November 2009

Game 5: Forecast Correct

So you can now score the Joe Girardi/Dave Eiland experiment with pitching starters on three days’ rest at 1-for-3: a Sabathia victory in the ALCS, a Sabathia no decision in which he gave back a 2-0 lead and half of a subsequent 4-2 lead, and tonight’s Burnett implosion.

This does beg a question I had not considered before. Perhaps Girardi and Eiland were not shooting the works with Burnett on short rest rather than throwing Chad Gaudin as a sacrificial lamb. Maybe the Yankees knew they got an unrepeatable performance by the eminently reliable Burnett (you can always depend on him; he will always let you down) and he was the sacrificial lamb tonight.

Could’ve been worse from the Yankee perspective. When he went to the bullpen tonight, Girardi could have gone not to David Robertson but to Gaudin.

The Phillies Already Won?

Imagine my surprise. To say nothing of Johnny Damon’s, and everybody else fortunate enough to be in Philly tonight.

As our NBC station in Philadelphia reports, the Philadelphia Inquirer has not only run an advertisement congratulating the Phils on a second straight Series crown, they’ve also reported some sort of exchange of Rush Limbaugh for Alex Rodriguez.

As I understand it, they’re still trying to reassure Kate Hudson that it really was just a typo.

How The Phillies Can Still Win

So,
once again, how happy would they have been if you had told the Phillies before
the World Series started, that after four games, all this would have been true:

- CC
Sabathia would be winless against them in two starts?

- Chase
Utley would have hit three homers against Sabathia?

- Two
Philly sluggers would have produced two-homer games and seven blasts total?

- Joe
Blanton would have produced a five-hit, two-walk, seven-strikeout performance?

- Cliff
Lee would have pitched a complete game?

- The
Phillies would have rallied off the Yankee bullpen in the eighth?

- Ryan
Howard would have stolen a base and then scored the tying run thanks to his
daring base-running?

- Mark
Teixeira would have held to 1-for-14, Melky Cabrera 2-for-13, Robinson Cano
2-for-14, and Alex Rodriguez, 2-for-15?

- Joe
Girardi would have had to bench one outfielder and might have to replace
another one due to injury?

These
are the little things that usually put a team ahead three games to one, not
behind by that margin. While Johnny Damon has rightly been lionized (and would be the Series MVP to this point), there are two totally under-reported secrets to the
Yankees’ success. Consider the last outs Sabathia got last night: Jimmy Rollins
lined a one-bouncer directly to Alex Rodriguez, and Shane Victorino flied right
to Nick Swisher. Throughout the Series, particularly last night, the Yanks’
major league scouting – coordinated by Gene Michael – has positioned its
fielders nearly perfectly, exploiting pitch selection and a thorough knowledge
of where each Philadelphia hitter is likely to hit a given pitch. I’ve always
thought somebody could get a PHD calculating just how little Yankee fielders
had to travel to get balls hit by the Braves in the 1999 Series, when Michael’s
charts were at their maximum value.

The
other hidden headline: Damaso Marte, a pitcher who before the Series would have
been ranked somewhere behind the Phillie Phanatic in likely impact on the
outcome. All he has done thus far is strike out Utley and get Howard on a fly
while the first game was still close, punch out Howard and Werth and get Ibanez
on a liner in the third game, and retire Howard on another fly last night. He
has been flawless after a 9.45 ERA and just five holds during the regular
season.

But by no
means are the Phillies dead. One of the realities of those “Advantage Phillies” stats listed above is that they either won’t last, or that if they do, they are likely to suddenly start producing dramatic results for Philadelphia, and possibly in sufficient supply to produce three straight wins. And Joe Girardi has opened the door for that slim hope with the decision to go with A.J. Burnett on short
rest tonight.

Rather than risk Chad
Gaudin, with Burnett available on extra rest in Game Six, and Andy Pettitte on
the same (or Sabathia) for Game Seven, he will pitch Burnett with a line-up
behind him that could lack not just a DH, but also perhaps Cabrera and Jorge
Posada. As it lays out now, Burnett, Pettitte and Sabathia will all go on short
rest in pursuit of one win. Or it won’t be Pettitte in Game Six – it’ll be Gaudin anyway.

Game 4: The Eddie Collins of 2009

Even if Johnny Damon had gone oh-for-the-first-four years of the 52-million dollart contract he signed with the Yankees after the 2005 season, he might have earned most of the cash with one of the most heads-up plays in World Series history.

As the potential winning run with two out in the top of the ninth inning of a game New York had nearly blown, he not only got a great jump on Brad Lidge to cleanly steal second base, but because the Phillies had employed the shift on Mark Teixeira, Damon had the presence of mind to realize Carlos Ruiz’s throw to second might be handled by a fielder unaccustomed to the role, who was also leaving third base unoccupied. Thus Damon utilized the pop-up slide, and when Feliz went to the wrong side of the bag, Damon accelerated past him and cruised into third as the Phillies watched helplessly. Lidge’s inning immediately cascaded into chaos and Mariano Rivera suddenly had a three-run lead in a game the Phils had just tied.
In the broad sense, at least, Damon’s dash was reminiscent of the famous Eddie Collins-Heinie Zimmerman play that decided the 1917 Series. Scoreless in the fourth inning of the finale, the White Sox cringed as Collins was trapped in a rundown. Giants’ catcher Bill Rariden correctly ran Collins back towards third, presuming that either his first baseman Walter Holke or his pitcher Rube Benton would cover the plate. But neither did, and as Rariden tossed to Giants third baseman Zimmerman, Collins burst past him, leaving Zimmerman to define futility to chase Collins towards the dish.
Though Ring Lardner actually made up the quote, Zimmerman was long credited with one of the most telling of acerbic explanations for a pivotal Series play: “Who the hell was I supposed to throw it to? The umpire?” It will be fascinating to hear if Feliz says anything similar.

Game 4: Pitchers

CC Sabathia seems to be struggling with his mechanics.

Joe Blanton is (as usual) struggling with looking too much like Turtle from Entourage.
And the conspiracy theorist within is struggling with the possibility that Charlie Manuel used the hit-by-pitch as an intentional walk for Alex Rodriguez in the first inning with the specific hope the umpires would warn both benches and thus take the inside pitch away from Sabathia. 
The latter is unlikely, but certainly the first part of it would be anything but unprecedented.

Game 4: Nice Opening

More notes from waiting rooms…

In their defense, I know that nobody at my former Fox Sports employers had the final word. But that mish-mosh of Series highlights and clips from some dippy cartoon movie they’re trying to sell, with which they opened tonight’s telecast, was a great argument for transferring the World Series broadcast rights to PBS. Or maybe C-SPAN.
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