11/02/09 1:44 AM EST
Bauman: Yanks ride tried-and-true formula
Damon's savvy, A-Rod in the clutch spark epic late rally
This is the Yankees trifecta: They win not only with brawn but with brains, and they win with players who are supposed to win.
In this particular instance, it became even better than that. This 7-4 victory gave them a 3-1 lead over the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2009 World Series. They are one victory away from this franchise's 27th World Series championship.
The top of the ninth inning of Sunday night's Game 4 will go down in Yankees lore. Yankees lore is already crowded, but room will have to be made for this episode.
It was a 4-4 tie after the Phillies had twice come back from two-run deficits. Philadelphia closer Brad Lidge was on the mound. His difficulties this year have been heavily documented, but he had regained form in the postseason, and here he retired the first two Yankees hitters without issue, on a popup and a strikeout.
The outlook was not promising, but then Johnny Damon put up a world-class at-bat. Even after being down, 0-2, Damon battled on every pitch of a nine-pitch at-bat. Damon kept looking for a slider, Lidge's out pitch, but kept getting fastballs and was quick enough to foul them off.
"Lidge got ahead of him, he fouled some tough pitches off, and for Johnny to get on base, you know that some things can start to happen then in that situation," said manager Joe Girardi. "Just an unbelievable at-bat by Johnny Damon."
"For me, the whole key of the whole inning was an unbelievable, tenacious at-bat by Johnny Damon," said Alex Rodriguez.
On the ninth pitch, Damon singled over shortstop. And then the real fun began. With Mark Teixeira up, hitting left-handed against Lidge, the Phillies had a shift on in the infield. Third baseman Pedro Feliz was covering second.
Damon stole second and then, coming up out of his slide, saw that there was nothing but open space between him and third. The throw had taken Feliz slightly off to the other side of the bag. What happened next was a race to third between Damon and Feliz.
"I'm just glad that when I started running, I still had some of my young legs behind me," Damon said with a smile. "I know that I still have some decent speed left in the tank, but I was just hoping. I knew Pedro's speed also. I mean, if it was Chone Figgins, that might have been tough. I just went off of instinct, and fortunately, it worked out."
Damon won the race to third and was credited with two stolen bases. Teixeira was hit by a pitch, putting runners on the corners for Rodriguez. A-Rod got fastballs on the first two pitches. That underscored the importance of Damon getting to third. If Damon is still at second, Lidge might be more likely to throw a slider, knowing that a wild pitch can't score a run from there.
Rodriguez turned on the second fastball and doubled to left, scoring Damon with what would prove to be the winning run. Jorge Posada knocked in the final two runs, and Mariano Rivera worked a typically spotless ninth for the save.
Rodriguez said that he had never had a bigger hit than this one. That may well be true, but he has had a bunch of big hits in the 2009 postseason. Just the previous night, he had awakened the Yankees' offense from a slumber with a two-run homer that was the catalyst for a Bronx Bombers comeback.
"He's the reason why we're in Philadelphia right now," Damon said. "I felt like without him, who knows where our road may have stopped at. He's the guy who has the RBI numbers, who's been driving us through the playoffs. So he's been huge. We really enjoy the way he's playing."
Commendation also had to go to CC Sabathia, pitching on three days' rest for the second time in this postseason. He battled the Phillies and departed in the seventh with a 4-3 lead. He once again pitched well enough to make victory possible.
But the remarkable winning rally in the ninth will be the sequence that is from this one that will be too good to be forgotten. Johnny Damon's determined at-bat, followed by his heads-up, one-of-a-kind baserunning, and then yet another big run-producing hit by Alex Rodriguez.
All of this brought the Yankees to the very brink of a World Series championship. If you looked at the way they won this game, you understood how they had come this far.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.