Thursday, October 29, 2009

Just Tip Your Hat And Win Today

Cliff Lee was magnificent.

There really is no other way to describe it.

Lee pitched a six-hitter and struck out 10, and Chase Utley hit two homers as the Phillies beat the Yankees 1-0 Wednesday at Yankee Stadium to take Game 1 of the World Series.

That's not the way the Yankees want to begin their 40th World Series, but after it was done, all we can do is tip our hats. No one said this was going to be easy and Lee made sure of that.

It truly was a great performance by the Phillies lefthander, and when a starter pitches like that, there isn't that much a team can do.

Lee had every pitch working and could put it anywhere he wanted. Lee was just that good. And the only thing we can do is be thankful that this a best-of-seven series instead of a one-game championship, such as the Super Bowl.

Lee started the game off by striking out Derek Jeter and only got better. He walked none and threw 80 of 120 pitches for strikes. Until the ninth, the Yankees couldn't get more than one batter on base with Jorge Posada getting a one-out single in the second, Jeter a two-out double in the third and a one-out single in the sixth, and Hideki Matsui a lead off single in the fifth.

That the Yankees' even scored in this game was more a product of luck than any mistakes by Lee.

Jeter and Damon led off the ninth with singles before Mark Teixeira hit a grounder back up the middle that Utley fielded and flipped to Jimmy Rollins at second for the force, however, Rollins' relay to first sailed high for an error, allowing Jeter to score and Teixeira to go to second. Alex Rodriguez and Posada followed by striking out to end it.

The Yankees' only hope against a performance like that would have been to get one just like it from their own starter.

And certainly CC Sabathia is capable of pitching like that, but he simply didn't have his best stuff. His fastball command was off, but that didn't stop him from battling. Sabathia loaded the bases with two outs in the first, walking two around a double by Ryan Howard, but he escaped unscathed by getting Raul Ibanez to ground out to second.

But that lack of fastball command eventually would come back to bite Sabathia and Utley made sure to make him pay.

With two outs in the third, Sabathia jumped ahead of Utley 1-and-2 but couldn't put him away. Utley battled, working the count full. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Sabathia tried to put a fastball on the lower, outside corner, but missed, the ball drifting back over the middle of the plate for Utley to hammer into the front row in right for a 1-0 Phillies lead.

Sabathia settled down after that and retired the next eight straight, four on strikeouts, but in the sixth, Utley struck again.

Sabathia again jumped ahead of Utley, this time 0-and-2. This time he tried to get the final strike with a fastball up-and-in, but again Sabathia missed, the ball drifting back over the middle of the plate for Utley to crush into the bleachers in right-center for a 2-0 lead. Utley became only the second left-handed hitter to hit two homers in a World Series game off a left-handed pitcher, joining Babe Ruth.

That's all Sabathia would give up. His line: 7 innings, 2 runs, 4 hits, 3 walks, 6 strikeouts and 70 of 113 pitches for strikes. The reality is that this was a very good start, good enough to win on most nights.

It just wasn't good enough of this night.

Still, with just a two-run deficit after seven and at home at Yankee Stadium, where magic can always strike, the Yankees were still in the game. They just needed the bullpen to hold the line.

The bullpen, instead, just stunk.

Joe Girardi brought in Phil Hughes to start the eighth. Hughes had solidified the bullpen since he took over that role in June, and even though Hughes has struggled so far in the playoffs, it was the right move.

Hughes has had five days off since his last appearance in Game 5 of the ALCS. It was plenty of time to rest and fix whatever mechanical flaw he might have had in his delivery.

But the results weren't there.

While Sabathia struggled to command the strike zone, Hughes struggled to even find it. Hughes walked Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino to start the inning and was lifted.

It's entirely possible that Hughes simply is out of gas. He has not pitched a full season yet in his young career, missing most of 2007 and '08 with injuries and his lack of stamina may be showing. When a pitcher gets tired, he has trouble repeating his delivery. He loses his arm slot and he loses his control and his stuff. And if that's the case, Girardi has to find a way to reconstitute this bullpen and do it fast.

The answer, though, is not pitching Mariano Rivera two innings every time out. Rivera is great and can get two-inning saves, but even Rivera will get tired and eventually that kind of workload will take its toll.

Against the Phillies, the answer may be to rely more heavily on the lefties: Damaso Marte and Phil Coke.

After Hughes came out, Girardi brought on Marte to face Utley and Howard, two scary left-handed hitters. Marte delivered, striking out Utley and getting Howard to fly to left.

Girardi, then, made a mistake. With right-handed hitter Jayson Werth due up next, followed by dangerous lefty Ibanez, Girardi decided to bring in righthander David Robertson.

Look, I don't entirely trust Marte against righties, but with a big lefty due up after Werth, I'd rather have seen Marte pitch carefully to Werth, trying to get him to chase, then go after Ibanez.

Instead, Robertson walked Werth before allowing a two-run single to Ibanez to make it 4-0.

The Phillies tacked on two more in the ninth of Brian Bruney and it was lights out, on to Game 2.

A.J. Burnett gets the call tonight in what is easily the biggest start of his career. The focus will be on Pedro Martinez pitching at Yankee Stadium tonight, but this game's outcome will depend on Burnett and I think he's going to come up big.

This Series will head to Philadelphia tied, 1-1.

Runners In Scoring Position
World Series
0-for-4 (.000)
12-for-64 (.188)
6-for-17 (.353)
Regular Season
419-for-1,543 (.272)

Up Next
World Series Game 2
Thursday vs. Phillies, 7:57 p.m., FOX

Pedro Martinez (5-1, 3.63 ERA; Postseason: 0-0, 0.00 ERA in 1 start; Did not face Yankees this year)
A.J. Burnett (13-9, 4.04 ERA; Postseason: 0-0, 4.42 in 3 starts; 2009 vs. Phillies: 0-1, 7.50 ERA)

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