A-Rod delivers the hit of a lifetime
PHILADELPHIA – Maybe it’s passé to cast him in mythic terms, if it’s true, as one magazine reported a few days ago, that Alex Rodriguez(notes) owns paintings portraying him as a centaur. But let there be no doubt as to the identity of the horse the New York Yankees are riding in their bid to win their first World Series title since 2000.
With his ninth-inning, tie-breaking double following a true World Series rarity – two stolen bases on the same play by Johnny Damon(notes) – Rodriguez is within one more Yankees victory of placing himself in the company of those he most envies, the pinstripers who can call themselves champions.
“No question, I’ve never had a bigger hit,” Rodriguez said.
The Yankees, responding to Pedro Feliz’s(notes) game-tying home run off Joba Chamberlain(notes) with two out in the bottom of the eighth, scored three runs in the ninth off Philadelphia Phillies closer Brad Lidge(notes) to win 7-4 and take a 3-1 lead in the World Series, pushing the defending champion Phillies to within a game of elimination.
“He’s the reason why we’re sitting here right now in Philadelphia,” Damon said of Rodriguez. “He’s been driving in the big runs.”
The Phillies will send ace Cliff Lee(notes) to the mound in Game 5 in an effort to prolong the Series. The Yankees will counter with A.J. Burnett(notes), the Game 2 winner who like Sunday’s starter, CC Sabathia(notes), will be pitching on three days’ rest.
Rodriguez tied a Yankees record for RBIs in a postseason (15) when his double scored Damon, who had singled with two out and taken advantage of an overshifted Phillies infield to steal both second and third base on one pitch to Mark Teixeira(notes). Damon fouled off five pitches during a nine-pitch at-bat before lining an opposite-field single. On the first pitch to Teixeira, Damon bolted for second, where third baseman Feliz took the late and low throw from catcher Carlos Ruiz(notes). Feliz was covering the bag because he’d swung over to the shortstop position while shortstop Jimmy Rollins(notes) shifted to the right side of the second-base bag to defend against the left-handed hitting Teixeira.
Damon, immediately recognizing that no one was covering third, jumped up and ran to the unprotected bag. Neither Lidge nor Ruiz reacted in time to the unfolding situation.
“I think what I had to see before I started running for third base was how Pedro caught the ball,” Damon said. “I knew it [dragged] him off. I’m just glad when I started running, I still had some of my young legs behind me.
“It worked out, because being at third base, it took away a tough slider in the dirt [from Lidge]. Alex got two fastballs. It did work out for us.”
Lidge, who had blown 11 saves during the regular season but had been unscored upon in five previous postseason appearances, got two quick outs in the ninth, retiring pinch-hitter Hideki Matsui(notes) on a pop fly and striking out Derek Jeter(notes). But Damon, who already had doubled and scored in the first and singled in a run in the fifth, refused to give in.
“I kept sitting slider, and he kept throwing fastballs,” Damon said of his extended at-bat. “You’re not taught to do it that way.”
Lidge threw one more fastball, and Damon timed it well enough to line it in front of left-fielder Raul Ibanez(notes). Moments later, he was standing on third base, and Lidge hit Teixeira with a pitch, bringing up Rodriguez.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel lamented the breakdown in his team’s defense.
“That’s the first time we’ve had that happen to us this year, but at the same time somebody has got to be covering third base. Usually it’s the catcher tries to get down there.”
Yankees manager Joe Girardi, meanwhile, was effusive in his praise of Damon.
“That’s instinct,” he said. “You’ve got to be sure, when you’ve got Teixeira and A-Rod coming up behind him, but that was a great instinctual play by Johnny.”