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11/05/09 12:55 AM EST

'09 postseason: Drama, intrigue, pinstripes

From AL Central tiebreaker to Yanks' triumph, a glorious ride

NEW YORK -- There is nothing quite like a Major League Baseball postseason.

This was a postseason when Alex Rodriguez finally came through in the clutch, when the game's best closers struggled mightily to protect a lead, when Chase Utley reminded us of Reggie Jackson, when a Freeway Classic seemed possible and then suddenly kaput, when instant replay was used for the first time in the playoffs, when baserunning blunders proved costly, when three days' rest was back in vogue, when Halloween meant more than trick-or-treating, when two powerhouses met for the championship.

From those much-anticipated first pitches in the four Division Series to the last out of the 105th World Series, here is a fond look back at the 2009 postseason:

DIVISION SERIES

The first round really started with the Twins' classic American League Central tiebreaker victory over the Tigers to set the postseason field. The series outcomes were not close, but the drama was intense, leading to improved TV ratings for TBS, and it was rough times for some established closers. The Phillies won in four, while the Dodgers, Yankees and Angels all swept.

Phillies 3, Rockies 1
The only losing team to win a single game in this round was Colorado, which was trying to repeat its surprise run to the 2007 World Series. The Rockies were able to win Game 2 and hoped for another upset as the NLDS moved out to snowy Denver. Game 3 was a whiteout, and the next two games were one-run thrillers. Philadelphia won both of them, as Brad Lidge survived a two-out walk for a save in Game 3 and then Huston Street -- a virtual lock all season -- blew a save in the finale.

"The guys just don't want to be known as one-time World Series winners," Lidge said of the 2008 champions. "They want to be in the same sentence as some of the great teams."

Dodgers 3, Cardinals 0
St. Louis was set up for a playoff series better than perhaps any team in recent memory, considering that its first two starters are the top candidates for the NL Cy Young Award. Maybe you could beat one, but surely not both, even with the first two games in Los Angeles. Then the Cardinals would take it back to St. Louis and have the edge. That was conventional wisdom, but the postseason is not predictable. Chris Carpenter struggled with control and lost in the opener, and then Game 2 had a shocking end as Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday muffed a liner (he said he lost it in the lights) on what would have been the last out, blowing a masterful outing by Adam Wainwright (eight innings, innings hits). The Dodgers had new life and won, 3-2, on Mark Loretta's pinch-hit in the ninth.

Even then people were saying that the Cardinals needed only to win Game 3 back at Busch Stadium so they could get to Carpenter-Wainwright again and make up for what had happened. No problem, right? They never got to Carpenter-Wainwright. Vicente Padilla was a hot hand, and 2009 breakout postseason star Andre Ethier and the Dodgers swept the Cardinals at home.

"This game can be really weird," Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake said. "I never would have guessed that we would have swept those guys."

Yankees 3, Twins 0
The Bronx Bombers were back in the postseason after a one-year hiatus, and they showed up with home-field advantage through the postseason after posting the best regular-season record. Minnesota had some Metrodome magic going, with Target Field looming as the Twins' new nearby home for next April, and they hoped to carry it over from the tiebreaker. The Yankees' pitching came through just as expected, but what no one counted on was Rodriguez.

The superstar who had struggled so mightily in recent postseasons came out with a new clutchness. First, he belted a game-tying homer in the ninth inning off Twins single-season saves record-holder Joe Nathan to set up Mark Teixeira's game-winning homer in the bottom of the 11th of Game 2. Then he crushed a blast off Carl Pavano to tie the score at 1 in the seventh inning of Game 3 -- the same game in which Nick Punto was tagged out at third on a memorable baserunning blunder -- and the Yankees went on to clinch.

"He came up with a couple of huge home runs for us," Derek Jeter said. "He's swinging the bat well. He's been swinging the bat extremely well the whole year. It seems like he continues to get better and better, and hopefully, he'll continue. He's a big reason why we're here."

Angels 3, Red Sox 0


"When it comes down to honoring Nick Adenhart and what happened in April, in that respect, yes, it's probably the biggest hit. Because I'm dedicating it to a former teammate, a guy who passed away."
-- Vladimir Guerrero on the ALDS game-winner

Boston was back as the AL Wild Card, and hoping to make a run at what could have been a third World Series title in a six-year span -- enough to be considered as Team of the Decade. Alas, the Angels dominated the first two games at Angel Stadium, as they were on a course many viewed as destiny. The Angels were trying to win for the memory of Nick Adenhart, their pitcher who had died an April car accident hours after his sterling season debut. It seemed a real possibility, especially when the Angels went to Boston for Game 3 and beat Jonathan Papelbon -- just another example of a star closer blowing a save chance.

After all those years of being dominated by the Red Sox in this first round, this was retribution. Boston manager Terry Francona chose to intentionally walk Torii Hunter with men on second and third with a one-run lead in the ninth inning of Game 3 and take his chances with Vladimir Guerrero -- and it backfired. Guerrero rocked a two-out, two-run single off Papelbon, stunning Red Sox Nation for a 7-6 victory and a ticket to the next round.

"When it comes down to honoring Nick Adenhart and what happened in April," Guerrero said, "in that respect, yes, it's probably the biggest hit. Because I'm dedicating it to a former teammate, a guy who passed away."

LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

Would it be the first Freeway Series between the Dodgers and Angels -- putting the spotlight on Hollywood and the beaches? Would Dodgers manager Joe Torre come back to face the Yankees? Could the Phillies eliminate the Dodgers again and follow the same track for a repeat? It was becoming clear that everyone was watching this postseason -- TV ratings were soaring -- and if your team was out of it, you were choosing some team to root for or against.

Phillies 4, Dodgers 1
It was the same NLCS matchup as 2008, except this time the Dodger had home-field advantage after posting the NL's best record. The defending champs won the opener, 8-6, as Carlos Ruiz and Raul Ibanez homered. A big throwing error by second baseman Chase Utley opened the door for the Dodgers in Game 2, and Ethier's bases-loaded walk was the key as the Dodgers took Game 2 by a 2-1 count to even the series.

Back at Citizens Bank Park, it was all Phillies. The defending champs cruised to a 11-0 rout in Game 3, and Ryan Howard became the first player to drive in at least one run in seven straight games within the same postseason. One strike from victory, Jonathan Broxton joined the conga line of top closers who blew saves in this postseason, and the Phillies followed up that 5-4 victory in Game 4 with a 10-4 clincher. Jayson Werth hit two homers in Game 5, and now the stage was set for what could be the first back-to-back titles by an NL club since Cincinnati's Big Red Machine in 1975-76.

" 'Are you guys going to repeat? Are you guys going to do it?' " Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "Around the city, everywhere we went every Phillies fan was asking. Now that we're actually in the World Series, we really have a chance to repeat."

Yankees 4, Angels 2


"He came up with a couple of huge home runs for us. He's swinging the bat well. He's been swinging the bat extremely well the whole year. It seems like he continues to get better and better. ... He's a big reason why we're here."
-- Derek Jeter on Alex Rodriguez

It wasn't easy, but the Yankees finally got back to a World Series for the first time since 2003. They prospered from outstanding pitching, featuring ALCS MVP CC Sabathia (two wins), A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte, who set the record for most series-clinching wins with five. Most notably, the Yankees had a real difference-maker closing games. Mariano Rivera seemed automatic by comparison to others, including Brian Fuentes, the 2009 Major League saves leader, who gave up a game-tying homer to still-hot Rodriguez in the bottom of the 11th of that classic Game 2. The Bombers won that game with more season-long walk-off magic when Jerry Hairston Jr. scored in the 13th on second baseman Maicer Izturis' throwing error.

Angels fans will remember Jeff Mathis' walk-off double in the 11th inning of Game 3, cutting the Yankees' lead to 2-1. They will remember Fuentes inducing Nick Swisher into a pop fly to end Game 5, forcing the series to return to Yankee Stadium. But for all that the Angels had in heart, they surprisingly lacked this series in fundamentals. They committed three errors in Game 1, and that pretty much set the tone. A lasting memory on that cold first night was when a pop fly dropped amid miscommunication between third baseman Chone Figgins and shortstop Erick Aybar. Bobby Abreu made a huge baserunning blunder in Game 3, and so did Guerrero in Game 6. It was not supposed to end like this for them, or at least they hoped.

"In order to win a World Series, you have to get there," Rodriguez said. "We've done that, and hopefully, the good Lord blesses us for four more."

WORLD SERIES

It was the defending champs against the 26-time champs. It was Howard's RBI streak against A-Rod's RBI streak. It was the two teams with the only 2009 postseason closers who had not blown saves. It was 108 miles apart, the Amtrak Series, and everyone was watching. TV ratings skyrocketed, everyone chose a side, whether you loved the Yankees or hated them, whether you love the Phillies or hated them. It was power vs. power, all the makings of a long series for the first time in a while.

Game 1: Phillies 6, Yankees 1: First lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, wife of the vice president, took part in the pregame festivities and the 105th World Series got off to an amazing start. Cliff Lee vs. Sabathia marked a rare opportunity to see Cy Young award winners from the previous two years - both then with the Indians -- meet up. Both were good, but Lee was better. He threw a complete game, and Utley hit a pair of homers in what would be a sign of things to come.

Game 2: Yankees, 3, Phillies 1: Pedro Martinez was back in front of Yankees fans, and he did not disappoint with a vintage outing over six-plus innings. But Burnett was superb, Rivera was his usual lock at the end, and the Yankees rode two big homers from Teixeira and Hideki Matsui to the victory. This was the night that Jay-Z and Alicia Keys rocked the house with "Empire State of Mind" -- and Yankees fans were happy to once again see a World Series victory by their team, the first since 2003. It had been a while, an eternity by their standards.

Game 3: Yankees 8, Phillies 5: Werth blasted a pair of homers for the Phillies as the series returned to the place where the last World Series ended. But Rodriguez hit a two-run homer for the Yankees as instant replay was used for the first time in a Fall Classic, indicating that his shot had caromed off a TV camera in right. Pettitte made a gritty start and Swisher's bat was back, and Phillies starter Cole Hamels saw his recent struggles perpetuated.

Game 4: Yankees 7, Phillies 4: This game -- maybe even the postseason -- will be remembered for the Damon Dash. The Phillies had tied the game in the bottom of the eighth when Pedro Feliz homered off reliever Joba Chamberlain. Lidge was on in the ninth, and Johnny Damon fought him hard in a nine-pitch at-bat resulting in a two-out, two-strike flared single into left field. Then Damon stole second on a slider in the dirt, and knowing that the infield had shifted for Teixeira -- who was batting left-handed -- he executed a popup slide to see that third base was left uncovered by Feliz, who took the throw to second from the catcher. Damon instantly broke, hoping his legs had enough juice left in them to outrun Feliz to third. Mission accomplished and, after Teixeira was hit by a pitch, Rodriguez drove him in with what proved to be the winning run, yet another clutch hit by a player who had entered these playoffs 0 for his last 19 with runners in scoring position in postseason play.

Game 5: Phillies 8, Yankees 6: Utley hit two more homers to tie Jackson for most homers in a World Series with five, and it was similar to Game 1 in that he was backing another strong outing by Lee. This was not much of a game, but there was a moment late when Phillies fans did hold their collective breath. Damon singled again in the ninth to bring Teixeira to the plate as the potential tying run. Alas, Ryan Madson -- chosen over Lidge in that situation by manager Charlie Manuel - struck out the Yankees' first baseman, continuing his postseason-long struggles at the plate.

Game 6: Yankees 7, Phillies 3: With Hideki Matsui tying a World Series record with six RBIs in one game, it was played on Nov. 5, matching 2001 for the latest finish to a Major League Baseball season. The Phillies needed to win to force a Game 7 for a chance to be baseball's first repeat champs since the Yankees in 2000. The Yankees won their 27th world championship, the most in major sports. All eyes were on Yankee Stadium. Nobody wanted the season to end. They were witnessing a classic, a World Series that will go down as one of the best you ever saw.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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