Series now Yankees' to lose after clutch plays in ninth inning
Johnny Damon's at-bat kept the Yankees alive and led to the win
With a 3-1 lead in the Series, the Yankees are one win from the title
The Phillies may have won Game 4 if they had thrown ace Cliff Lee
PHILADELPHIA -- With two out and a tie score in the top of the ninth inning, nobody on base and a 1-2 count to Johnny Damon, Phillies closer Brad Lidge uncorked one of his signature sliders, 84 miles per hour and diving toward the plate. Damon swung. The crowd erupted. Several Phillies lurched toward their dugout. But Damon stood stubbornly in the batters box. He was one of the few people at Citizens Bank Park who recognized that he had nicked a piece of the ball and catcher Carlos Ruiz had failed to glove it. "He kept himself alive," Lidge said.
The play seemed innocuous at the time, a foul tip to keep the count at 1-2 with the bases empty. But that tip started the rally that won the game that will probably define this World Series. Three batters later, the Yankees could sniff a championship, and now the Phillies are the ones just trying to keep themselves alive.
Lidge blew 11 saves in the regular season, then converted all three chances in the playoffs, prompting hope that he had flipped the proverbial switch. But Phillies fans should know, after watching starter Cole Hamels in the playoffs this year, that the switch does not really exist. Lidge's vulnerabilities were always looming, and after an 11-day layoff, they bubbled to the surface.
He went to 3-2 on Damon, threw a fastball instead of a slider, and gave up a single to left. Then he hit Mark Teixeira. He wanted to pitch Alex Rodriguez inside but could not afford to hit him as well, not after Rodriguez had been hit for the third time in the series, drawing warnings to both benches. So Lidge's fastball to Rodriguez caught too much of the plate and he rifled it into the left-field corner. By the time Jorge Posada found the left-centerfield gap, the Yankees were on their way to a Game 4 win and a 3-1 series lead, with a chance to pop corks Monday.
Every World Series has a night on which it turns, and for the Phillies and the Yankees, this was the one. When Pedro Feliz hit a tying homer in the bottom of the eighth into the left-field bleachers, the Phillies had a chance to sneak out a win in a game that pitted No. 4 starter Joe Blanton against Yankees ace CC Sabathia. One inning from Lidge, one run in the ninth, and the Phillies would even the series with ace Cliff Lee ready for a crucial Game 5.
Now, it looks like the Phillies will have to spend all offseason figuring out who in the world was supposed to cover third. After Damon's single in the ninth, he promptly stole second, as Ruiz's throw two-hopped the bag. Since Teixeira was batting, and the Phillies defense was shifted dramatically to the right, Feliz took the throw even though he plays third base. At that moment, shortstop Jimmy Rollins was backing up Feliz. Lidge was on the mound. Ruiz was behind the plate. Damon noticed what the Phillies didn't: Nobody was covering third.
Damon took off, a trick that Derek Jeter pulled in Toronto on Opening Day 2003, when the Blue Jays shifted their defense for left-handed slugger Jason Giambi. Jeter injured his shoulder on the play, but Damon made it to third safely, beating Feliz easily in a footrace. The sprint did not make much of a difference -- Damon would still have scored on Rodriguez's double -- but it could have unnerved Lidge. One hour after the game, Lidge said he still did not know who should have been covering third. Neither did Ruiz. Even Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said, "catcher or pitcher."
Since this series shifted to Philadelphia, the Yankees have been the aggressors, the Phillies on the defensive. While Sabathia pitched on short rest Sunday, A.J. Burnett will do the same Monday night, a sacrifice that elite starters are usually happy to make at this time of year. But Lee was either not eager to pitch on short rest or was not allowed. Lee said he met with Manuel and told the manager: "I think I can do it. You make the call." If Lee had begged for the ball, would Manuel have given it any more consideration? "Not any," he said.
Blanton wound up with the start and gave up four runs in six innings, good enough to keep his team in the game, not good enough to win it. Sabathia was only slightly better, allowing three runs in 6 1/3 innings, but the Phillies had to feel like they would have tied the series with Lee.
They will have much to think about this winter and the Yankees should have much to celebrate. Sure, they spent the most money, as always. But this time around, they have also showed the most guts.
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