Yankees 1 Game Away From Clinching Series Title
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The New York Yankees are one game away from winning the World Series. Their 7-4 victory over the Phillies in Philadelphia last night means they are on the verge of their 27th championship, more than any other franchise. But the Phillies aren't out of it yet, and they weren't without hope last night. They homered to tie the game at four in the eighth inning. That's where NPR's Mike Pesca picks up the story.
MIKE PESCA: At around 11:30 p.m. in the east, 45,000 people packing a stadium in Philadelphia couldn't be more convinced that things are going their way. With two outs in the ninth, Phillies third baseman Pedro Feliz sends a shot to left to tie a game that the Yankees have led for most of the night. Then the first two Yankees to bat in the ninth went down quietly.
Johnny Damon is up, behind in the count. Phillies closer Brad Lidge rears back and he struck him - wait, wait. No, Damon got a piece of it and he keeps yet bat alive.
(Soundbite of cheering)
PESCA: What you're hearing now is a Phillies crowd primed for a punch out, but they're dealt disappointment. Damon fouls off five pitches and dumps the ball into the outfield. It's a single. The kind of at-bat that in the moment seems nice but in retrospect rises to the heroic. At least that's how Damon's teammate Alex Rodriguez would describe it.
Mr. ALEX RODRIGUEZ (Baseball Player, New York Yankees): I mean, for me, the whole key of that whole inning was an unbelievable tenacious at-bat by Johnny Damon. I mean, this guy's just a great competitor.
PESCA: What Damon does next is not the kind of thing you see every day, or ever, really. Damon is followed in the lineup by Mark Teixeira, a hitter who pulls almost all his hits to right field. So teams defend him with extreme defensive positioning. It's called the shift.
The shortstop normally between second and third base moves almost directly behind second. And the third baseman plays where the shortstop normally is. It's a good tactic to combat the bat of Teixeira. But what the Phillies aren't counting on are the legs and wits of Johnny Damon as he breaks towards second.
John Sterling of WABC radio has the call.
Mr. JOHN STERLING (Sportscaster, WABC): Lidge deals. Damon goes. Pitch taken. The throw to second is way late. And Damon now runs towards third, and there's no one there because of the over shift. What a brilliant play by Damon.
PESCA: Later, Damon indicates he was sitting on the tactic all year, more than a year actually. He says that when teams shifted against his former Yankee teammate Jason Giambi, he noticed a two for one stolen base opportunity. But even though he saw an opening, Damon knew he had to win a footrace with the Phillies' third baseman.
Mr. JOHNNY DAMON (Baseball Player, New York Yankees): When I saw him right behind me, I was like, man, I hope I'm still the Johnny Damon of 21 years old instead of the 35-year-old guy. So�
PESCA: So fast and crafty, Damon is on third. Teixeira joins him on the bases after being hit by a pitch, and Alex Rodriguez steps up to bat.
Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible).
PESCA: It is a study in how confidence flows. The pitcher on the mound, Brad Lidge, was terrible in the regular season but brilliant in the post season. Brilliant through the first two batters he faced this evening. But now Lidge is reeling, staring at the game's scariest hitter. Confidence seems to be flowing out of him and flowing into the Yankees' slugger. And Rodriguez delivers the game-winning RBI, a double into the gap in left. Afterwards, he's asked just how big a hit was it.
Unidentified Man: Alex, given the magnitude of the situation where does that hit rank on your all-time list?
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Well, there's no question. I have never had a bigger hit.
PESCA: That hit, along with Jorge Posada's follow-up single, put the Yankees ahead for good, 7-4. Tonight in Philadelphia, they can become world champions once more.
Mike Pesca, NPR News, Philadelphia.
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