Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bats Finally Break Out

Andy Pettitte didn't have his best stuff Saturday and that could have spelled big trouble for an offense that had struggled to score runs in the first two games of the World Series.

And with Phillies starter Cole Hamels looking sharp through three innings, the stage was set for a long night for the Bombers.

But that all changed on Alex Rodriguez's instant replay-confirmed, two-run homer in the fourth as the offense finally broke out to lead the Yankees to an 8-5 victory in Game 3 at Citizens Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia.

The Yankees lead the series 2-1 with Game 4 scheduled for tonight with CC Sabathia going against Joe Blanton. Saturday's victory also means the only way Jimmy Rollins can be right about the Series going five games is if the Phillies lose. Jimmy, I'm getting that plate of crow and humble pie ready right now.

It was clear from the start that Pettitte wasn't sharp, working around a leadoff single by Rollins in the first, but throwing 20 pitches.

Pettitte wouldn't be so lucky in the second, though the reality is that most of the damage could have been avoided had the Yankees properly defended a sacrifice bunt.

Pettitte started the inning by falling behind Jayson Werth 3-and-0 before battling back to run the count full. Pettitte then fired a knee-high slider that Werth was able to reach and launch into the stands in left for a 1-0 lead. It was the first of two homers Werth would hit off Pettitte.

Pettitte settled down and struck out lefty Raul Ibanez, but Pedro Feliz the hammered a double to right and Carlos Ruiz walked and the Yankees were in trouble.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel then asked Hamels to sacrifice and Hamel laid down a beautiful bunt down the third base line, however Pettitte and Posada appeared to have a mixup as to who should field the bunt, resulting in Hamels reaching first and being credited with a single to load the bases.

Pettitte then walked Rollins to force in a run before Shane Victorino lofted a sacrifice fly to left to make it 3-0. Fortunately for Pettitte a lefthander was due up next and he struck out Chase Utley to end the inning.

The Phillies started three left-handed hitting position players in this game -- Ryan Howard, Utley and Ibanez -- and they combined to go 0-for-12 with seven strikeouts.

Pettitte, though, settled down after that, allowing just one runner to reach on a throwing error by A-Rod until the sixth, when Werth led off with his second homer.

Pettitte ended up allowing four runs on five hits and three walks in six innings. He struck out seven, threw 59 of 104 pitches for strikes and ended up earning his record 17th postseason victory. It wasn't close to his best peformance, but it was good enough on this night.

That's because the offense came to life, though for a while it looked as if the lineup would struggle to score again.

Hamels was sharp through three innings, allowing just one runner when he plunked A-Rod leading off the second. Last year's World Series MVP had command of his fastball and was throwing a nasty changeup.

But that changed in the fourth when he threw is first curve of the game to Mark Teixeira with one out. Hamels jumped ahead of Teixeira 1-and-2 when he threw and missed with that first curve. He then missed with two straight fastballs to walk Teixeira.

Hamels then threw a change for a strike to A-Rod, but his next pitch, a fastball, missed its spot, drifting toward the outer half of the plate for A-Rod to hammer high to right field. Initially, the umpires ruled the ball hit off the top of the railing, giving A-Rod a double, but the ball actually had hit a TV camera hanging over the railing, and after consulting replay, the umpires correctly ruled it a homer to make the score 3-2.

It was A-Rod's first hit of the World Series after going 0-for-8 with six strikeouts in the first two games. It also strengthened the case for expanded use of replay in baseball. After a postseason filled with blown calls, one can only hope commissioner Bud Selig will come to his senses after seeing how replay helped the umps get the call right and protect the integrity of the game and umpires.

Hamels got through the rest of the inning unscathed, but it was clear he was a changed pitcher, one lacking confidence that his fastball and change would be enough to get Yankees hitters out the second time through the order.

In the fifth, Hamels began featuring that curve more and was burned repeatedly because of it.

Nick Swisher, who was back in the lineup after sitting in Game 2 and had been 4-for-36 in the postseason to that point, hammered a 2-and-2 curve to left for a double. Hamels did not throw one fastball and just two changes in the at-bat.

After striking out Melky Cabrera, Hamels then started Pettitte off with a curve that Pettitte was able to line to center for an RBI single that tied the score at 3.

Derek Jeter then hit a first-pitch fastball to center for a single before Johnny Damon delivered the knockout blow, a two-run double that gave the Yankees a 5-3 lead they'd never relinquish.

Hamels' night was done after 4-1/3 innings, allowing five runs on five hits and two walks. He struck out three and threw 49 of 69 pitches for strikes. He unravelled quickly and just wasn't the same pitcher after throwing that first curveball to Teixeira.

J.A. Happ relieved and got out of the fifth, but the Yankees' offense was just kicking into gear.

Swisher may have made Joe Girardi wish he had sat his starting right fielder sooner, say in Game 5 of the ALCS, by crushing a one-out homer to left in the sixth to make it 6-3. Swisher was a changed player in this game and that was apparent in every at-bat.

Jorge Posada added a two-out RBI single in the seventh to make it 7-4 and Hideki Matsui hit an opposite-field, pinch homer in the eighth to give the Yankees' suddenly shaky bullpen plenty of cushion.

But the bullpen, for the most part, was back in midseason form as was Girardi, who stopped overmanaging and did not try to match up at every opportunity. If a reliever was throwing well, Girardi let him stay in.

Joba Chamberlain handled the seventh with ease, retiring the side in order on nine pitches and getting Utley to fly to center to end it.

Lefthander Damaso Marte then breezed through the eighth, striking out Howard and Werth, a righthander, before getting Ibanez to line to third.

The only down note came in the ninth, when the Yankees had a four-run lead and Girardi was hoping to get Phil Hughes back on track. Hughes got Feliz to ground out, but then served up a homer to Ruiz.

And with Hughes having struggled so badly in the postseason, Girardi was not about to push his luck, bringing on Mariano Rivera to close it out on five pitches and secure control of the Series.

The Yankees now have a golden opportunity tonight to take command of the series. Sabathia will be going on three days' rest after his solid, but losing effort in Game 1. This is a big spot for CC and the Yankees are counting on their ace lefty to put them in a position where they can close out the series with one win in remaining three games.

Meanwhile, the offense will have to continue what it started Saturday. Blanton is a solid starter, but not anything special.

Runners In Scoring Position
World Series
4-for-16 (.250)
Game 3
3-for-7 (.429)
Game 2
1-for-5 (.200)
Game 1
0-for-4 (.000)
12-for-64 (.188)
6-for-17 (.353)
Regular Season
419-for-1,543 (.272)

Up Next
World Series Game 5
Sunday at Phillies, 8:20 p.m., FOX

Sabathia (19-8, 3.37 ERA; Postseason: 3-1, 1.52 ERA in 4 games)
Blanton (12-8, 4.05 ERA; Postseason: 0-0, 4.66 ERA in 3 games, 1 start)

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