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Damon Steals 2nd, 3rd as Yankees Beat Phillies in Ninth

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                      Johnny Damon

World Series game 4 began as another pitchers’ duel as both Yankee starter ace lefthander C.C. Sabathia and Phillies starter Joe Blanton battled on Sunday as the Yanks led 4-2 in the game through six innings.  When 2nd baseman Chase Utley cut into the Yanks lead with a 2 out solo homer on Sabathia’s 1-2 pitch in the seventh, manager Girardi pulled immediately C.C. for bullpen relief.  The Phils got new life on tying the game in the eighth inning on 3rd baseman Pedro Feliz’s homer off of Joba Chamberlain on a 2 out, full-count pitch.  Closer Brad Lidge got the first 2 outs in the ninth before giving up a full-count base hit to leftfielder Johnny Damon. What occurred after was an apparent mental lapse which cost the Phils the game, and quite possibly the series, which the Yanks now lead by 3 games to 1, as Damon went on to steal 2nd and 3rd on the same play as the Yankees beat the Phillies in the ninth by a 7-4 score after A-Rod’s winning double in World Series game 4.

Writers such as Yahoo’s Jeff Passan have taken to second-guessing manager Charlie Manuel for not starting Lee in game 4, although I am totally in agreement with Manuel with holding Lee back for game 5 on a full 4 days rest. Blanton’s performance retiring 9 Yanks in order from the second through fifth innings, after being touched for 2 first inning runs,  vindicates Manuel’s decision.  Further, Blanton, like Lee in game 1, kept the ball in the park and struck out 7 in his six innings of work.

The far bigger question these writers ought to be asking is how the NL pennant winners either suffered collective mental lapse or weren’t prepared with a coverage scheme in their shift on Teixeira. 

A talk-backer responding to AP sportswriter Ben Walker’s game recap for Yahoo sports had this take:

The game–and perhaps the entire 2009 World Serious–boiled down to Damon’s heads-up double-steal on the same play. The shift was on against Teixeira with Feliz covering second base. So who was covering third base? NOBODY! And Damon noticed. Afterwards, Phillie manager Charlie Manuel said either the pitcher or the catcher HAVE to cover third base on that play. In fact, Manuel said the catcher (Ruiz) should’ve gotten to third base … but, personally, I think Lidge should’ve been there. After all, the pitcher is closer to third base than the catcher! 

 The lack of coverage at 3rd base is more responsible than anything else, for how the Phils lost game 4 and why they now sit with a 1-3 deficit to the Yankees.  Damon doesn’t reach 3rd and Lidge isn’t flustered and probably doesn’t hit Teixeira.  And maybe, the game doesn’t get to A-Rod and a Yankees lead.  Of course, maybe Teixeira goes ballpark on Lidge, or maybe any number of other things.  But again, to repeat what the talk-back cited here noting: “Lidge should’ve been there. After all, the pitcher is closer to third base than the catcher!”

I would agree with the talk-back.  Lidge cooked his own goose on the play.  He started 1st baseman Mark Teixeira with a ball after Damon’s single.  After Damon stole the two bases on the same play, perhaps due to Lidge’s own mental lapse, he got sooo flustered that he hit Teixeira on his next pitch — runners on 1st and 3rd base.  Now he’s facing dangerous 3rd baseman Alex Rodriguez who Blanton managed to confound through 3 at-bats, striking him out once.  A-Rod took a strike and then nailed Lidge’s next pitch for a double driving in the game-winning run as the Yanks took a 5-4 lead. 

The whole Damon play was reminiscent of leftfielder Jayson Werth’s steal of home on the Dodgers back in May.   That play occurred when Werth noticed catcher Russell Martin’s nonchalant slow tosses back to his pitcher.

Catcher Jorge Posada followed slamming Lidge’s 2-2 delivery for a single to left centerfield plating 2 insurance runs.  Future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera took care of the rest shutting down the Phillies on 8 pitches; 2 grounders and a pop up — all to 1st base.

The Yankees had Blanton on the ropes in the first inning as shortstop  Derek Jeter opened the game with an infield single and Damon followed with a double to rightfield putting Jeter on 3rd base.  Teixeira grounded out to 1st base with Jeter scoring on the play and Damon moving to 3rd.  A-Rod was hit by Blanton’s next pitch and Posada followed with a sacrifice fly scoring Damon with the 2nd run.  Blanton finally retired the side on a fly ball to centerfield and cruised thru the second through fifth innings.

The Phils got a run back against Sabathia in their first inning on back-to-back doubles by centerfielder Shane Victorino and 2nd baseman Chase Utley.  They tied the game in the fourth inning as 1st baseman Ryan Howard finally connected, after a string of strikeouts, leading off the inning with a single to centerfield.  On a 2-1 pitch to Werth, Howard stole 2nd base. Werth grounded out to 3rd on the ensuing pitch.  After Leftfielder  Raul Ibanez flied out for the 2nd out, Feliz singled to leftfield scoring Howard.  Feliz took 2nd base on an error by catcher Posada on the relay.  Sabathia intentionally walked catcher Carlos Ruiz but both were stranded as Sabathia struck out Blanton to end the inning.

The tie didn’t last long as Yanks regained the lead scoring twice on a walk and 3 singles.  With the score 4-2 Yankees, Utley solo homered with 2 outs in the seventh ending Sabathia’s night.  Feliz duplicated in the eighth inning with a solo blast after Chamberlain got Werth and Ibanez on strikes.  With the game knotted at 4-4, the scene was set for Lidge, the mental lapse resulting in Damon’s 2 stolen bases on the same play and the Yankees’ winning 3 run rally.

Chamberlain, who blew the save on Feliz’s homer in the eighth inning, was credited with the win while Lidge, who came unglued in the ninth, was charged with the loss.

In Monday’s game 5, Phillies ace lefthander Cliff Lee will make his 2nd World Series start and will try to keep the Phils alive.  Lee is opposed by  A.J. Burnett, who like Sabathia, will be going on 3 days rest.

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