Sunday, November 1, 2009

World Series Game 4: Gimme Three Steps

After dropping the first game of the World Series to the untouchable Cliff Lee, the Yankees have ridden a brilliant pitching performance by A.J. Burnett and Mariano Rivera in Game 2 and a breakout offensive effort in Game 3 to a 2-1 series lead. Having lost the edge of homefield advantage by splitting the two games at Yankee Stadium, the Bombers have wrestled it back. They hold the better hand in tonight's game as well because CC Sabathia is available to make his start on short rest, but the man who handily out-dueled him in Game 1 is not.

The Phillies and Charlie Manuel have decided that instead of asking Cliff Lee to start on three days rest for the first time in his career, they will ask Joe Blanton to make only his second start since October 2nd. Lee said he was willing to give it a shot, but Manuel passed. Going to Blanton also means that Cliff Lee won't be able to start a potential Game 7 either. In fact, it's tough to find any level on which this decision makes any sense.

As Will from IIATMS points out, they Yankees match-up quite favorably with Blanton's pitch repertoire. The righty has a marginal fastball that sits in the high-eighties or low-nineties, and the Yankees are an excellent fastball-hitting team.

Blanton was slightly above league average in the regular season this year, which is valuable, but doesn't make him a particularly strong option to start a postseason game. He showed this in the NLCS against the Dodgers, when gave up 4 runs (3 ER) and walked as many as he struck out in 6 innings. The Phillies ended up winning that game, but needed a two run double by Jimmy Rollins with two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning to do it. And in that Game, they were facing Randy Wolf, not CC Sabathia.

CC's start in Game 1 of the World Series didn't look very impressive. He walked as many batters (3) and gave up more home runs (2) than he did in his previous three postseason starts combined. But the end result his performance wasn't nearly as bad as those tidbits would seem to indicate.

I think most fans would cheerfully sign up for 7 innings of two run ball from Sabathia tonight given who he is opposing, but I think the Big Fella is aiming a little bit higher. Regardless, the fact that he is capable of pitching on short rest - which is easy to take for granted at this point - means that the Yankees don't have to support Chad Gaudin against a lefty heavy line up in a park known for its tendency to give up the long ball. The value of that is difficult to understate.

Cliff Lee has never pitched on short rest in his career, which surely played in Charlie Manuel's decision to go with Joe Blanton tonight. But unless Manuel has a specific reason to think that Lee isn't able to pitch effectively four days after his last start, and he's pretty damn sure of it, this seems like a mistake.

Just as we learned in Game 2, not all bad decisions are doomed to fail. Should the Phillies steal this one from the Yanks whether it be by a solid start from Joe Blanton, a poor one by CC Sabathia or a failure by the Yankees bullpen, the advantage will shift right back to Philly with the series tied a fully-rested Cliff Lee waiting for the Yanks in Game 5. As is always true in baseball, it only takes a couple of pitches, bounces or swings of the bat to change the complexion of the game.

As a team works it way through the playoffs, each game almost always becomes more important than the last. The Yanks took advantage of a favorable pitching match-up in Game 3 but that will soon be forgotten if they fail to capitalize in Game 4. But Manuel and the Phillies have given the Yankees the opportunity to get their third win in this Series which is precisely the break they were looking for.

Time to take advantage. Go Yanks.

And that's the break I was looking for.
And you could hear me screaming a mile away
As I was headed out towards the door.

Won't you give me three steps,
Gimme three steps mister,
Gimme three steps towards the door?
Gimme three steps,
Gimme three steps mister,
And you'll never see me no more.

Quotes From Last Night: Game 3 Edition

Presented without comment:
Rob Neyer: Blown Call: Well, maybe. Rodriguez's long fly in the fourth inning certainly did hit a television camera, and that camera certainly was above the right-field fence. But if the baseball hadn't hit the camera, would it really have cleared the fence? Perhaps. But it might also have hit the very top of the fence and bounced back into play, presumably limiting Rodriguez to a double.


Funny, I didn't know that umpires have the power to establish their own ground rules.

Crew chief Gerry Davis
: We tour the field during the series whenever we go to a new ballpark, and discuss specific ground rules and potential trouble areas just like that. Because we cannot control what the cameraman does with the camera, one of the specific ground rules is when the ball hits the camera, [it's a] home run.

John Gonzalez, Philly Inquirer: Ugh. Last night was so promising. Hamels looked incredible - at first. Then Alex Rodriguez came to the plate in the fourth inning. That's when we should have known something was about to go horribly wrong. Fox put up a graphic about Rodriguez not having a hit off Hamels in his career - and A-Rod promptly cracked a homer off the right-field camera. The TV jinx never fails. If you want to blame the Phils' collapse on Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, I won't try to stop you this time.

Larry Brown Sports: Even if the ball were heading out, there’s no reason why a camera should be sticking out over the fence onto the field. Sure it’s a million-to-one shot, but it happened, and FOX looks bad because of it. Maybe they realize now that it’s not about how many cameras you have (and at the least, to make sure they’re not interfering with the play), but about not screwing up the action. That home run by A-Rod snapped his slump and sparked the Yankees offense. They can thank FOX and the umpires for it.

Bill, Crashburn Alley
: Cole Hamels was victimized by himself once again. He poorly located his curve balls, as not one curve ball was thrown below the knees of a Yankees hitter, four were in the strike zone, and two went for Yankees hits: a double by Nick Swisher and a single by Pettitte.

Matthew Pouliot, Circling the Bases
: For the fourth straight postseason start, Hamels failed to last six innings. He's given up 16 runs and seven homers in 19 innings. Compare that to the 2008 postseason, when he went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA and gave up two homers in 35 innings.

The AP
: Guess who showed up for Halloween dressed as sluggers?

Nick Swisher
: I don't really read the paper, I'm more a guy that looks at the pictures. But all of the struggles kept piling on, and the harder I would try to work, the harder I would try when I got into the box. To get by that and have a great game like tonight was extremely gratifying.

Andy Pettitte
: It was an absolute grind tonight, that’s for sure. I can’t remember winning a game where I’ve struggled like I did tonight. So it’s very gratifying.

Pettitte, again
: I have no wheels at all -- I know that. I am very slow. I mean, very slow. The first thing Derek said was, 'I almost caught you'.

Yanks Outslug Phils; Take 2-1 Lead

The last two times Andy Pettitte started a World Series game on a Saturday night, things did not go so well. Game Six of the 2003 World Series saw Pettitte take the loss as the Marlins clinched and Game Six in 2001 had the Diamondbacks absolutely teeing off on Pettitte as the Yanks failed to clinch. So when Pettitte struggled with 51 pitches and three runs allowed through two innings, I feared history might be repeating itself.

But Pettitte rebounded to retire the Phils in order on just nine pitches in the third, and the tide began to turn. In the top of the fourth, Mark Teixeira got the benefit of a close call on a 3-2 pitch (PitchFX had it as a strike) to draw a one out walk. Alex Rodriguez followed and fought a fastball down the right field line. It appeared to hit off the top of the wall, giving the Yankees runners on second and third. But, upon review the ball was found to have hit the lens of a television camera that jutted over the wall and into play. In the opinion of the umpires the ball would have cleared the fence had it not hit the camera and was ruled a home run. Typical of this post-season, even with replay, even with the call supposedly right, it was still controversial, as Charlie Manuel claims this ground rule was not disclosed to the Phillies before the game.

Back in the game, Pettitte continued to bear down, working around an inning opening error in the fourth and retiring the next three batters on just twelve total pitches. Nick Swisher, who like A-Rod entered the game struggling, led off the top of the fifth with a double. Trailing by a run and with the pitcher's spot on deck, Melky Cabrera struck out in a critical at bat, meaning Andy Pettitte would need a hit if he was to drive the tying run home. On the first pitch of the at bat Hamels, who had largely stayed away from his curveball until the fifth, hung a curve to Pettitte. Pettitte dropped a base hit into center field, giving him his first RBI since his first at bat of interleague play earlier this year, and tying the score at three.

After Derek Jeter singled Pettitte to second, Johnny Damon doubled into the right field gap, scoring Pettitte and Jeter and giving the Yankees a 5-3 lead. Another walk to Teixeira ended Hamels night, but J.A. Happ wriggled out of the jam with an A-Rod line out and a Jorge Posada pop out on a 3-0 pitch.

Armed with a two run lead, Pettitte cruised through the bottom of the inning, retiring the side in order on eleven pitches. Swisher continued his slump busting in the top of the sixth, blasting a solo home run to left to run the lead to 6-3. Pettitte gave the run back in the bottom of the inning, surrending Jayson Werth's second solo shot of the night, a monster blast off the facing of the left field second deck. Pettitte labored through the rest of the inning but allowed no further damage, ending his night with a 6-4 lead through six innings.

The Yankees tacked on an additional run in both the seventh and eighth innings, courtesy of an RBI single from Jorge Posada and a pinch hit home run from Hideki Matsui. The Yankees got perfect relief innings from Joba Chamberlain in the seventh and Damaso Marte in the eighth, and with a four run lead, handed the ball to Phil Hughes for the ninth.

Hughes retired Pedro Feliz leading off the inning, but then a left a 1-1 fastball up to Carlos Ruiz, and Chooch deposited it into the left field bleachers. Perhaps indicative of his current level of faith in Hughes, Joe Girardi had Mariano Rivera warming up behind Hughes all the while, and he was immediately summoned following the homer. It was perhaps a bit unnecessary, but Mo managed to close the door on just five pitches, so he should be good to go in Game Four.

The win allowed the Yankees to recapture homefield advantage and carry a 2-1 lead and a favorable pitching match-up into Game Four. Pettitte's RBI was the first for a Yankee pitcher in the World Series since Jim Bouton in 1964, and his win added to his post-season record. Mo's appearance was his 22nd in World Series play, tying him with Whitey Ford for the most all-time. We'll see you later on today.