Along their way to the World Series the Yankees - or more accurately, Alex Rodriguez - bested both opposing closers put in front of them on the way to crucial wins in both the ALDS and ALCS. In Game 2 against Minnesota, A-Rod launched a game-tying 2 run shot in the bottom of the 9th inning off Joe Nathan in a game the Yanks won in the 11th. In the bottom of the 11th in Game 2 against the Angels, with Freddy Guzman and Brett Gardner batting behind him and the count 0-2, A-Rod served a shot over the short porch in right to tie the game at 3. The Yanks finally nailed that one down in the 13th.
Tonight, the game was on the road so it wasn't Game 2, extra innings weren't necessary, it wasn't a home run, and it didn't tie the game, but the at bat that changed the lead again came down to A-Rod and the other team's closer - this time Brad Lidge.
Two batters into the inning, it seemed highly unlikely that A-Rod would get a chance to bat against Lidge. The pitcher's spot was due up first in the bottom of the 9th and Charlie Manuel had opted not to double switch to begin the inning, thereby limiting Lidge to three outs of work. The way it turned out, nobody needed to pitch the 10th inning for the Phillies anyway.
The Yankees' pitchers' spot was due to bat first in the top of the 9th and Hideki Matsui was called on to pinch hit. As the best hitter on the bench and with two home runs in the last two games, Matsui was the obvious choice, but popped out to short for the first out. Up next, Derek Jeter worked the count to 3-2 but struck out swinging on a nasty slider just below his knees. Down to their last out of the inning, the Yankees needed Johnny Damon to get on base to keep their hopes alive or snatching the lead alive, lest the Phillies come to the plate in the bottom of the 9th needing only one run to steal a win in the ballgame and change the complexion of the series entirely.
Damon took three balls and fouled off five pitches from Lidge before he got one he could put some good lumber on. It was a fastball on the outside part of the plate that he served into left field for a single. Now Mark Teixeira represented the Yankees best hope to take the lead. On the first pitch of the at bat, Damon took of running for second base. The throw from Carlos Ruiz wasn't in time. Since the Phillies were playing a huge infield shift for Teixeira, third baseman Pedro Feliz was the one who was there to receive the ball.
Feliz caught the throw well in front of the bag and as he turned around towards the pitcher's mound, Damon inexplicably popped up from second base, and took off running for third, just out of the reach of Feliz. Since the camera had a tight shot of second base, I wasn't thinking about the shift and thought he was about to be caught in a run down, ending the Yankees chances in the inning. But as the camera panned out, it was apparent that no one was covering third base and Damon got there easily. Perhaps the fact that Feliz wasn't used handling the throw to second base had something to do with it, but to Damon's credit, he took full advantage of that error with a play demonstrating a keen sense of baseball awareness.
Two pitches later, Brad Lidge hit Mark Teixeira on the right elbow, bringing A-Rod to the plate with men on first and third. He took the first pitch for a strike. Perhaps it was the chance that the runner on third could score on a wild pitch that made Lidge reluctant to throw his best pitch - the slider - but he dealt A-Rod another fastball. It wasn't a bad location - right on the inside part of the plate where "the book" says to pitch him - but A-Rod turned on it, hooking a double down into the corner in left field, scoring the go-ahead run in Damon with ease and putting runners on 2nd and third for Jorge Posada.
Jorgie's at bat seems like a footnote in hindsight, but he poked a 2-2 fastball from Lidge into left field, scoring Teix and A-Rod to give the Yanks some much needed insurance runs. He was tagged out trying to advance to second, but the damage was already done.
In stark contrast to Lidge, Mariano Rivera came in for the bottom of the 9th inning and mowed down pinch hitter Matt Stairs, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino in 8 pitches.
There were obviously many other important moments that led up to the top of the 9th inning - many of them frustrating - but we'll have plenty of time to rehash those in the morning. For now, just enjoy this, and in the words of Joe DiMaggio, "Thank God for making [Mariano Rivera] a Yankee".