One year after failing to make the playoffs, the New York Yankees are on the verge of being crowned World Series champions.
The Yankees look to win their record 27th title and first in nine years Monday, while the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies try to force a return to the Bronx as they turn to a rested Cliff Lee(notes) for a must-win Game 5.
After 13 consecutive seasons of reaching the playoffs, New York fell short in 2008, with a third-place finish in the AL East. Determined to get back to the postseason, the Yankees spent $423.5 million in the offseason, adding CC Sabathia(notes), A.J. Burnett(notes) and Mark Teixeira(notes). The additions paid off as New York won a league-best 103 games and its first division title since 2006.
Now, behind solid pitching and timely hitting, the Yankees are one win away from their first World Series title since 2000, following a 7-4 victory over the Phillies in Game 4 on Sunday.
Sabathia, pitching on short rest, left in the sixth inning with a one-run lead. After Joba Chamberlain(notes) allowed a game-tying home run to Pedro Feliz(notes) in the eighth, Alex Rodriguez(notes) put New York back ahead in the ninth with an RBI double off Phillies closer Brad Lidge(notes). Jorge Posada(notes) followed with a two-run single to add insurance.
Rodriguez, a popular target for Yankees fans’ frustrations because of his past postseason failures, was 0 for 8 with six strikeouts in Games 1 and 2, but hit a big home run in Game 3 and has driven in 15 runs in the 2009 postseason, tying a Yankees record shared by Bernie Williams(notes) and Scott Brosius.
“He’s the reason why we’re sitting here and we’re in Philadelphia right now,” said Johnny Damon(notes), who went 3 for 5 and scored on Rodriguez’s go-ahead hit after a advancing to third on a double steal. “I felt like without him, who knows where our road may have stopped at.”
Rodriguez and the Yankees will look to close out the series Monday night against the Phillies, who hope to rally and become the first NL team to repeat as champions since Cincinnati in 1975-76. If Philadelphia succeeds Monday in extending the series, it will return to the Bronx for Game 6 on Wednesday.
“We’ve been down this road before and we have to stay very focused. Those guys are the world champs,” Rodriguez said.
New York has good reason to feel confident. This is the ninth time the Yankees have led the World Series 3-1, and on all eight other occasions, they’ve gone on to win the title. Of the 42 teams overall to take a 3-1 lead, 36 went on to win the crown.
Philadelphia is trying to become the first club since the 1985 Kansas City Royals to overcome that deficit.
“I think we take a lot of pride on being resilient and the way we bounce back,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “I’ve seen us go through it before. We’ve blown 22 games from the seventh inning on or something this year. That’s got to tell you something about the resilience of our team.”
Lidge, who blew 11 saves and went 0-8 with a 7.21 ERA in the regular season, hadn’t allowed a run in five appearances this postseason prior to Sunday.
“We’ve got to get back to New York and keep going,” he said. “Hopefully I get another chance to get out there and get a win or a save for our team.”
If the Phillies lose this series, they may look back on their decision to keep Lee on regular rest as a mistake.
Manuel talked to Lee about pitching on short rest Sunday, but he said the two decided to keep him on his regular schedule. Lee, who has never pitched on shortened rest, said it was Manuel’s choice to go with Joe Blanton(notes), who gave up four runs in six innings.
“I just let him know I’d pitch whenever he wants me to pitch,” Lee told the Phillies’ official Web site. “I think I could do it, but he makes the calls.”
The left-hander is 3-0 with a 0.54 ERA in the postseason. He defeated Sabathia in Game 1, giving up one unearned run and six hits in a complete game victory. He struck out 10 in the dominant performance, but Manuel was undeterred in his decision even after the Phillies went down 2-1 in the series Saturday.
“You’re asking Cliff Lee to do something that he has never done before,” he said. “But we’re also asking him to do it in a very big, important place, and that’s in the World Series. I didn’t have to think very long at all about that.”
After getting success from Sabathia on three days’ rest, the Yankees hope for the same from Burnett.
Burnett started Thursday’s Game 2, allowing one run and four hits in seven innings of a 3-1 win. It was his first decision in the postseason, although New York has won three of his four playoff starts while he’s posted a 3.55 ERA.
The right-hander is 4-0 with a 2.33 ERA in four career starts on short rest, though he hasn’t tried it this season.
“To be honest, it’s a little different, obviously, in October,” he said. “But I feel good right now. Otherwise, I wouldn’t take the ball.”