Home MLB Yankees’ late rally stuns the Phillies in Game Four

Yankees’ late rally stuns the Phillies in Game Four

by Matt Smith

world-series2009The New York Yankees scored three ninth-inning runs to earn a stunning 7-4 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies in Game Four of the 2009 World Series.  Pedro Feliz blasted the Philadelphia crowd into a frenzy in the bottom of the eighth inning when he launched a 3-2 pitch from Joba Chamberlain into the left-field seats to tie the game at 4-4.  The Phillies dreamed of a shutdown inning by Brad Lidge to set up a walk-off hit against the Yankees’ legendary closer Mariano Rivera; however, the dream turned into a nightmare. 

The Phillies’ closer, perfect in converting 41 save opportunities in 2008, has endured a difficult season and it reached a nadir in the early hours of this morning.  Everything seemed to be going to plan when Lidge retired Hideki Matsui and Derek Jeter to begin the ninth inning, but a two-out single by Johnny Damon sent the game spiralling out of control for the home team.  Damon displayed some smart base-running by stealing second and then continuing on his way to the unguarded third, vacant due to the infield shift against Mark Teixeira.  The shift was rendered useless when Lidge hit Teixeira with a pitch and that offered Alex Rodriguez, who was plunked for the third time in two games in the first inning, the chance to drive in the go-ahead run.  So often the public whipping boy, A-Rod delivered the biggest hit of his life by singling home Damon and Jorge Posada extended the lead with a single that allowed Teixeira and Rodriguez home as well.  Rivera took the mound in the bottom of the inning and quickly retired Matt Stairs, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino in order to complete the 7-4 victory. 

The devastating efficiency of the Yankees’ closer was a crushing message to the Phillies.  They now trail 3-1 in the series, when a level 2-2 state had appeared within reach, and face an immense battle tonight in Game Five simply to keep their season alive.  Meanwhile the Yankees are within touching distance of their twenty-seventh World Series win.

Game Four perfectly encapsulated  the sheer drama of a ballgame, how the course of a contest ebbs and flows and can completely change direction with one swing of the bat, one perfectly placed pitch or one great piece of fielding.  The wondrous nature of baseball statistics even allows us to see this in graph form via FanGraphs.  That link takes you to a graph showing how the odds of each team winning the game fluctuated over the nine innings, most notably with the sudden upturn in the Phillies’ fortunes as Pedro Feliz’s four-bagger sailed into the seats.  It’s a vivid visual representation of the surge in excitement and expectation that gripped the crowd at that moment, just as the sharp downturn that followed mirrors how their hopes plummeted soon after.

If there’s one bit of the graph that doesn’t quite reflect the impact of the moment, as I felt it at least, it’s the relatively modest upturn for the Phillies caused by Chase Utley’s home run.  CC Sabathia had sent Rollins and Victorino back to the dugout to open the sixth inning, but the Yankees’ lefty-specialist Damaso Marte looked ready to come into the game to face Utley, and potentially Ryan Howard.  Joe Girardi stayed with his starter and Utley promptly reduced the 4-2 deficit to a single run by taking him deep for the third time in two games.  The second baseman had also hit Sabathia for a double high off the right-centre wall in the first inning, so there was enough form to suggest that Utley was seeing the ball well out of CC’s hand.  As he rounded the bases, the Phillies must have felt that momentum was now on their side and that they had capitalized on a mistake by the Yankees’ skipper.

Managerial decisions are there to be second guessed.  If Sabathia had ended the inning by making Utley pop up for the third straight at-bat, Girardi could have used Marte against Howard and Raul Ibanez in the eighth (with Jayson Werth in between).  Maybe that would have worked out well for the Yankees, not least as a three-up, three-down eighth would have potentially brought up the home run hero Feliz against Rivera instead of Chamberlain.  It nearly didn’t matter because Joba was throwing the ball exceptionally well and frankly bullied Werth and Ibanez with his fastball/slider combination to open the eighth.  The count was full on Feliz and I was expecting an all-or-nothing approach by both players: Feliz to swing himself out of his boots to level the game in one go and Chamberlain to blaze in that 96-MPH heater of his in an attempt to strike out the side. Like two gunslingers, they took ten paces and turned to fire at each other with the best shot they had.  Joba missed his spot, Feliz didn’t.  With the drama of that moment and the Yankee onslaught that followed, if Girardi’s decision not to replace Sabathia was wrong, I’m glad he made the mistake because it set in train a thrilling finale.

Umpiring calls also play a part in how a game pans out, both the good calls and the bad.  Of course, it’s the mistakes that we all focus on and there were a few more to grumble about in this game.  Both sides took issue with Mike Everitt’s strike zone and suggestions that he needed to go to Specsavers were backed-up by him missing a play at the plate.  He failed to see that neither Ryan Howard’s hand, chest, nor foot made contact with the plate as he slid past Posada in the fourth inning to tie the game at 2-2.  Thankfully for Everitt, that phantom run didn’t cost the Yankees.

Let’s not focus on a few duff umpiring calls though.  It was an epic game and the mistakes and moments of genius all came together to make it so.  The question now is whether the Phillies can pick themselves up off the floor after such a demoralizing loss.  The answer to that is they have no choice: there are potentially three more games left in this series and the Phillies have to win them all to retain their World Championship. 

Cliff Lee was held back so that he could pitch on normal rest and he will face off against A.J. Burnett in Game Five, with the Yankees knowing that one more big effort will secure this team’s place in the franchise’s illustrious World Series-winning history.  First pitch is 00.57 GMT.

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