Yankees overpowered by Utley, Lee
NEW YORK – They pitched against each other in the first regular-season game played in Yankee Stadium, and afterward, CC Sabathia(notes) brought Cliff Lee(notes) home with him for dinner. The friends and former teammates met again Wednesday night, on another occasion of note – the first World Series game played in the House That George Bought. But given the hour, and the outcome, you can safely assume Lee was on his own for a postgame meal.
This, too, is also clear: With Lee shutting down the New York Yankees with a complete-game six-hitter and Chase Utley(notes) hitting two home runs to lead the Philadelphia Phillies to a 6-1 win in the opener of the 105th World Series, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins(notes) may not have to eat crow after all for brashly predicting on Leno that the Yankees would be no obstacle to the Phillies repeating as champions.
In the first postseason game Utley ever played, he struck out in all four plate appearances. That was in 2007, in Game 1 of the Phillies’ division series against the Colorado Rockies.
Since then, Utley has reached base in all 26 postseason games he has appeared, a big league record he’d shared with Baltimore’s Boog Powell until he climaxed a nine-pitch at-bat by lining a full-count fastball from Sabathia into the lower right-field seats in the third inning.
“My approach is to try to make him work a little bit,” he said. “He’s a big, strong guy who can throw a lot of pitches, but my approach was to try to lay off the slider and look for a fastball. He left one over the plate, and you can’t miss it.”
Sabathia didn’t react visibly as Utley circled the bases, but somewhere in his 6-foot-7, 300-pound frame, surprise almost certainly registered. The home run was the first Sabathia had given up to a left-handed hitter at Yankee Stadium this season. Utley then confounded Sabathia and a sellout crowd of 50,207 by taking him deep again in the sixth inning, this time launching an 0-2 pitch deep into the seats above the Modells signs in right-center field to give the Phillies a 2-0 lead.
“The fans were pretty rowdy early on in the game,” Utley said. “I noticed later on that a lot of people left.”
When the Phillies won the World Series last season against the Tampa Bay Rays, it was Utley who hit a tone-setting two-run home run off Scott Kazmir(notes) in the first inning of Game 1. He also homered in Game 3 of the Phillies’ division series victory over the Rockies in Denver two weeks ago.
Utley had a chance to break the game open in the eighth, when he came to the plate with no outs and two on, Yankees reliever Phil Hughes(notes) having walked Rollins and Shane Victorino(notes) to open the inning. But Utley looked at a called third strike from Damaso Marte(notes), the Yankees’ third pitcher of the night, who also retired Ryan Howard(notes) on a liner for the inning’s second out.
Utley had one final chance to join two Yankees – Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson – as the third player in Series history to hit three home runs in a game when he came to the plate against rookie lefty Phil Coke(notes) with two on in the ninth. He flied to center.
The long ball figured to factor heavily in this series; the Yankees led the majors in home runs with 244 and had hit 14 more this postseason, two shy of the franchise record. The Phillies led the NL with 224, and also had 14 more this postseason. The Phillies had four players with 30 or more home runs, including Utley. The Yankees had seven players with 20 or more.
But on a night when the day’s heavy rains yielded to a blowing drizzle, only Utley among the big boppers was not overmatched in the second-ever Game 1 matchup of Cy Young Award winners, the other being Greg Maddux(notes) (Atlanta) versus Orel Hershiser (Cleveland) in 1995.
Mark Teixeira(notes) and Alex Rodriguez(notes) struck out twice apiece against Lee, and neither got a ball out of the infield against the Phillies’ left-hander, who struck out 10, did not walk a batter and until the ninth allowed just one Yankee as far as second base, on Derek Jeter’s(notes) two-out double in the third.
“When we got him, I knew he was good,” Manuel said. “I’d seen him before. If you want to know the truth, I didn’t know he was as good as he’s been.
“He went through a good lineup, a tremendous lineup.”
Lee, who is now 3-0 with a 0.54 ERA this postseason, so disheartened the Yankee partisans that there were thousands of empty seats by the eighth inning, amnesia evidently wiping out the memory of the Yankees’ major league high 51 comeback wins during the regular season, and five more in the postseason, including three in the seventh inning or later.
The Yankees appeared primed to chide their fans for their faithlessness when Jeter led off the ninth with his third hit, Johnny Damon(notes) followed with a base hit and a run scored when Rollins threw away the relay on Teixeira’s forceout. But Lee whiffed A-Rod and Jorge Posada(notes), applying the finishing touches on his stellar outing.
“I try not to go over the edge and be cocky, but I definitely have confidence,” Lee said.
How much did Lee toy with the Yankees? He casually gloved Johnny Damon’s popup in the sixth, tagging Jorge Posada on the derriere in the seventh, and snagged Robinson Cano’s(notes) comebacker by flicking his glove behind his back.
“I liked the one behind the back,” Manuel said. “The popup, he was trying to pull a Willie Mays on us.”
Sabathia, who had walked just three batters in 22 2/3 postseason innings, almost matched that number in the first inning, when walks to Utley and Werth sandwiched around a double by Howard loaded the bases with two out. Sabathia fell into a 3-and-1 hole to Ibanez, but induced a roller to second base.
But the home runs by Utley, the only runs he allowed in seven innings, were sufficient to pin the loss on Sabathia, whom the Yankees hope to bring back in Game 4 and a potential Game 7 on three days rest.
Lee may have a couple more encores left, too.
“He’s pitching extremely well,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “But the main thing is, he can’t pitch every day.”