Once again the Yankees turned to “Old Reliable.” In one of the linchpin games of the 2009 edition of the World Series Joe Girardi handed the ball to the elder statesman of his pitching staff.
Andy Pettitte has taken the hill in the post season more than any other Yankee pitcher not named Mariano Rivera. Whitey Ford has the major league record for most wins the World Series with 10, but Pettitte had the most victories in the post season with 16. Last night he was going for his 17th.
The Philadelphia Phillies countered with last year’s World Series MVP, Cole Hamels, and the Phillies were banking on the Hamels of 2008 showing up. As Game 3 unfolded it appeared that the boys from the City of Brotherly Love were going to get their wish.
In the first 3 innings Hamels completely shut down the Yankees. The only flaw in his game up that point was hitting Alex Rodriguez in the top of the second, but he quickly erased that situation by inducing catcher Jorge Posada to hit into a force at second, striking out Robinson Cano and getting Nick Swisher to fly out to right.
Pettitte also looked like he was ready for the evening. After giving up a leadoff single to shortstop Jimmy Rollins in the first Pettitte retired the Phillies big bats by popping out Shane Victorino, then striking out Chase Utley and Ryan Howard to end the inning.
The game appeared to be shaping up to another pitching duel, but things got dicey for Pettitte and the Yankees in the second. In a script tailor made for Halloween Pettitte served up a leadoff home run to Jason Werth before striking out Raul Ibanez. Catcher Pedro Feliz followed with a double to right and Carlos Ruiz walked. With runners at first and second Hamels laid down a bunt single to load the bases. Rollins walked to force in a run and then Victorino hit a sacrifice fly to left scoring Ruiz. Pettitte finally escaped further damage by striking out Utley for the second time to end the inning.
The teams traded zeros in the 3rd inning, but it wasn’t looking great for the Bombers as Hamels hadn’t given up a hit and appeared to be cruising through New York’s lineup.
That all changed in the top of the 4th.
Hamels started the inning like he had the entire game by getting Johnny Damon to fly out to right field. He walked Mark Teixeira and up to the plate strode Alex Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, who had had stellar division and league championship series performances was hitless in the Fall Classic. In eight official at bats A-Rod had recorded six strikeouts conjuring up memories of his preceding post season woes.
A-Rod put a charge into an 0-1 fastball and sent it down the right field line. Initially, it looked like the ball hit the top of the wall and came back onto the field, causing Rodriguez to stop at second and Teixeira at third. However, the strange way the ball bounced back onto the field caused Girardi to ask for a video review of the ball’s flight. All six umpires retreated to a viewing room and in a very quick reversal ruled that A-Rod’s shot had hit a FOX camera located just behind the wall in the right field corner of the park. It was now a 3-2 Phillies lead.
“I think it was a big hit,” Rodriguez said to reporters after the game. “I think it woke our offense up a little bit. It felt really good.”
Added Girardi about A-Rod’s breakout swing, “It was a big hit for us because it really got us going. He has been so good for us in the playoffs. He’s a big reason we’re at this point.”
Pettitte pitched a scoreless 4th and then the Yankees went back to work in the top of the 5th inning.
Swisher finally got to the party by doubling to left to start the inning. After Melky Cabrera stuck out Pettitte helped his own cause by blooping a first pitch curveball into center as Swisher came around and beat the throw to home with a hard slide into Ruiz.
With the score tied Jeter singled to left, moving Pettitte to second. Johnny Damon doubled to right center scoring Pettitte and Jeter. Rapidly the game unraveled for Hamels and the Phillies. After walking Teixeira manager Charlie Manuel took his staggered starter out of the game.
J.A. Happ quickly restored order by getting A-Rod to line out to center and Posada to pop out to second to shut down the Yankee threat.
Leading 5-3 Pettitte faced the heart of the Phillies lineup. However, as he had done so many times in past post season games, Pettitte came up big getting Victorino to line out to center, followed by Utley grounding out to first and Howard popping out to short.
Both teams traded home runs in the 6th as Swisher recorded his first knock in the World Series and Werth hit a monster shot over the left field wall for his second round tripper of the game.
In the seventh with two on and two out Posada got on the ledger by hitting a soft single to left scoring Damon as the Yankees took a 7-4 lead.
Pinch hitter Hideki Matsui, substituting for reliever Joba Chamberlain (who pitched a scoreless 7th inning) finished up the Yankees scoring by hitting an opposite field home run off Brett Myers to make it an 8-4 ballgame.
With the Phillies down to their last 3 outs and the Yankees holding onto a 4-run lead Girardi elected to go with the erratic Phil Hughes to close out the game. Unfortunately for Hughes, after Feliz grounded out, Hughes threw a 1-1 four seamer to Ruiz over the plate and Ruiz launched it over the left center field wall. Girardi wasted little time finding his hook and pulling the beleaguered reliever out of the game.
For the third straight game closer Mariano Rivera was given the ball and asked to end the game. Rivera did so on 5 pitches. He induced pinch hitter Matt Stairs to ground out to second and Rollins to hit a soft pop up to Rodriguez at third. Ballgame over.
Losing Game 1, and knowing the last 6 World Series runner ups lost Game 1 the Yankees knew they had a steep, but not impossible mountain to climb.
“We feel like we’ve got a real strong team,” Pettitte told reporters. “Obviously, losing that first game, we weren’t happy with that. We were upset about it, but we feel real good about what we’re doing and we felt good about coming in here.”
Pettitte critiqued his pitching performance as a rough one. One that came after an 80-minute rain delay.
“It was a battle tonight — I wasn’t able to get ahead,” Pettitte said in the clubhouse. “I wasn’t able to get my breaking ball over. I was able to get some outs when I needed to get some, but it was a grind tonight for me.”
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“You’re out there and you’re by yourself,” Pettitte admitted to reporters. “There’s not a whole lot of anything that can help you except just trying to just keep battling and keep trying to get it there and keep trying to get it there, and hopefully, it’ll come around.”
Luckily for the Yankees Pettitte did come around, and so did the Yankees offense. Although happy with the outcome the Yankees know the battle isn’t over.
“We feel good about being up, 2-1,” Pettitte mused afterward. “But we know there’s a lot of work left to do.”
New York hopes to put the Phillies on the brink of elimination today in Game 4 as their ace CC Sabathia takes the hill on three days’ rest. The Phillies counter with RHP Joe Blanton. Game time is 8:20 pm EST. As usual the broadcast will be carried by FOX and anchored by Joe Buck and Tim McCarver.