Thursday, November 05, 2009
What it came down to, finally, was the fact that the Phillies almost never use the exaggerated shift that was created originally to counter the late Ted Williams, the apotheosis of the left-handed pull hitter, with the third baseman taking over at short, the shortstop playing second, the second baseman playing a short right field so that the right fielder can more or less literally back up to the right field wall. After Williams retired, nearly 50 years ago, the shift disappeared until it was resurrected against Barry Bonds during his enhanced era. Now it gets done by a lot of clubs on a number of hitters. But it’s not a great move and if the pitcher doesn’t know that he needs to cover third on any stolen base attempt or play that sets on-base runners into motion, it can lead to disastrous consequences.
So that when Yankee Johnny Damon stole second base, Chooch, the Phillies catcher (given name Carlos Ruiz), was throwing to a “shortstop” unfamiliar with the position and nobody covering third. When the throw pulled the displaced third baseman, Pedro Feliz, to the right side of the bag, the quick-thinking Damon hopped up from his slide and ran to third before anyone could get there to cover the bag.
And with the runner on third in the ninth inning of a tie game, Phillies closer Brad Lidge was afraid to throw his slider, a ball that drops into the dirt and can squirt away from the catcher. This left him in the position of throwing only fast balls to Mark Teixeira, the American League home run champion, & Alex Rodriguez, who will eventually hold baseball’s all-time home run mark. In short, batters who live off the fastball. Very quickly the Yankees were ahead 7 to 4 and it took Mariano Rivera just eight pitches to retire the side, putting the Bronx Bombers up three games to one.
From that point forward, the Phillies’ weaknesses – leaving men on base, hitting solo homers, and a pitching staff that was questionable once you got past Cliff Lee – became too apparent. The Phils held on to what had been a six-run lead in game five to eke out a two-run victory, but didn’t look especially good doing so. The Yanks twice had the tying run at the plate in the ninth inning.
Back in New York for game six, the Phillies looked like a composite of their weaknesses all year. Starting pitcher Pedro Martinez couldn’t bluff his way past Yankee designated hitter Hideki Matsui. After Matsui had driven in four runs, the Yanks tacked on three more (two of them driven in by Matsui) off the bullpen. Only one of the seven Phillies who walked off not-great Yankee pitching managed to score. Pedro Feliz failed to drive in any of the five men who were on base when he came to bat. And the Phils two biggest bats in this series coming into the last game, Chase Utley & Jayson Werth, were a combined zero for five at the plate, albeit with three walks. Jimmy Rollins & Shane Victorino, the two hitters who have to get on base for the power hitters to have runs to drive in, were a combined one for eight.
So the New York Yankees – who spent over $400 million (not a typo) in the off-season last winter to sign Teixeira, and starting pitchers C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett – have won their 27th World Series, having made the post season in 40 of the 106 years the majors have had one. Until baseball has some kind of true spending cap, those kinds of numbers will be pretty typical. All I can say is congratulations.