Monday, November 2, 2009

A Painful Fall After a Night of Climbing

Brad Lidge pitches during game four of the NLCS in Philadelphia

The back-end of yesterday's day/night, football/baseball, New York/Philly grudge match found our hometown heroes in an uphill struggle almost all evening. The Phillies quickly fell behind and found themselves in what seemed to be a perpetual battle to catch up, only to take a painful plunge in the end. They now find themselves on the ground looking up at a steep 3-1 series deficit.

With Mariano Rivera looming in the bullpen prepared to pitch the 9th, Pedro Feliz smoked a Joba Chamberlain fastball into the left field stands with two outs in the bottom of the 8th inning to tie the score at 4-4 and send the Citizen's Bank Park crowd into a brief frenzy. The momentum had shifted dugouts and confidence was teeming through the stadium as come back wins are now familiar territory to this team and city. Unfortunately, the prospects of a huge World Series win shortly evaporated as Phillies closer Brad Lidge yielded a 3-run rally after

being 1 pitch away from a 1-2-3 9th inning.

The last inning Yankees beat down was one last blow that wounded team spirits as they now faced their biggest climb against the most prolific closer in MLB post season history. "Mo" quickly dispensed the Phils and the Yankees celebrated a commanding 3-1 series lead.

The Yankees wasted no time jumping in front, and quickly responded every time the Phillies pulled themselves even. On this evening, the Bronx Bombers did very little bombing, doing most of their damage with an abundance of luck until their 9th inning rally.

In the first inning, Derek Jeter started the game with an infield single when Chase Utley slipped on the wet turf. Johnny Damon ripped a double that bounced off the right field wall and both runners scored on a ground out and a short sacrifice fly, respectively.

Shane Victorino and Utley hit back-to-back doubles in the bottom half of the inning to cut the lead to 2-1. Utley's drive hit high off the wall in right-center, just missing being a two-run homer by a couple feet. If not for being on the opposite ends of fortune, the lead could have been reversed after one inning.

The Phillies scratched out the tying run in the 4th when Ryan Howard singled, stole second and scored on Feliz's two-out hit to left. Within minutes, though, they found themselves behind again, mostly through bad fortune. Nick Swisher walked to lead off the 5th and Melky Cabrero chopped an infield single that looked like a possible double play. One out later, Jeter hit a pop up to left that fortuitously landed between three converging fielders, sending home Swisher. Adding further insult to injury, Damon hit a pop up to right that somehow again dropped in and Cabrero ran through a stop sign to restore the Yankees 2-run lead. The walk was on Blanton, but the rest was on "Lady Luck."

After two hard outs in the 7th, Utley continued his assault on Sabathia by launching a ball into the right field stands to cut the deficit to 4-3. Yankees skipper Joe Girardi opted for Chamberlain to pitch the 8th to set-up the save for Rivera. After blowing fastballs past Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez to record two strikeouts, the Hip Hop hurler quickly found himself in the position to do the same with Feliz. But the Phillies 3rd baseman jumped on a 3-2 fastball and sent it deep into the left field bleachers.

Besides igniting the crowd and his team, the shot briefly sat Rivera down as Girardi wanted to keep him for a save situation. Charlie Manuel called on Brad Lidge to hold the Yankees in the 9th and give his team the chance to win in the bottom half of the inning.

Lidge looked confident and seemed to have his best slider of the season. He got pinch hitter Hideki Matsui to weakly pop out and then struck out Jeter on a couple of nasty sliders. He got ahead of Damon, who barely ticked a foul tip and then after 9 pitches, dumped a single into left. Damon quickly stole second and continued to third when no one covered. Lidge nailed Mark Teixeira with an inside fastball and then surrendered a double to A-Rod to make it 5-4. The Human Rain Delay, Jorge Posada, followed with a crushing two-run single.

Inexplicably, Lidge was burned for all the hits on fastballs, despite having possibly his best slider of the year. It is his signature pitch, yet was not called upon with the game and possibly the whole season on the line. Last night's failure was not about lack of confidence, command or stuff, but rather very questionable pitch selection. Many pundits suggested afterward that Lidge had to throw fastballs out of fear of throwing a wild pitch with a sharp breaking slider, but it seems unlikely that after two years the pitcher and catcher would suddenly be deterred by a runner on third.

After a night of getting knocked down and climbing back up, the Phillies finally fell too far to recover. Sensing being on the brink of another big come back to pull even in the series, it was a sudden, painful twist of fate. The team sends Cliff Lee to the mound for the last game of the year in Citizen's Bank Park. They hope for it not to be the last game, period, and that they can return to Yankee Stadium in an attempt to climb back up to repeat as champions.

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