By 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.”
Eight 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.”
“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.”
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.
By Jon Lane
If the Yankees can defeat the Angels one more time, they will have the ultimate challenge ahead of them. The Philadelphia Phillies pounded and blasted Joe Torre’s Dodgers into submission Wednesday night to become the first team to reach consecutive World Series since Torre’s Yankees in 2000-01 and the first to capture back-to-back pennants since the Atlanta Braves in 1995-96. The last team to repeat as World Champions were also Torre’s Yankees when they won three straight from 1998-2000. The Phillies have a shot at becoming the first National League team to repeat since the Cincinnati Reds in 1975-76.
The Phils smacked four homers off Dodgers pitching, two from Jayson Werth. Bottom line, this team can bash and Yankees pitching will have to raise it to the highest of levels to get past Werth, Ryan Howard and that lineup.
But first things first. The Yankees have to win one more game; it takes four games to win the pennant, the Yankees have won three. A.J. Burnett gets the ball tonight (pregame on YES at 6:30, first pitch on FOX at 7:57 p.m. and YES will have an hour-long postgame show immediately after the last pitch) and the right-hander looked relaxed and confident during Wednesday’s media session. He has a firm grasp on what he has to do, and the Yankees are cognizant about the need to step on the Angels’ throats and make them tap out. Too many teams have rallied from down 3-1. One blew a 3-0 LCS lead. Guess which one?
Benjamin Kabak from River Ave. Blues wrote something I’ve been thinking about since yesterday: Joe Girardi refused to confirm it, but you know Jose Molina is catching Burnett tonight. In Burnett’s prior two postseason starts Girardi has left Jorge Posada on the bench while going with Hideki Matsui as the designated hitter.
That needs to change. To echo Kabak’s take, Posada is batting .308 with a .471 on-base percentage and .615 slugging percentage, compared to Matsui’s .286/.412/.357. The former not only looks more comfortable at the plate – his eighth-inning homer tied Game 3 before the Angels won it in the 11th – he owns better numbers against Halos starter John Lackey. Posada is 12-for-29 (.414) with three walks, a homer, and three RBIs against the big Texan, compared to Matsui’s .286 average, though he does have seven RBIs versus the Angels right-hander.
How Girardi will handle pinch-hitting/pinch-running duties with regards to Posada and the risk of losing the DH, we’ll find out if the game is close and late. The Yankees don’t want it to get that far. It won’t be easy, but they’ll have to get to Lackey early and cash in on the opportunities they missed against him in Game 1. Batting Posada behind A-Rod gives them their best shot.
For the first time this Spring, YESNetwork.com is heading into “enemy” territory as we go to Clearwater, Fla., to cover today’s Yankees game against the Phillies. Keep checking back here for a diary of today’s events.
The Phillies’ Spring Training complex is truly amazing. This place is top notch, as are the Phillies staff. Very accommodating.
Phillies batting practice originally appeared just like every other MLB BP. Then Ryan Howard stepped to the dish. With the batting donut still on his stick, he managed to whack the ball to all fields. Very impressive.
The Yankees make their way out of the clubhouse for the first time. Fans nearly trample themselves in an attempt to secure autographs. Looks like we might get some rain.
Chris Shearn just interviewed Nick Swisher. It was a fun piece that talked about loosening up the clubhouse. Brian Bruney messed with Swisher during the Q&A session. Look for the video later today.
YesNetwork.com’s Jim Kaat
makes his way onto the field to watch Phillies BP. Having Kaat here
clearly surprised Joe Girardi, who made a beeline to see his old buddy.
The two men are currently having a conversation with Philadelphia
manager Charlie Manuel.
The oft-comical Nick Swisher joked with hitting coach Kevin Long: “Hey, Long is here. [Derek] Jeter must be coming back.” Both men shared a healthy chuckle over the funny comment.
Melky Cabrera CF
Johnny Damon LF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Xavier Nady RF
Robinson Cano 2B
Cody Ransom 3B
Jose Molina C
Ramiro Pena SS
Pitching rotation: Brett Tomko, Dave Robertson, Jon Albaladejo, Dan Giese and Brian Bruney.
Jim Kaat just agreed to do a live chat on YESNetwork.com during the first game at the new Yankee Stadium. He will be fielding your questions while the Cubs and Yankees christen the new home in the Bronx on April 3.
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Yankees continue to take BP as the rain starts to come down pretty hard.
The Yankees bolt off the field as the grounds crew put the tarp on the field. Looks like we might not get any baseball today.
The sun looks like it wants to come out, but the clouds appear to be winning this war. We’ll keep you updated.
The crowd erupts as the grounds crew takes the tarp off the field. Projected game time: 1:45 p.m.
For those who care, it looks like the Phillies use Hooters girls as their ball girls down the lines … gives the gentlemen something to look at in between innings. We’ll try to get a photo of them in action once the game starts.
First pitch. Game time temp: a chilly 66 degrees. Chris Shearn will have inning-by-inning analysis of the game. Check it out here. But also stay here on YES Blog for additional analysis from Bright House Field.
Turns out Hooters is a major sponsor of this stadium. In addition to having their famed owl logo all over the place, there is a special Hooters dining area, hosted by the girls in orange, Adrienne, Ashley and Liz. (game analysis)
A mild “hip, hip, Jorge” chant gets going from the Yankees faithful that made their way to the Phillies complex. It’s amazing how many Yankees fans made the trip. Although, the Yankees Spring Training complex is only about 25 minutes away. (game analysis)
As was the case with his first at bat, Chien-Ming Wang is as far away from the plate as possible, with zero intention of swinging the bat. Very amusing. (game analysis)
Similar to minor league games, the Phillies have some entertainment in between innings. One lucky fan just chose “box No. 3” during a Let’s Make a Deal game. She won a Chase Utley autographed baseball and a Phillies hat. Pretty cool.
Wang goes down looking again. Watching him not swing in the box is simply hilarious … he’s obviously being told not to swing. The Yanks don’t want him on the basepaths in a Spring Training game. (game analysis)
Wang leaves the game to a nice ovation. Brian Bruney in. We interviewed Bruney earlier today, he said he’s excited to have his own personal clown in the clubhouse (Nick Swisher). (game analysis)
More rain. Fans are starting to make their way to drier ground.
The rain is clearly impacting the batters. Raul Ibanez had his bat slip out of his hands twice in an at bat. The first time it happened, Mark Teixeira ran like he never ran before in an attempt to get out of the way. Luckily, he did. The bat ended up in shallow right field.
Typical Florida – the rain has ceased (almost). But most of the fans have already made their way to the exit. The once-packed Bright House Field is emptying quickly here in the bottom of the 7th. Phillies lead 8-2. (game analysis)
The Phillies announce that today’s game is a sellout of 9,394 fans.
Brett Gardner flies to left to end the game. Phillies win 8-3. Thanks for reading. And a special thank you goes out to the Phillies for their amazing hospitality. Finally, sorry no Hooters photos. They weren’t in their usual Hooters garb anyway, due to the poor weather.