Reflecting on Game Six of the World Series before diving into winter activity.
I wanted to get yesterday's piece up before flying to Phoenix, which is where I am today, taking in some Arizona Fall League action and participating in Baseball HQ's First Pitch Arizona. Here are some of the notes I didn't quite get to about Game Six, as well as some other follow-ups:
The Yankees christen the House that George Built the only way they know how.
What was perhaps most interesting about last night's Game Six was the feel in the Yankee Stadium in the late innings. In Philadelphia Monday night, the Phillies took a 6-1 lead in the third, pushed it to 8-2 in the seventh, but when it was cut to four, you could feel the tension. You could sense the fear in the ballpark. With an incredibly unreliable closer, and a shaky bullpen in front of him, Phillies fans sweated the final outs of what would be their team's last win of the season. They never got comfortable, never got to treat the game like a party. It was nail-biting time until a few seconds after the final out.
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In a change of pace, Game Five was a showdown settled between the lines.
Game Five of the World Series was about players. In a postseason where we've spent endless amounts of time talking about the managers and the umpires, we finally got a game in which the players took total control. From Chase Utley's three-run homer in the first inning through Ryan Madson inducing a game-saving double play in the ninth, there was example after example of players making plays, a dearth of mistakes by the non-playing personnel, and when it was over, at least one more game to play.
The Yankee third baseman stepped up again, proving 'clutch' is an adjective and not a character trait.
Maybe this will be the stake in the heart, the straw that breaks the camel's back, the end of an era. Maybe the RBI double that tore up a thousand game stories will wreak its havoc on millions more to come. Maybe, just maybe, Alex Rodriguez did not only himself a favor, but did one for hundreds upon hundreds of baseball players to follow him.
The fallacy of game-to-game momentum reared its head last night.
"Momentum is tomorrow's starting pitcher." That's one you've heard, the great Earl Weaver's spot-on dismissal of the idea that yesterday's game matters to the next one's outcome. I'm not sure it goes far enough, though. How about, "Momentum is the next inning's starting pitcher" or "Momentum is the next pitch," or perhaps, "Momentum is nonexistent in baseball"?
With a World Series game at stake, Mo versus Utley is tough to top for in-game action.
The best short reliever in postseason history, arguably the best relief pitcher in the game's history, on the mound. The best second baseman in baseball, one of the top six players in the game, coming off of a two-homer night, at the plate. Behind him, the greatest left-handed slugger extant. The crowd, 50,000 strong, rising to greet the moment in a beautiful new ballpark on a gorgeous autumn night. One man out. Two men on. A two-run lead in the eighth inning of a World Series game, as close to a must-win for the pitcher's team as the second game of a best-of-seven can be.
I can't help but think that this World Series turned, and I mean in a big way, and we missed the sign. At about 8:18 p.m. last night, after CC Sabathia had energized the Yankee Stadium crowd by pitching out of a bases-loaded jam, Cliff Lee dispensed with Derek Jeter on three pitches suitable for framing: a fastball up and over the plate that Jeter hit foul into the stands over first base, then a curve down and in that Jeter tipped foul, and finally a changeup that Jeter swung through.
Skip ahead a little more than a week, and ask yourself, how great was watching the 2009 World Series?
That was what we needed. After the previous five World Series had been played in just two games over the minimum, the Yankees and Phillies provided nine days of baseball that put the "Classic" back in the Fall Classic. After a postseason that had been thrilling and entertaining, but also sloppy and larded with controversy, the 2009 World Series reminded us of what baseball looks like when it is played at the highest level, with the most passion, for the most valuable stakes.
With their rotation order for the World Series at stake, the Yankees advanced with a blend of their own execution of Angel miscues.
For much of last night, it was 1996 again. Or 1998. Or maybe 2000. You had Andy Pettitte getting big outs, a deep lineup grinding away at an opposing starting pitcher, a key break going the Yankees' way, a crowd buzzing with confidence, eager to celebrate a clinching. Forget that it was a new building, or that the guy who got the biggest hit not so long ago contributed to a dark day in franchise history, or that the big plays were consecutive bunts, or that Mariano Rivera managed to give up a run. For one night, Aura and Mystique did a show in the Bronx, and when they were done, the World Series was coming home again.
A few brief flurries of action decided Game Five, setting up a critical Game Six in the ALCS.
The remarkable thing about last night's ALCS Game Five is how quickly things happened. After John Lackey escaped a two-on, no-out situation in the first inning, the Angels jumped on A.J. Burnett like a linebacker on a fumble, scoring four runs on 12 pitches over seven minutes and 32 seconds. Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter, and Vladimir Guerrero went double/single/double on three consecutive pitches at one point. When it was over, the Angels had their first multi-run lead of the series and, with their ace on the mound, seemed to be in fantastic shape.
The Phillies can take pride in execution, of the Dodgers, on the field, and in the dugout.
It continues to surprise me that we can't get deep into a postseason series despite having evenly matched teams battling each other. The Phillies and Dodgers were the top two teams in the NL this year, and statistically, there wasn't a dime's worth of difference between them. In the NLCS? There was a hundred-dollar bill's difference. The Phillies outscored the Dodgers 35-16. They out-hit them by 60 points of OBP and 140 points of slugging. The Phillies drew 23 walks to the Dodgers' 12, with the converse of that being that their pitchers had a stellar 33/12 K/BB ratio to the Dodger pitchers' much uglier 33/23. The Dodger bullpen was supposed to be its one big edge: it allowed 14 runs in 21 innings, with a catastrophic failure in Game Four and a poor performance in a winnable Game Five.