Because of the quirks of Interleague Play, the Fall Classic match-ups these days often feature two teams who have played each other during the regular season. Long gone are the days when the only meeting between AL and NL rivals would occur during the World Series.
For the Yankees, 2009 marks their third World Series out of their last five in which they have already seen their opponent in the same season. In 1999, they lost two of three to Atlanta before sweeping them in the World Series. In 2000, the Bombers won four of six against the Mets before taking the Subway Series in five games. Although the Yankees had not played the Phightin’s since 2006, this year, the two teams met for a Yankee Stadium series in late May. The Phillies won two of three, but the Yankees captured a walk-off against Brad Lidge.
This game, I witnessed from the Grandstand at Yankee Stadium, and it was an ugly one. Jimmy Rollins started the game off with a lead-off home run, and A.J. Burnett had absolutely nothing. He would allow three home runs on the night, including Carlos Ruiz’s first long ball of the season. It was vintage ugly Burnett – 6 IP, 8 H, 2 BB, 5 ER – and the Yanks were down 5-0 before they managed to plate a run.
For the Yankees, this game could have been a potential turning point in the season. Chien-Ming Wang, coming back from a sore hip, made his not-so-triumphant return to the mound in the Bronx. He threw three innings but allowed a pair of runs on six hits and a walk. In fact, one of the runs scored on this blast by Ibanez. The ball traveled an estimated 477, and it was the longest long ball at Yankee Stadium this year. Ibanez, however, after that home run, hit just .235/.315/.468 over his final 387 plate appearances.
Meanwhile, the seven combined home runs could be a harbinger of things to come for the World Series. The Yankees and Phillies play in hitter-friendly parks, and these two teams love to homer.
Would you like some pie with your victory, Mr. Cabrera? Down 4-2 with but three outs left to play, the Yankees staged one of their walk-off wins against Brad Lidge. Alex Rodriguez hit a game-tying two-run home run with one out, and after a Robinson Cano single and a stolen base, Melky delivered the game-winning hit into right-center field. It was Melky’s three walk-off hit of the year and second of the homestand.
Andy Pettitte and J.A. Happ squared off in this one. Pettitte threw seven innings and allowed four earned runs on five hits and two walks. His mistakes ended up on the wrong side of the fence, and Happ helped the Yankees in check for six innings. In the ninth, though, A-Rod showed us just how good he could be. After falling behind 1-2, the Yanks’ slugger took two sliders from Lidge for balls before depositing a 94-mph four-seamer over the right field fence. Two batters later, pie ensued.
I remember this game well. I remember following along via MLB.com’s Mobile Gameday as the Yankees came oh-so-close to another walk-off. I remember having to sit through a terrible Brett Tomko performance in which he threw 16 of 30 pitches outside of the strike zone, and I remember a very disappointing loss.
CC Sabathia drew the start against Cole Hamels, and the game lived up to its billing. The Big Man allowed three runs on nine hits and no walks over eight innings, and Hamels held the Yanks to just a pair over six. In the ninth, the Brad Lidge Experience started all over again. Robinson Cano singled, and the speedy Ramiro Pena pinch ran and promptly stole a base. Melky singled home Cano and then stole second. The Yankees were just begging to win this one.
It was, however, not to be. Hideki Matsui struck out, and Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner grounded out. The Yanks could have won on outs, but fate dealt them a bad hand. After Rivera threw a 19-pitch inning, Joe Girardi gave the ball to Brett Tomko. The inning went a little bit something like this: Foul out, ground out, walk, double to Yankee Killer Carlos Freakin’ Ruiz, walk, pop out. Ruiz went 6 for 8 against the Yankees with three RBIs that weekend. He’s just not that good. In the bottom of the inning, Melky, Hideki and Kevin Cash had no chance, and the Yanks would drop the series to the Phillies.
* * *
Generally, the three games against the Phillies were tense and tight match-ups. The teams flashed some power in the first game, and the Yanks walked off with the second. They played two one-run games, and a bunch of pitchers no longer with either team factored into these late-May contests. We’ll see that good baseball again this week in the World Series as these two evenly-matched teams face off again for the final baseball showdown of 2009.