Monday, November 2, 2009

World Series Game 5: So Close, So Far Away

For the first time in almost one month, the Yankees will play three games on three consecutive days. We've become so used to having to wait in between games that what is the standard during the regular season - the three game series - now feels a little strange.

Those last three straight games were of course the final trio of the regular season down in Tampa Bay. Since then, the Yanks have played just 13 times in 29 days. They've won 10 of those games but the end goal at the beginning of the season and especially since the end of the regular season has been to snag that 11th victory that has evaded them for nine long years.

After last night's thrilling victory, the Yankees are one win away from the winning the World Series. Twenty seven outs away from their 27th Championship. Unfortunately for them, in addition to getting those outs from the Phillies, they also have to score some runs in a game started by Cliff Lee, the most dominant force thus far in October (and into November).

Charlie Manuel made the decision to hold back Lee from a Game 4 start to make sure he was well-rested. In exchange for that extra rest, Lee has been entrusted with forcing a Game 6 back in New York. The Phillies' ace said he wasn't nervous when he started Game 1 and certainly didn't act like it, but we'll see if that same nonchalance is there when his team's season is hanging in the balance.

We all know that Lee has been all but invincible this postseason, but it's worth looking at his stats with his dominant Game 1 performance factored in: 33 IP, 2 ER, 20 H, 3 BB, 30K, 0 HR, an 0.54 ERA, a WHIP of .690 and an opponents' line of .171/.192/.214.

One thing that the Yankees have going for them is that it would be awfully tough for him to be as good as he was in Game 1. A complete game with no earned runs, six hits, no walks and 10 strikeouts is about as good as it gets against this line up. And the fact that they have seen him recently should help them anticipate some of his tendencies. On the other hand, this time the bottom of the order will consist of Brett Gardner, Jose Molina and A.J. Burnett, at least at first.

Another thing the Yankees have going for them is A.J. Burnett. The owner of the best starting pitching performance for the Yankees in this World Series, Burnett will be making a start on short rest for the first time in the postseason and only the fourth time in his career in general.

In Game 2 against the Phillies, Burnett was outstanding, throwing seven innings of one run ball while striking out 9 and allowing only 6 baserunners. Mariano Rivera threw two innings in relief that night to hold the Phillies to one run total, but it remains to be seen if Girardi will feel comfortable asking Mo for two innings should the need arise. Likely, Burnett will need to be every bit as good to beat Cliff Lee and the Phillies.

The Yanks are tantalizingly close to a World Series victory. But the toughest game they are going to face will be tonight. Burnett's last start was at home as opposed to the unfriendly confines of Citizens Bank Park. And this time he'll be hitting behind his personal catcher, Jose Molina.

Should the Series head back to New York, the Yankees will have to wait two days to start a 37 year old Andy Pettitte on short rest in Game 6. This one isn't over. Not by a long shot.

Let's go Yanks.

(This song doesn't have any lyrics, but if you listen to the main theme that Derek Trucks repeats on his guitar as a chorus of sorts, it sounds like the title of the tune)

Molina & Gardner In, Melky Move To Come

That's the news according to LoHud eminating from the press conference with Joe Girardi. Jose Molina will again be catching A.J. Burnett while Brett Gardner gets the start in center over Jerry Hairston, Jr., thankfully. The bottom third of the order was going to be a black hole one way or another, at least they have someone who is comfortable and excellent in center field and fast on the bases in Gardner, should he ever reach them.

Girardi also said that the Yanks are in discussions with the MLB in regards to a roster move with Melky Cabrera. We'll use this post to keep you updated on those developments and separate this stuff from the preview which is going up at 5:30.

Update: 5:26: Again, per LoHud, the Yankees will hear from the MLB concerning their roster move at 6PM.

Update 5:59: Ramiro Pena (not Freddy Guzman as we speculated earlier) will replace Melky Cabrera. Apparently the Yanks value Pena's versatility in the field over Guzman's speed on the bases. Pena has not appeared on the postseason roster at any point up until now but he may be thrust into action early. His best chance of appearing in a game will probably be tonight given that the Yanks are in a National League park and will likely be replacing Jose Molina at some point.

Update 6:27: Interesting tidbit from Mark Feinsand of which I was not aware:
According to the MLB press release, postseason rules provide that injured players can be replaced during the World Series if the severity of the injury, as determined by Major League Baseball, is such that it would require a disabled list assignment during the regular season.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Am I the only one who thought that slogan for the Yankees on the YES Network was the best of the bunch? Why did they get rid of it? It pretty much perfectly describes what they do at the network with all Yankeeographies and such along with the live games and studio shows.

Anyway, let's take an afternoon climb across the interwebs and see what people are saying about last night, as well as tonight:
Joe Posnanski tries to understand what was going on in Johnny Damon's mind when he took of for third base last night. Also from Mr. Posnanski, it's about time someone did this.

Craig Calcaterra knows Damon's one man double steal was not unprecedented in baseball history but thinks it was pretty damn cool anyway.

River Ave. Blues reviews A.J. Burnett's (short) history of pitching on three days rest and examines the rise of Damaso Marte.

Joel Sherman compares Johnny Damon's at bat against Brad Lidge last night to Paul O'Neill's in Game 1 of the 2000 World Series. My buddy Joe texted me the same thing during the game last night, but unfortunately you can't link to that.

FanGraphs breaks down the impact (or lack thereof) of replacing Melky Cabrera with Brett Gardner in center. Unfortunately, the time to start Melky over Gardner would be a game like tonight with a dominant left handed starter on the mound. Whether or not Melky is only out for tonight remains to be seen.

Chris Jaffe at the Hardball Times takes a historical look at the teams that have faced a 3-1 hole in a best-of-seven World Series.

Big League Stew looks back at what things were like the last time the Yankees won a Fall Classic.

Also from The Stew: And you thought Jimmy Rollins was being presumptuous...

And finally, if you were watching FOX when the broadcast first started up last night around 8:00, you were treated to one of the most contrived promotions of all time. They showed a mash-up of highlights from the World Series alongside clips from Avatar, the new semi-animated James Cameron movie that doesn't come out until the middle of December.

I noticed this as it was happening and wondered why they thought it was a good idea to use a movie that no one had seen to promote a game. How could you miss the undeniable parallels between this epic movie and the compelling series that was taking place? Oh, probably because no one has fucking seen the movie yet. Nice job, FOX.

Enthusiasm For Derek Jeter Can Not Be Curbed

I'm guessing that everyone reading this blog was watching the World Series last night, but there was an interesting discussion about Derek Jeter taking place on another channel sometime between 9 and 9:30. And unlike the last time we talked about a baseball player in conjunction with a TV show, this one is true.

Stonemason: “That guy [Derek Jeter] sucks.”

Larry David: “Who sucks?”

Stonemason: “Derek Jeter, he’s the most overrated player in baseball.”

Larry David: “What did you say?”

Stonemason: “I can’t stand Derek Jeter, you know he’s the worst defensive shortstop in baseball statistically?”

Larry David: “Oh Bullshit! He’s a great clutch hitter, he’s a great clutch player!”

Stonemason: “There’s no way he deserves that kind of money he’s making.”

And then Larry David changes the subject.

Later in the episode, Larry David starts talking about the stonemason’s Jeter hating and says, “…starts telling me how Jeter’s overrated. What an ignorant moron. My God, please, give me a break. There’s not one person who has ever said that except this asshole, honestly.”
FanGraphs takes special pride in this little snippet of conversation because the implication is that the statistical justification the stonemason is referring to is Ultimate Zone Rating. The assaults on Jeter's defense are familiar to those of us in the baseball blogosphere but I heard plenty of people react the way Larry David did when confronted with what UZR says about Jeter. I don't think you'll hear too many people complaining about his salary of his defense this year, however.

On a related note, this is my favorite Curb episode with a Yankees-related plot line. Here's the best I could do for a clip. Skip to the 1:13 mark (and beware of the strong language).

Rob Neyer, Phillies Fans Talk About Game 4

Following through on my promise to link any time Rob Neyer talked about the Yankees on a radio appearance/podcast, I present to you this.

Some takeaways: Neyer...
  • Throws a bit of cold water of the discussion for A-Rod as World Series MVP.

  • Says he actually felt bad for Brad Lidge and reminds us of this.

  • Thinks that Cliff Lee should have started in Game 4, but identifies Charlie Manuel's decision to send him out for the 9th inning in Game 1 as the original mistake.

  • Argues that Cole Hamels' season wasn't as bad as it looked but wouldn't be opposed to starting J.A. Happ in Game 7, if necessary.
In other podcasting news, our friends at On The DL admirably continued with their show this morning despite the tough loss last night. They're Phillies fans, and they won't sell you their World Series tickets but check it out anyway.

Update 1:30: Here's some more multimedia, courtesy of NBC Sports:

Quotes From Last Night: Game 4 Edition

Johnny Damon: I think what I had to see before I could start running to third base was how Pedro (Feliz) caught the ball, so I knew it drug him off some. I’m just glad that when I started running, I still had some of my young legs behind me… You know, it worked out, because I felt like being on third base, it possibly takes away a slider, a tough slider in the dirt that I may be able to score on.

Brett Gardner
: He stole two bases in nine seconds, I don't know if that's ever been done before. When he went to third I said, ‘Oh no.' All of us did because as soon as you see him get up and go, you assume that Johnny thought the ball got by him and went into center field. It didn't, obviously. When he took off and we realized nobody was at third base, it's just heads up play. He fooled everybody

Tony Pena
(talking about Damon's steal): You know how people always tell you that they've been in baseball for 40 years, 50 years, and things happen every game that they never saw?" Well, I've never seen that before.

A-Rod: There’s no question, I have never had a bigger hit. [...] I will say this, that the time I got hit in yesterday’s game, my first at-bat kind of woke me up a little bit and just reminded me ‘hey, this is the World Series, let’s get it going a little bit.’ So it worked out."

Joe Girardi: I think both of his hits have been extremely big in helping us win the game. You know, you look at last night's home run, Hamels was breezing along, and he got us going. That one may not get quite as much attention as the one tonight, but I thought that was a real big hit, too.

Brad Lidge: It all happened so fast. It is unusual. That's for sure. You kind of wonder how that happens -- or, I guess -- how it doesn't happen more often, with The Shift on. Hopefully, we'll figure out a way to prevent that from happening again.

Bill, Crashburn Alley: The fear that came along with Charlie Manuel’s continuing to rely on Lidge was that their 2008 untouchable superstar would come in in a critical spot in the playoffs and — well, you know the rest. That fear came to fruition tonight, even after Lidge rather handily retired the first two Yankees in the top of the ninth inning.

CC Sabathia
(talking about the warnings issued in the first): It didn’t affect me at all.

Joba Chamberlain
: "I made good pitches to [Pedro Feliz] and I just wanted to challenge him, and he put a good swing. There's nothing you can say about it. [...] Ruiz has been swinging a great bat and putting together quality AB's, and I knew I had to just minimize the damage... You can't panic right there.

Joe Girardi (on Damaso Marte): But he's had matchups against these guys before, being in the National League, being in Pittsburgh. He's familiar with this ballpark in a sense, the hitters here, and we thought he could play a very important role.

Johnny Damon: We’re at 10, hopefully we get 11 tomorrow.

Odds & Ends From Last Night

Good morning, Fackers. There were some incredible moments in last night's game that ranged from brutal to ecstatic. We covered the latter in the recap focusing on the 9th inning last night early this morning, but still wanted to talk about some of the events that set the stage for the dramatic conclusion.
  • If I didn't know any better, I'd say that Joe Blanton hit A-Rod on purpose in the first inning. Joe Blanton has hit just 26 batters in over 1000 career innings pitched. It just so happens he nails the Yanks' best hitter on the first pitch he throws to him? There certainly was an edge to be gained. The Phillies had gotten in CC Sabathia's head (not to mention A-Rod's) before the first half inning was over. One misplaced pitched and CC could have been done for the game. Joe Girardi told the media that the umps said they would use their judgment if someone was hit by a pitch, but home plate umpire Mike Everett's judgement left much to be desired last night.

  • Everett's strike zone, especially early in the game, was inconsistent to say the least. In the first inning alone, he called 5 of CC Sabathia's pitches that were clearly inside the strike zone or very close, balls. He also extended the plate outside against left handed hitters a good six inches throughout the night. Joe Blanton struck out 7 Yankees, 4 of them looking. Enough said.

  • In the fourth inning, Everett ruled Ryan Howard safe at home although he never touched the plate. It was a non-issue as he knocked the ball away from Jorge Posada and the Yankees never tagged him, but Everett was right on top of the play and had no excuse to miss it.

  • Chase Utley made a costly mistake on defense in the 5th inning (but made up for it at the plate later). Going to a double play instead of a sure force out on a grounder up the middle by Melky Cabrera, Utley attempted to flip the ball to Jimmy Rollins, but instead threw it straight up in the air and the runners were safe. It was scored a single, but it was obvious that he had the out at second and was getting greedy.

  • This brought up Sabathia with runners on first and second with no one out. Joe Girardi asked him to bunt. I'm guessing he was trying to stay out of the double play, which is semi-defensible, but Joe still had CC bunting with two strikes. With a pitcher who hits as well as Sabathia (and bunts as poorly) at the plate with the infield playing in, it was a very poor decision.

  • In the bottom half of the 5th, CC gave up a single to Jimmy Rollins and a walk to Shane Victorino before recording an out. The heart of the Phillies' order was looming but Sabathia induced pop outs from Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and struck out Jayson Werth swinging to escape unscathed.

  • Sabathia was awfully close to equaling the 7 innings of two run ball he threw in Game 1 when the Chase Utley stepped to the plate with two outs in the 7th. With an RBI double against CC earlier in the evening and two home runs off of him in Game 1, Utley again hurt the Big Fella. It was a 1-2 slider that hung up in the strike zone which Utley hammered to right field for a solo homer. As well as Utley had hit Sabathia and with Damaso Marte ready to go out of the 'pen, I think the only reason Girardi didn't pull Sabathia is because there was no one on base.

  • Melky Cabrera left the game with a strained hamstring after trying to beat out a groundball to first base. It's likely that Melky is done for the Series and the Yanks may make a roster move such as recalling Freddy Guzman to replace Brett Gardner as a pinch runner off the bench. Melky played pretty well this postseason and no one wants to see a player get injured, but if you had to pick a starting position player, he would be the easy choice.

  • Joba Chamberlain was very nearly the goat of the game. After CC Sabathia and Damaso Marte finished off the 7th inning Joba struck out Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez swinging. He had Pedro Feliz down 1-2, but let him back to 3-2, and on the payoff pitch Feliz belted a line drive home run to left field. For the second time in two innings the Yanks had the Phillies down to their last strike but gave up solo homers. It tied to game at the time at 4 and things looked grim for the Yanks. Joba came back to strikeout Carlos Ruiz to end the inning but was visibly torn up in the dugout. After the Yanks rallied in the 9th, the cameras showed him thanking his teammates.

  • The crowd in Philly upheld it's sterling reputation by chanting at various times "Yankees suck", "Derek Jeter sucks", "CC Sucks" among others, typically at point when the Phillies were losing.

  • Speaking of the crowd, Citizens Bank Park was just as quiet as Yankee Stadium at various times. Jimmy Rollins' contention that it would sound more like a World Series at the games in Philly is partially true, but when their team is losing a pivotal game in the World Series, fans aren't going to be very loud.

  • Speaking of partially true things said by Jimmy Rollins, he might have predicted the series length correctly, he just had the wrong team.

Joe Nathan, Brian Fuentes... Brad Lidge

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".