November 02, 2009
But since it was a self-described Idiot doing the thieving? Well, every ensuing description of the heads-up play seemed to use a decidedly less brainy term — "instinct."
In the end, the label doesn't change much of anything, because Johnny Damon's(notes) seizure of an unoccupied third base during Sunday night's Game 4 was a definite game changer and ranks as one of the rarest and strangest World Series plays we've ever seen.
Indeed, no player in Fall Classic history had ever stolen two bases on one pitch until Damon did it off Philadelphia reliever Brad Lidge(notes) in the ninth inning of the Yankees' 7-4 victory over the Phillies. The ultra-aware play — which arguably stands as the most iconic of the 2009 World Series — put Damon on third base with two outs, robbing Lidge of his slider and sparking a three-run rally that helped salt away a 3-1 World Series lead for New York.
The play began as the Phillies defense put the infield shift on for lefty Mark Teixeira(notes). Damon ran on the first pitch (a ball) and was able to easily beat the throw from Carlos Ruiz(notes), which bounced short into the glove of Pedro Feliz(notes). The third baseman was actually playing shortstop because of the shift and Damon noticed that Lidge had not moved to fill the hole on the left side of the infield.
Like an unlocked Huffy outside a convenience store, third base was unguarded and just begging to be stolen.
"What I had to see before I could start running to third base was how Pedro caught the ball," said Damon, who reached base after a nine-pitch at-bat that ended with a single to left. "I knew [the throw] kind of drug him off some. I'm just glad that when I started running I still had some of my young legs behind me."
Damon easily separated himself from Feliz and then beat Lidge to the bag. The Yankees dugout erupted and manager Joe Girardi later described the play as "instinctual."
But Girardi also said Damon had to be "100 percent sure" he'd be safe before taking off with two outs (and with Teixeira and A-Rod up next), which prompted another question:
Exactly when did Damon know he'd be safe?
"Probably when I was halfway down," Damon said. "I mean, I know that I still have some decent speed left in the tank, but ... I knew Pedro's speed also. I mean, if that was [speedy Angels third baseman] Chone Figgins(notes), that might have been tough."
In actuality, it couldn't have been easier for Damon, who then watched Lidge hit Mark Teixeira with a pitch before surrendering a game-winning RBI double to Alex Rodriguez(notes) and another two runs off a single by Jorge Posada(notes).
Though all of the headlines on Monday morning will likely focus on A-Rod reaching the brink of his first World Series title, it was Damon staging the postseason's biggest coup since Dave Roberts(notes) in the 2004 ALCS that made it all possible.
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