Yes, they’re the defending champions. Yes, they have an excellent team. Yes, Ryan Howard is big. But there are ways to deflate their confidence.
In other words, they can be beaten and they must be beaten. While it’s true that my tarot card reader already declared in the pages of The New York Times that the Yankees would win the 2009 World Series, I figured I’d better do a little scouting as backup. Here’s what I’ve unearthed about certain players in the Phillies lineup. (Full disclosure: I went to grad school at the University of Pennsylvania, lived in downtown Philly and loved it. But there’s no conflicting loyalty going on. None. I swear.)
#1) Jimmy Rollins
Last year he led all NL shortstops in fielding percentage (.988) and he finished the season with 295 career stolen bases – the most by any Philly in the modern era.
So he’s fast and he can play short. What’s more, he’s a switch-hitter who’s had three postseason leadoff homers. But here’s the good news: he only batted .250 this season. And another thing: he’s single. Tip to Yankees: Put some good looking women near the Phillies dugout and try to distract him.
#2) Shane Victorino
Another switch-hitter, the “Flyin’ Hawaiian,” as he’s affectionately known in Philly because he hails from Wailuka, Hawaii, is batting .361 in the postseason. And how about this little tidbit to tie my Yankee fan stomach in a knot: He hit the first grand slam in Phillies playoff history in Game 2 of the NLDS last year against – guess who – CC Sabathia. Scary, right?
But he only hit 10 homers all year with 62 RBIs. Not scary. And his bio lists his favorite hobbies as fishing and diving. Tip to Yankees: Pitch him low and outside and make him fish and dive.
#3) Chase Utley
Chase Cameron Utley had 31 homers this season, and he’s batting .303 in the postseason. He can steal a base and he’s patient at the plate. (Last year he became the third player in NLCS history to walk four times in a game.) His other claim to fame in ’08 was that he led the NL in HBP; the guy was plunked 27 times!
But he made two errors in Game 2 of the NLCS against the Dodgers. Tip to Yankees: Pitch him away, away, away. He can’t get hit by a pitch if the ball is outside. And hope he makes more errors at second.
#4) Ryan Howard
OK, so he has 45 home runs and 141 RBIs this season. And he already has a couple of dingers in the postseason, not to mention 14 RBIs. He’s a beast with the happy-go-lucky personality of a puppy.
But he’s struck out over 190 times in ’09. That’s a lot. Tip to Yankees: Forget about the intentional walks and just let him swing and miss.
#5) Jayson Werth
The right fielder has 41 homers this season. And he has quite the pedigree. His grandfather, Dick “Ducky” Schofield, played in the majors for 19 years. His uncle, Dick Schofield, played for 14 years. And his mother, Kim Schofield Werth, competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials in the long jump.
But despite all that athleticism in the family, he only batted .268 this year. Tip to Yankees: Don’t sweat it. He’s good but not that good.
#6) Raul Ibanez
He’ll be DH-ing for the games at Yankee Stadium, and although he’s 37 years old he can still hit – 34 homers in the regular season and another one in the postseason. He was a Yankee killer when he was with the Mariners.
But nobody remembers him from his three years with Kansas City. Tip to Yankees: Pitch to him the way you did when he was a Royal.
#7) Pedro Feliz
The Dominican born former Giant had the second best fielding percentage among NL third basemen in ’08. Oh, and he drove in the winning run in the seventh inning of the Phillies’ World Series clincher against the Rays.
But he had back surgery in November. Tip to Yankees: Bunt the ball in his general direction and make him bend over.
#8) Carlos Ruiz
The Phillies catcher made his major league debut in 2006. His biggest hit to date was his walk-off infield single in the bottom of the ninth in Game 3 of last year’s World Series against the Rays. He’s from Panama, the land of Mo, so he must be good.
But he only threw out 14 of 79 potential base stealers in ’08 for 17.7 %. Tip to Yankees: Run! Run! Run!
#9) Ben Francisco
I don’t know anything about him except he’ll probably be playing left field instead of Ibanez. Oh, and he was with the Indians in ’07 and ’08.
Like Rollins, he’s single. Tip to Yankees: Try the distraction tactic as discussed in #1.
#10. Cliff Lee
The Phillies’ Game 1 starter is the reigning Cy Young Award winner. And his full name is the intimidating Clifton Phifer Lee. In 2002 he was named the Hog Nation Minor League Player of the Year.
Tip to Yankees: You can beat the Hog Nation Minor League Player of the Year, can’t you?
The Yankees almost staged another miraculous comeback against the Phillies, complete with a walkoff and the requisite pie in someone’s smiling face.
But it didn’t happen. Instead, the Yanks lost 4-3 in 11 innings and I collapsed onto my bed, exhausted.
I mean, we were totally supposed to win that game. It was all set up. We got eight good innings out of CC. We sent Hamels packing after six and made him shake his head in disgust after Tex hit one out with a broken bat.
We survived awful at-bats by A-Rod and Matsui, who looked like they were trying to hit the ball with one of these.
And we survived a ninth inning appearance by Veras, who walked a batter but didn’t give up a run.
“He possesses good stuff, but the problem is his location,” said Al Leiter, stating the obvious and forcing me to stand up and yell at the TV. “I DON’T CARE IF HE HAS ‘GOOD STUFF!’ HOW GOOD COULD IT BE IF HE CAN’T THROW IT WHERE HE WANTS IT?”
(Sorry. I lost it there for a sec.)
We not only got to Lidge for the second straight day and tied the score in the bottom of the ninth (thanks to Cano and Melky yet again), but we escaped trouble in the top of the tenth after Mo gave up a single to Ibanez, who was a Yankee killer for the entire series and made me want to strangle him.
But then came the bottom of the tenth. With some reliever named Condrey on the mound for Philadelphia, Jeter and Damon singled and we were THISCLOSE to a walkoff win. Except for two problems.
Tex: grounded into a double play.
Pena: flied out.
Inning over and Girardi turned to Bombko for the top of the 11th. (Supposedly, Aceves wasn’t available. Why not? He didn’t pitch yesterday.)
Here was the result.
Ruiz: doubled in the go-ahead run.
Just a word or two about Ruiz, who killed us like Ibanez did only on both offense and defense. The guy blocks the plate better than most catchers in the majors. Impressive.
We went down meekly, 1-2-3, in the bottom of the frame. Game over. No celebrating. At first, I was bummed, but who can complain about a team that goes 8-2 during a home stand?
In fact, I think I’ll celebrate anyway. The Yankees put the pies on hold, but that doesn’t mean I have to.
I know. It was one game. It’s a long season. Nothing lasts forever. Blah blah blah.
So much for platitudes. I’m crushed that the Yankees’ streak was broken, that they lost to the Phillies in the series opener 7-3, that I was forced to watch Brett Myers throw behind Jeter’s back. Myers pitched a great game, not counting homers to A-Rod, Jeter and Tex, and he was only retaliating for AJ’s plunking of Utley. But he earned my undying enmity nonetheless.
Speaking of AJ, he seemed out of sorts all night.
He hung a few and they sailed straight into the seats. And he couldn’t have been happy to watch Damon trying to score on A-Rod’s shot to left in the first inning. I have no problem with being aggressive, but Ibanez and Rollins made perfect throws and Ruiz made an equally perfect tag. The result? Damon was out. The ball game went downhill from there.
That completes the portion of this post regarding the Phillies.
Now a few moments about the Yankees. They looked flat as a pancake.
Maybe it was a natural reaction to coming off back-to-back sweeps. Maybe it was a letdown after learning that Bruney was hurt again and Albaladejo was shipped to Scranton. Or maybe it was that they were playing an interleague series instead of a contest against a bona fide division rival. Personally, I have little interest in interleague games. Sure, they count, but they’re manufactured rivalries. “Oh, but you get to see players you wouldn’t ordinarily see,” say the advocates. Right. But I’d rather see them in the postseason when the best teams in each league go at it for real.
As for Wang, he was pulled from his Scranton rehab start because of the Yankees’ now-extremely-thin bullpen.
It was a weird experiment. He came in for seventh and promptly left one up to Ibanez and got touched up for a couple of runs before settling down in the ninth. Will the outing give him confidence for his next start, whenever that will be? Or will he regress further? All I know is that the YES camera kept showing close-ups of him dripping with sweat, and it was mildly unnerving.
Oh, well. The Yanks will have another crack at a new streak tomorrow. I hope they get a good night’s sleep. Or go partying. Whatever works for them is fine with me even if it’s this.
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