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Postseason On the Brink
TOM VERDUCCI
November 09, 2009
It was not just the Yankees' money (the most in the majors), mojo (plenty) and talent (the game's best) that pushed the defending champion Phillies to the edge, it was a relentlessness not seen since the days of the last pinstriped dynasty
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November 09, 2009

Postseason On The Brink

It was not just the Yankees' money (the most in the majors), mojo (plenty) and talent (the game's best) that pushed the defending champion Phillies to the edge, it was a relentlessness not seen since the days of the last pinstriped dynasty

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With the bases clear and two outs, Lidge was one strike from putting away Damon and giving his team a chance to win the game in the bottom of the ninth. With the count 1 and 2, Damon fouled off a slider, took two fastballs, fouled off two more fastballs and, on the ninth pitch of the at bat, a fifth straight fastball, dumped an opposite-field single to left.

"Wow, Johnny," Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard said to Damon. "That was some professional at bat."

"I went back and looked at the tape." Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long said afterward. "That was an at bat for the ages. It's the at bat that will define this team."

Damon didn't stick around for long at first base. He took off for second on the next pitch, knowing Lidge is notoriously poor at holding runners. Damon stole the base easily, but catcher Carlos Ruiz stubbornly threw the ball anyway to third baseman Pedro Feliz, who took the throw at second because Philadelphia was in a defensive overshift against Teixeira. As Damon popped up from his slide, he noticed that third base wasn't being covered. He dashed away from an unprepared Feliz as Lidge and Ruiz played bystanding rubes. Damon was credited with two stolen bases. After Lidge hit Teixeira, Rodriguez broke the tie with a double on the pitch he and Jeter knew was coming.

That Ruiz threw the ball at all, that no one covered third base, and that no conference took place when Damon reached first base to review a defense for such a possibility were outrageous mistakes. Then again, it was just the latest blunder by a Yankees opponent in a postseason full of them. The breakdowns included major baserunning mistakes by Carlos Gomez and Nick Punto of the Twins in the ALDS, eight errors and 38 walks by the Angels in the ALCS, and a mental meltdown by Phillies starter Cole Hamels in Game 3 of the Series.

Hamels turned a 3--0 lead into a 5--3 deficit in the eyeblink of eight batters. Rodriguez accounted for two runs with a fourth-inning home run that bonked off the lens of a television camera that hung slightly over the rightfield wall. Umpire Jeff Nelson, thinking the ball hit the wall, originally ruled it in play, and Rodriguez stopped at second base with a double. After the first World Series use of instant replay, the umpires overturned the call and awarded Rodriguez a home run. It was an M.C. Escher moment: using a camera to view a baseball hitting another camera.

More difficult to figure was Hamels's brain lock in the next inning. Hamels thought Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte would bunt with the tying run at second and one out, so he threw him a high curveball to try to induce a pop-up. "It's a bunting situation," Hamels insisted after the game.

"No, that's not a bunting situation," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said later. "No way. Not with one out. Runner on first? We bunt there. Runner at second? No, we don't bunt. Cole said that?"

Given a soft, high pitch, Pettitte knocked a single into centerfield to tie the game, the first postseason RBI by a Yankees pitcher in 45 years. ("Baseball is very, very difficult to understand sometimes," Hamels would say, still baffled about why Pettitte was not bunting.) Hamels's mental gaffe was a turning point in the Series. Within four pitches New York had scored three times; Jeter followed Pettitte's single with one of his own, then came a two-run double by Damon, a regular Johnny-on-the-spot in the Series.

Just like old times, going back to championships in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000, Jeter and Posada each hit safely in the Yankees' wins in Games 2, 3 and 4 while scoring or driving in eight runs; Rivera obtained the last outs of all three wins (and 11 outs in all without a run scoring); and Pettitte, with six yeoman innings, got his record 17th postseason win in Game 3.

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