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Game 1 wrap

By Jon Lane
Not much you can say about tonight. Cliff Lee was that good. There
was nothing the Yankees could do. The teams from 1927 and 1961 wouldn’t
touch the Phillies’ lefty on this night. Think back to Sandy Koufax
knocking the bats out of the hands of the ’63 team.

“I kept it simple tonight,” said Alex Rodriguez (0-for-4, 3 Ks). “He
kept it even more simple. He threw the ball well. When a guy throws
like that, you tip your cap and move on.”

A-Rod is still batting a healthy .388 in the postseason. Mark Teixeira
(.186), meanwhile, is back on the skids. After compiling five hits in
the final three games of the ALCS, Teixeira went hitless in four
at-bats. He evaded questions on what went wrong, deflecting all credit
to Lee.

“I think Tex is going to be fine. You take tonight out of it. With the
exception of [Derek} Jeter, we didn’t have any good swings at all.”

Any other night, CC Sabathia might have emerged victorious, but he
admitted he wasn’t at his sharpest (113 pitches/70 strikes). For the
fifth time in his playoff career, Sabathia allowed a pair of homers in
one game, the third time to one batter (Chase Utley).

“I felt pretty good,” Sabathia said. “I had three walks but I was behind a lot of guys. It was just one of those days.”

Phil
Hughes’ postseason troubles continue. He walked the first two batters
he faced to begin the eighth before getting the hook Both came around
to score. And while Lee put the game away a long time ago, those
insurance runs essentially quashed any hopes for the patented Yankees
comeback.

“He missed with his fastball a little bit tonight,” said Joe Girardi. “We’ll continue to talk to him. I mean, he’s been great for us all year. He walked two guys and ended up hurting us tonight, but we still believe in him.”

Hideki Matsui on facing Pedro Martinez:
“He’s always had good command and throws a wide variety of pitches,”
Matsui said. “I don’t know what to expect, but what’s going to be
important is to make sure we have a plan at the plate and make sure we
execute that.”

Live from Section 405 – The Game

stadium_450_102809.jpgBy Jon Lane
Slight exaggeration, but this measures the height of my view of the field. For the first time since I can recall, I’m closer to the blimp flying overhead.

The rain has let up, but there’s that dreaded wind chill. I’m dressed in layers but wishing I was wearing a hat. Until tomorrow ….

Anyway, less than 10 minutes from baseball. Click here for documentation of my pregame activities. And Yogi Berra, escorted by Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, met retired Army Captain Tony Odinero at the mound for his throwing of the ceremonial first pitch. A nice touch.

Enjoy the game.

8:14 p.m. After two quick outs the heart of the Phillies’ order loaded the bases – Ryan Howard’s double was sandwiched between two walks – but Sabathia escaped by getting Raul Ibanez to ground out to second. The big guy threw 24 pitches in the first, 12 for strikes.

Early fan behavior: Chants of “CC! CC!” and “Philly sucks!”

8:28 p.m. CC settles down in the second, needing only 10 pitches to retire the side in order.

lee_250_102809.jpg8:54 p.m. Sorry for the lack of updates. To better protect my
laptop, the mist circling above the outfield chased me from my post.
Thus far it’s been the pitchers’ duel we’ve all expected, except the
Phillies made Sabathia (58 pitches after three) work before Chase Utley
homered with two out in the first to put Philadelphia on the board.
That said, the ball hasn’t carried here like it did during the regular
season. Teams combined for 237 homers in 2009, but only seven to date
in the playoffs. Furthermore, Utley’s homer was the first by a Yankees’
opponent in this building.

9:11 p.m. We’ve seen this often during the regular season. Sabathia has a bad inning or throws a bad pitch. Then he works with more anger, more of a scowl. After Utley’s homer he retired the last four, including a clean fourth with two strikeouts.

9:21 p.m. Lee is dealing, striking out the Yankees’ 3-4-5 hitters on nasty breaking pitches. Ruben Amaro Jr. made the trade of the season in my view. For all the hoopla over Roy Halladay, Amaro told J.P. Riccardi to shove it and made the better deal with the Indians. Halladay remains in Toronto, Riccardi is out of a job and Lee could be the final piece to a repeat World Series win for the Phillies.

By the way, it must stink to be a Cleveland sports fan. The Indians trade Sabathia, Lee and Victor Martinez, and the Cavaliers may lose LeBron James after this season. Then there’s Eric Mangini’s Browns. Whoa boy.

9:48 p.m. Utley goes yard – again. He’s been the Phillies’ entire offense, supplying both of their two runs. Seeing how Lee has been turning out the Yankees’ lights, rare has a 2-0 lead been insurmountable. Lee has thrown just 69 pitches through five innings. Unless the Yankees can make him work and get to the Phils’ bullpen, Lee could all the way and lead Philly to a 1-0 series lead.

Then again, the Yankees have rallied from worse.

9:58 p.m. Kudos to Yankees radio announcer Suzyn Waldman. The Yankees’ media relations department paid homage to her being the first woman to call a World Series game.

Tonight’s attendance: 50,207 – a new Yankee Stadium high.

clifflee_250_102809.jpg10:09 p.m. Here’s the Yankees offense in a nutshell: It has four hits, two from Derek Jeter. Johnny Damon, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are a combined 0-for-8 with four strikeouts, and the former two stranded Jeter on first base to end the sixth. Lee’s been that good and at 86 pitches is showing no signs of letting up. If Sabathia and Co. keep it at 2-0, the only chance the Yankees have is against Brad Lidge in the ninth.

Lidge, incidentally, has pitched four scoreless innings with three saves this postseason.

10:18 p.m. A good stat passed on by Howie Karpin, one of the Yankees’ official scorers: The Yankees have gone 15 straight World Series innings without scoring a run (Game 5 of the 2003 WS) and 19 at home (Alfonso Soriano’s two-run homer in Game 2).

10:35 p.m. What has happened to Phil Hughes? Joe Girardi put him in to start the eighth in hopes of getting his confidence rebuilt. Instead, Hughes walked the first two batters and got the hook for Damaso Marte (I never thought I’d write that). Hughes has a 5.79 ERA (three runs in 4 2/3 IP) in six appearances. For someone who thrives on confidence, Hughes’ body language did not look good.

10:50 p.m. Phils get a big third run with Ibanez’s two-out single to right off David Robertson, after Damaso Marte recorded two outs in relief of Hughes. Down three against Lee and (perhaps) a rejuvenated Lidge. Not good odds.

11:24 p.m. If only the bullpen had done its job – the Phillies scored two in the eighth and two in the ninth – the Yankees would be in business. Alas, to quote Miracle Max, “It would take a miracle.”

At least the Yankees snapped their postseason scoreless streak at 17 1/3 innings. Barring a big comeback, I’ll check back in after postgame.

World Series Game 1: Lineups

yankees.jpgYANKEES (103-59)
Derek Jeter SS
Johnny Damon LF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Jorge Posada C
Hideki Matsui DH
Robinson Cano 2B
Nick Swisher RF
Melky Cabrera CF

Pitching: CC Sabathia (19-8, 3.37)

phillies.jpgPHILLIES (93-69)
Jimmy Rollins SS
Shane Victorino CF
Chase Utley 2B
Ryan Howard 1B
Jayson Werth RF
Raul Ibanez DH
Ben Francisco LF
Pedro Feliz 2B
Carlos Ruiz C

Pitching: Cliff Lee (7-4, 3.39)

Live from Section 405

rally_350_102809.jpgBy Jon Lane
Well, not yet. It’s raining and the media auxiliary press area is soaked at the moment. I’m told that not only will there be a Game 1, but the rain is expected to let up by around 5:30.

I love it how all of us make a simple attempt at meteorology.

Showers did not prevent a bevy of Yankees fans from attending a pep rally this afternoon at Times Square, where New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, Yankees legend Reggie Jackson and the YES Network’s Michael Kay addressed Yankees Nation.

Joe Girardi is speaking at 3:45, followed by Game 2 starter A.J. Burnett. Later it’ll be Charlie Manuel and your favorite, Pedro Martinez, addressing the media.

Once the rain (hopefully) let’s up, I’ll be watching Game 1 from a unique vantage point. Right field is where I camped out during postseason (and the All-Star) games across the street, though in the loge section. Yet there’s something about being amongst the fans, as my colleague and friend Jerome Preisler can attest.

Oh, if you’re reading this and have tickets for the game, shut the computer off and leave now. Gates open at 5 p.m. and on top of New York/New Jersey’s prolific rush-hour traffic, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, wil be here and Major League Baseball is implementing additional security measures in select seating locations. The additional security screening will occur every time guests enter their location before the start of the game. If guests leave their seats, they will be screened again upon returning.

Additional security measures are in effect from the time gates open until the start of the game, so please allow yourself extra time to enjoy batting practice and the pregame ceremonies scheduled to begin at approximately 7:30 p.m.

Here’s the latest hour-by-hour forecast, which calls for a 55 percent chance of “light rain” by first pitch.

Back with more later.

4 p.m. I cannot tell a lie … the sun is out!

4:35 p.m. Joe Girardi said the expected when asked about the
roster adjustments. Eric Hinske provides another pinch-hitter and Brian
Bruney an extra arm that will be important in Philadelphia. The
exclusion of a third catcher (Francisco Cervelli) also increases the
likelihood of Jorge Posada catching A.J. Burnett if he gets the call
for Game 5.

He’s also not in any rush to name a starter for Game
4; the current great debate is whether he’ll throw his top three arms
on short rest. “The focus is Game 1 tonight, and that’s what we’ll
worry about,” he said.

You can watch the full presser here.

burnett_250_102809.jpg5:01 p.m. There was his first postseason start in the Division Series. Now A.J. Burnett is set to make his World Series debut in Game 2 tomorrow night. Burnett played for the 2003 champion Marlins but missed out while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

I”m looking forward to it, I’m excited,” Burnett said. “I’m going to prepare, yeah, maybe, as another game, but deep down I know what it’s about. I know how real it is and I don’t want to change it. I want to go out there knowing it’s my first World Series start.”

Burnett, of course, said he’s all for making a potential Game 5 start on short rest. First there’s Game 2, when his opponent will be Pedro Martinez.

“He’s come back and what he’s accomplished this year is great,” Burnett said. “As a fellow starting pitcher you can respect that. I’m looking forward to going up against him. I’ve seen him pitch and he’s going to bring a lot of excitement here tomorrow night, and I think everybody in the world knows what he can do in the postseason this year or in the past, or whenever he takes the ball.”

Burnett was also asked about facing Ryan Howard and his 45 home runs and 141 runs batted in. He kept the Phillies slugger hitless in three at-bats with a strikeout in a 7-3 loss at Yankee Stadium on May 22. In 12 career at-bats, Howard is 2-for-12 (.167) with six strikeouts lifetime against the Yankees’ right-hander. Both hits have been homers.

“You try to get ahead and strike him out, I guess,” Burnett said. “I think you’ve seen him do more this postseason than hit home runs. He’s hit the ball pretty much everywhere. I’m going to probably pitch him the same as I pitch all lefties, pretty much the same. Just try to get ahead and put them away as quick as I can, and not leave anything over the plate or in his hot spot when the game is on the line.”

Here’s the Burnett conference in its entirety.

7 p.m. What’s a Yankees game, especially a World Series game, without Freddy Sez (aka) Freddy Schuman, who since 1988 has encouraged fan interaction by walking around hitting a pot with a teaspoon while allowing fans to do the same? In the Great Hall, fans lined up to get their picture taking with Freddy.

“We’re here to celebrate the Yankees winning,” he said before two clanks of his famous pot.

The Hard Rock Cafe was already packed well before 6 p.m. The wait for a table was 2 1/2 hours and climbing.

All fans received a 2010 MLB calendar along with a protective cover to hold their World Series ticket.

Two hours before first pitch, Yankee Stadium was playing highlights of the 1950 World Series. The Yankees swept the Phillies in four games in what before tonight is the only time the teams met in the Fall Classic.

pedro_250_102809.jpgCharlie Manuel spoke in depth about Pedro. It’s amazing the amount of attention he’s receiving but given his history with the Yankees and his legacy of, from where I sit, being the greatest pitcher of this generation, that attention is justified.

“I looked at him in Dodger Stadium, I think he’s a guy who’s in good shape physically, and I think with the knowledge and knowing how to pitch, I think that definitely he’s ready, and I think that he can handle the big setting,” Manuel said. “He’s been there before, and he likes being there, and he likes everything about it.

“I saw a guy who was cocky, which is fine. Sometimes to be good you’ve got to be cocky and you’ve got to be — someone has to let you be who you are sometimes. Sometimes you don’t want to take who somebody is and their identity and stuff or what they stand for and try to change it because who they are sometimes makes them — that’s why they’re good. He had an arrogance about him, and you would think — at times I thought he was kind of arrogant, but at the same time everything about him, I felt like — I always thought he was a professional and that he loved to pitch.

And since I got to know him, not only does he love to pitch and the competitive part I already knew about, but the guy, he really studies the game and he loves baseball and he’s a baseball guy. If you sit and listen to him talk and everything, he’ll impress you with what he knows and how he kind of sees things. That’s the part about it I’ve gotten to know him, and I’m very proud that he was able to sign and come on our team and pitch for us because that way I got to know who he is.”

7:21 p.m. Pedro Martinez says he’s “older and wiser,” but he remains very entertaining. Check out these money quotes from his meeting with the media. Warning, he pulled no punches taking shots at the scribes.

pedro2_250_102809.jpg“Because of you guys in some ways, I might be at times the most influential player that ever stepped in Yankee Stadium. I can honestly say that. I mean, I have been a big fan of baseball for a long time, since I was a kid. My first ball I ever got from a Big League player I actually got to purchase in Dodger Stadium in a silent auction, was Reggie Jackson. I was actually a big fan of the Yankees, too.

For some reason with all the hype and different players that have passed by, maybe because I played for the Red Sox, is probably why you guys made it such a big deal every time I came in, but you know, I have a good bond with the people. After playing in New York, I went to realize something: New York fans are very passionate and very aggressive. But after it all, after you take your uniform off and you deal with the people, they’re real human beings. It’s all just being fans.

I have all the respect in the world for the way they enjoy being fans. Sometimes they might be giving you the middle finger, just like they will be cursing you and telling you what color underwear you’re wearing. All those things you can hear when you’re a fan. But at the end of the day, they’re just great fans that want to see the team win. I don’t have any problem with that.”

On his rumored meeting with George Steinbrenner :

“I remember quotes in the paper, ‘Here comes the man that New York loves to hate.’ Man? None of you have probably ever eaten steak with me or rice and beans with me to understand what the man is about. You might say the player, the competitor, but the man? You guys have abused my name. You guys have said so many things, have written so many things. There was one time I remember when I was a free agent, there was talk that I might meet with Steinbrenner. One of your colleagues had me in the papers with horns and a tail, red horns and a tail. That’s a sign of the devil. I’m a Christian man.

“I don’t like those things. I take those things very serious.”

On hearing “Who’s your daddy?”
“It really reminds me that God is my daddy. It gives me strength. It keeps me strong and healthy, and I believe I can do anything. And when you have — I said it before, when you have 60,000 people chanting your name, waiting for you to throw the ball, you have to consider yourself someone special, someone that really has a
purpose out there.

“Maybe when I said that quote out of frustration, I had the purpose of maybe hearing it now, hearing it the following few years that I played, because every time I hear it, it reminds me not to make the same mistake. And at the same time it reminds me that God is my real daddy, and he’s the one that keeps me strong to compete, just like he does to Mariano [Rivera]. I’ve seen Mariano when I know his shoulder is barking, and he still succeeds. Men of faith. It’s only God who can probably do that for him.”

On his tangle with Don Zimmer during Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS:

“We are both, I consider, mature people, Zim more than I am, wiser than I am, and he acknowledged that it wasn’t my fault; that it was his fault.

“I never wanted to apologize to you guys because why should I apologize to you guys or come to a press conference and say, I apologize for something I didn’t intend to do? It’s a normal human reaction to defend yourself when you feel threatened, and that’s what happened to me at that point. I had to defend myself, and I know how. Don’t let this small body fool you; I know how. I just don’t put it into play.

“I mean, that Zim situation is over with. I didn’t feel like I had to apologize at that time, give an apology because I didn’t feel like I did anything to apologize. But it’s something I’m not happy about. It’s something I don’t condone, and it’s something that I don’t want to see in baseball.”

A sweet deal

By Jon Lane
Here’s something pretty cool passed to my attention: The Cupcake Stop, New York’s first Mobile Gourmet Cupcake Shoppe, whipped up this collection of tasty treats featuring the Yankees’ starting lineup.

cupcakes_275.jpgTo quote a wise man: “So much time, so little to do – strike that, reverse it.” I’ll be back with a lot more once I’m settled in for Game 1 of the World Series. Of course, it’s been raining, but there’s optimism that it will taper off by game time.

Also, if you’re in the NYC area on Sunday, the Yankees announced they will again open the Yankee Stadium Field Level and Great Hall to the public to watch the broadcast of the World Series Game 4 from Philadelphia. Turnstiles between Gates 4 and 6 will open at 7:00 p.m. for the 8:20 p.m. game, and fans can watch the game in the Great Hall or in the opened sections of the Field Level.

“When we opened the Stadium for Game 3 in the ALCS, the response was positive and the energy from our fans was truly infectious. They really enjoyed coming together to watch the game,” said Hal Steinbrenner. “Once we reached the World Series, we felt that it was the perfect time to open the Stadium again. We remain grateful for the support of the best fans in baseball.”

Food and concession stands will also be open and available to fans, as will NYY Steak and the Hard Rock Cafe.

Yankees World Series roster

By Jon Lane
As expected, Eric Hinske and Brian Bruney are in, Francisco Cervelli and Freddy Guzman are out. The Yankees are carrying an extra pitcher with up to three games in a National League park and added pop off the bench.

Position players (13)
Derek Jeter
Johnny Damon
Mark Teixeira
Alex Rodriguez
Jorge Posada
Hideki Matsui
Robinson Cano
Nick Swisher
Melky Cabrera
Brett Gardner
Jerry Hairston Jr.
Jose Molina
Eric Hinske

Pitchers (12)
CC Sabathia
A.J. Burnett
Andy Pettitte
Mariano Rivera
Phil Hughes
David Robertson
Damaso Marte
Phil Coke
Alfredo Aceves
Joba Chamberlain
Brian Bruney
Chad Gaudin

Girardi not committed to three starters

By Jon Lane
Joe Girardi told Mike Francesa this afternoon that he is not committed to a three-man rotation as first reported. It’s CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte for Games 1-3. In the three-man scenario, Sabathia would start Game 4 on normal rest, but Burnett and Pettitte – Sabathia too if there’s a Game 7 – would all come back on three days’ rest.

Girardi said he may kick this around until at least Thursday, but Chad Gaudin was scheduled to throw a 70 to 80 pitch bullpen session today at Yankee Stadium, reports Chad Jennings.

On a side note, here’s some fun stuff on the pre-Game 1 agenda:

WFAN’s Boomer and Carton will be hosting a Yankees Pep Rally at Modell’s in Times Square Wednesday morning from 6-10, broadcasting live while giving away prizes and getting fans ready for the opening night of the 2009 World Series.

At 12:30 Wednesday afternoon in Times Square, Mayor Michael Bloomberg will host a rally in Times Square with YES’ Yankees play-by-play man Michael Kay.

The Turnpike Tangle

worldseriespainting.jpgBy Jon Lane
Yankees vs. Phillies. Phillies vs. Yankees. Not baseball’s two best teams record-wise, but unquestionably the game’s finest. The 2009 World Series pits baseball’s most storied franchise against the defending champions, a team looking to be the first to repeat since the Yankees from 1998-2000 and the first National League team to do so since the Cincinnati Reds in 1975-76.

Johnny Damon will face his old teammate and friend, Pedro Martinez. Martinez will battle the team he tormented while he worked in Boston – and vice versa. CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee, the two pitchers who competed in the first regular-season game at the new Yankee Stadium when the latter threw for the Indians, will match wits in Game 1 Wednesday night – and both southpaws are at the top of their games.

While it’s not New York vs. Boston, there is no love lost between The Big Apple and The City of Brotherly Love. Giants and Eagles fans hate each other; ditto loyal followers of the Rangers and Flyers. The cities are separated by an hour-plus drive up and down the New Jersey Turnpike.

For many reasons, this World Series is wholly appropriate.

“The fact that we have to go through the world champs to become champs, and they have their chance to defend it. Not too many teams get that opportunity,” Damon said.

Fans, talk-show hosts and scribes from each city aren’t as civil. Celebrity bets have already been wagered, writes Sam Borden. The trash talk has started and will continue until one team is declared World Champions in seven games or less.

To quote Jim Kaat, this is East Coast passion. The teams stand toe-to-toe in terms of firepower, so look for this series to go deep and come down to pitching, where you can make the case the Yankees have the edge in the rotation and especially the bullpen, though it became clear down the stretch and in the NLCS that Martinez still has plenty of magic left.

A snapshot look at the regular season matchup and respective team leaders:

Records
Yankees: 103-59
Phillies: 93-69

Season Series: Phillies took two of three Memorial Day weekend at Yankee Stadium.

Memorable Game
May 23: Melky Cabrera’s walk-off single off Brad Lidge in the ninth won Game 2 for the Yankees, capping a three-run rally that started with Alex Rodriguez’s two-run home run.
 
“Right now, I’m probably the happiest .200 hitter in baseball,” said Rodriguez, who was batting .204 at the time.

Old Friends
Miguel Cairo (played for the Yankees 2004 and 2006-07)
Pedro Martinez (Who’s your daddy?)

Team leaders
Batting
Yankees: Derek Jeter (.334)
Phillies: Shane Victorino (.292)

Home Runs
Yankees: Mark Teixeira (39)
Phillies: Ryan Howard (45)

Runs Batted In
Yankees: Mark Teixeira (122)
Phillies: Ryan Howard (141)

Wins
Yankees: CC Sabathia (19)
Phillies: J.A. Happ, Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer (12)

ERA
Yankees: CC Sabathia (3.37)
Phillies: J.A. Happ (2.93)

Strikeouts
Yankees: CC Sabathia (197)
Phillies: Cole Hamels (168)

Saves
Yankees: Mariano Rivera (44)
Phillies: Brad Lidge (31)

Projected Pitching Matchups
Game 1 (Wednesday, 7:57 p.m.): Cliff Lee (7-4, 3.39) vs. CC Sabathia (19-7, 3.21)
Game 2 (Thursday, 7:57 p.m.): Pedro Martinez (5-1, 3.63) vs. A.J. Burnett (12-9, 4.10)
Game 3 (Saturday, 7:57): Andy Pettitte (14-7, 4.11) vs. Cole Hamels (10-11, 4.32)
Game 4 (Sunday, 8:20): Chad Gaudin (6-2, 3.43) vs. Joe Blanton (12-8, 4.05)

Statement from George M. Steinbrenner

“The Yankees’ enormous will to win, tremendous professionalism and great team spirit, backed by the best, most vocal and supportive fans have propelled us into the World Series. We’re looking forward to our 27th ring.”

One more mountain to climb

yankees_250_102509.jpgBy Jon Lane
As you can imagine, it was bedlam in the clubhouse. Beginning with Hal Steinbrenner, the theme was not only the fact that the Yankees are winners of 110 games, but about how they won them. The character of this team has been remarkable, yet the mighty Phillies, the champs, are their lone roadblock.

The final journey begins Wednesday night, with George Steinbrenner likely to be in the house.

“We’re doing this for him,” Hal Steinbrenner said. “We want to win this whole thing for him. I feel like he’s here. He’s a big part of it.”

It’s a fitting conclusion to the 2009 season: The two best teams fighting for the right to be called champion, or in the Phillies’ case, a repeat champion.

“The fact that we have to go through the world champs to become champs, and they have their chance to defend it. Not too many teams get that opportunity,” said Johnny Damon.

CC Sabathia is ALCS MVP. You can’t argue with that selection, though. The big guy went 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA, allowing nine hits and two runs with 12 strikeouts in 16 innings pitched. Lest we forget that eight-inning masterpiece on three days’ rest in Game 4 that squashed the Angels’ momentum from the night before.

Being the character guy he is, Sabathia deflected credit to Alex Rodriguez and the team’s ability to remain loose through good times and bad. That had him believing from Day 1 that the Yankees were destined to play in the Fall Classic.

“When Al went down, it was going to to make it tough,” he said. “We held it together for awhile until he got back. He made our lineup just that much better, our team that much better. It gave us a lot of confidence.

“It is really not a surprise that we are here. I hate to sound like that, but this is a really good team. Like I said, we get along, we have fun. This is what you get.”

_______________________

Like Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and a few others, A-Rod will play in his first World Series. Too many Hall of Famers never won a World Series ring, and never had a shot at one.

“I was just in the back with Mark Teixeira talking and a lot of great players have never had the honor to play in the World Series,” Rodriguez said. “So I thank the good Lord for putting me with the greatest organization and 24 great teammates and it feels really good.

“It gets tougher. Honestly, you think about this era with all these divisions and all these championship series and World Series, it’s pretty much more challenging now and it feels good to get in.”

arod_200_102509.jpgEight months ago, Rodriguez was a scorned public figure, exposed by his admittance of using performance-enhancing drugs while he played for the Texas Rangers, the tension-filled reaction press conference and the shady company he kept. Then he had a torn labrum in his hip, which threatened to sideline him for the rest of the season.

That actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. He went to Vail, Colorado, and had surgery, and spent the next few weeks rehabbing in seclusion. Once he returned on May 8, he homered on the first pitch he saw and hasn’t looked back. Despite playing in only 124 games, he still slugged 30 homers and drove in 100 runs, the last three coming on his final swing of the regular season — a home run.

“I wasn’t around for the first month and a half, but I knew that the guys we brought in this year, they were special talents and special people and all of them did a phenomenal job of playing in New York the first year,” Rodriguez said. “That’s something that a lot of people can’t do, including myself.”

Yet there were times he lifted the Yankees from life support this postseason. There were the home runs off Joe Nathan and Brian Fuentes. There’s the 11-game postseason hitting streak, pretty darn good for someone once labeled the ultimate choker. His postseason tally to date: .438 with five home runs and 12 RBIs.

“Alex is an unbelievable guy,” Steinbrenner said. “It was just a matter of time before his ability would break out in the postseason. Nobody works harder than him in the offseason, nobody works harder than him in training and nobody, you’ll find, has more ability than him. It was just a matter of time.”

_______________________

Joe Girardi made some strange decisions, but he’s the 10th manager to lead the Yankees to a World Series and the 42nd person to play and manage in the Fall Classic (and the first since Ozzie Guillen in 2005).

Keep in mind how all season he had to work through an unsaid win-or-else edict. He knew that’s what he signed up for, and never hid or lost his composure through all the second-guessing. Now he’s four wins from escaping Joe Torre’s shadow once and for all.

“It’s very special,” Girardi said. “I’m extremely blessed to have this opportunity. I feel my life has been one big blessing. The things that I’ve gotten to do, God has really blessed me. But being here as a player and going through that, and the excitement and the anticipation, and then getting a chance to do it as a manager, I’m extremely happy for the guys in that room, for the Boss, his children, all the people that put all this hard work in to put this team together.

“I have that same feeling of excitement. 1996 was the first time for me. You think about all the work that all the people put in to have this opportunity, as a player all the work you put in in the offseason to get an opportunity. It’s much the same feeling.”

 _______________________

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Angels and what they had to endure this season. Shattered by the horrible death of Nick Adenhart, the team bonded while dealing with the tragedy to win another AL West title and push the Yankees as far as they did in spite of those brain locks on the bases and two throwing errors that sealed their fate in Game 6.

“The trials and tribulations that the guys in that clubhouse went through all year is something that you hope you never have to go through in your lifetime again,” said manager Mike Scioscia. “It was a special group in there to keep going. Special group in there to keep bringing Nick’s memory forward every day. Every day we came to the park and he’s still with us. And I’m sure we’ll have a little peace in that as we move forward. Right now this loss, obviously, hurts.”

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And so it’s on to the World Series. Six years ago yesterday was the last time the Yankees played in a World Series game, when Josh Beckett threw a complete-game shut out in Game 6.

The Phillies were the National League’s leaders in home runs (224), RBIs (788), runs scored (820) and slugging percentage (.447), and will make the Yankees pay dearly if they continue to squander scoring opportunities. On the other hand, the Yankees represent the toughest competition the Phils have faced this entire year and are a different team from the one that dropped two of three games to Philly on Memorial Day weekend.

But all that is for another day. The Yankees are partying all night while me and dozens of scribes pen the latest round of tales.