter on either team who is really defanged by lefty pitching. He hit just .207/.298/.356 against southpaws this year with a strikeout roughly every three plate appearances. That tips the balance in this matchup decidedly in the Yankees’ favor.


Don’t Change Their Stripes

Richie Ashburn models the Phillies' original pinstripes

The Yankees weren’t the first team to wear pinstripes, but they have worn them at home longer than any other team, doing so continuously since 1915. The team that comes the closest is the Phillies, who introduced the ancestor of their current home uniform in 1950, the same year their Whiz Kids met the Yankees in the World Series, and maintained their home pinstripes throughout their 1970-1991 redesign. The Phils’ current home duds differ in a number of ways from the flannels worn by the Whiz Kids (including blue buttons on the caps, blue stars dotting the i’s in “Phillies,” numbers on the left sleeve, names on the back, a new number font, and a purer shade of red), but the gist is the same. Their non-pinstriped alternates, a variation on their home duds from 1946 to 1949, are handsome and would represent a significant upgrade on their current road unis, but their home pinstripes are classics.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver