Oct 29

Phillies take early control ….

When you’re only playing seven games at best, every game is important, with tonight’s Game 2 falling into the critical category for the Yankees. I don’t see them climbing out of two-game hole.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel tabbed Pedro Martinez over Cole Hamels for tonight, citing the former’s big-game presence and experience in New York and the later’s numbers pitching in Philly. In a duel of aces, Cliff Lee out-dealt CC Sabathia, and with the support of two Chase Utley homers, the Phillies gained early control of the series.

LEE: Accepts congratulations after whipping Yankees.

LEE: Accepts congratulations after whipping Yankees.


The victory put the Phillies, win or lose tonight, in position of not having to return to New York if they run the table at home. That’s doable.

Lee was magnificent last night while Sabathia was good enough to win, but also a bit rusty. Sabathia had his rest. Now, Yankees manager Joe Girardi must decide whether to pitch him in Game 5 on normal rest or Game 4 on short rest. Sabathia pitched well on short rest before, but how long before he’s gassed?

Meanwhile, the Phillies, who have a fourth starter, have the luxury of using Lee any manner they desire, and if they go short it would be for Game 7. Regarding starting pitching, the Phillies are deeper.

The Yankees’ vulnerability in the bullpen surfaced last night to the tune of four runs. Phil Hughes is not the answer. When given the opportunity, the Phillies went for the throat last night. The game could have been an even greater blowout had they taken advantage of several early chances against Sabathia.

The Yankees are dangerous when down, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them get to Martinez tonight. However, it also wouldn’t be a shock for Philadelphia to rough up AJ Burnett.

Yes, the Yankees can still win, but it means doing so on the road. They’ve won at Minnesota and Anaheim so far in the playoffs, but the Phillies are a clearly better team.

Oct 28

TALKIN’ BASEBALL: World Series, Game #1, CC vs. Lee.

Match-up of aces.

Match-up of aces.

Following tradition, the Yankees and Phillies will play their aces in Game 1 of the World Series tonight at Yankee Stadium with Cliff Lee going against CC Sabathia in a match-up of former Cleveland teammates and the last two AL Cy Young Award winners.

Game 1 sets the tone for the World Series, which is why both managers are going with their best tonight. You always throw your ace first because holding him back for Game 2 is a tacit admission their ace is better. You also throw your ace first because that gives you a chance to use him three times, with the last time on three days rest.

LEE: Phillies' Game 1 starter.

LEE: Phillies' Game 1 starter.


For example, should Charlie Manuel have held Lee back in anticipation of Sabathia winning Game 1, and then have him get lit up in Game 2, then the Phillies would have been in a huge hole even with the Series heading back to Philadelphia.

“This matchup couldn’t have been better,” said Manuel. “This is a big, premier game. I’m looking forward to it.”

This could be a special World Series featuring the two aces – a combined 5-0 this postseason by Lee and Sabathia – and two potent offenses.

“We’re going to see a lot of runs,” said Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte.

In Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez, the Phillies have four players with at least 30 homers. Meanwhile, the Yankees had seven players with at least 20.

There are so many players from either team who could find themselves on fate’s doorstep as possible heroes. Derek Jeter, for example, owns this time of year. With the game on the line, I’d want him at the plate as much as anybody when all I need is a single or sacrifice fly.

Would anybody be surprised if this went seven?

Oct 28

World Series Keys ….

I suppose it was going to come down to this all along, the Phillies against the Yankees in the World Series.

The Yankees, with the home field advantage because of the ridiculous All-Star Game gimmick, are considered the favorites. Would they be if the Phillies had the home field? I’m not so sure.

Looking at the match-ups, both teams are riding a hot ace and scorching bat, with the Phillies’ Cliff Lee and Ryan Howard against the Yankees’ CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez.

KEYS TO THE WORLD SERIES

KEYS TO THE WORLD SERIES


In looking at the match-ups, I’ll give the edge to the Yankees at catcher (only when Jorge Posada plays), shortstop (Derek Jeter lives for these moments and third base (Rodriguez seems to have shaken the October blues).

I’ll give the edge to the Phillies at first (I recognize the year Mark Teixeira had, but Howard is a monster), second (Chase Utley, for my money is one of the best players in the game), and all three outfield positions.

The starting rotations and bullpens are relatively even. Mariano Rivera is better than Brad Lidge, but Rivera can be negated because the bridge to him is tenuous. The Phillies’ offense is superior to that of Minnesota and the Angels, and once in the Yankees’ bullpen there’s no guarantee we’ll see Rivera.

Here are some of the more notable keys to this World Series:

1. KEY: Is Brad Lidge back from the dark side?
BREAKDOWN: Lidge blew 11 save opportunities this summer, but has been perfect in the postseason. If he’s regained his touch this is a huge factor to the Phillies.

2. KEY: Which superstar will have the bigger series?
BREAKDOWN: Both Ryan Howard and Alex Rodriguez tied Lou Gehrig’s record with RBI in eight straight postseason games. Rodriguez appears to have shaken his October blues, but there is one more round. Both have the ability to carry a team.

3. KEY: Will the Phillies be able to run on the Yankees’ catching?
BREAKDOWN: Philadelphia led the majors with an 81 percent success rate in stole bases. Once Chase Utley gets on, if he wants second it is his (23-for-23). The Phillies also like to run with Shane Victorino and Jimmy Rollins. Surprisingly, the Yankees were second. The Phillies can run on anybody, but they haven’t seen a move as good as Andy Pettitte’s.

4. KEY: Will the Phillies limit Mariano Rivera’s appearances?
BREAKDOWN: If Rivera gets four save opportunities, it’s a good bet the Yankees will win their 27th World Series title. However, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, the bridge to Rivera, has been rickety. Therefore, it is essential the Yankees will get innings from their starters to limit the bullpen exposure.

5. KEY: Will Cole Hamels return to prominence?
BREAKDOWN: Hamels, last year’s World Series MVP, had a miserable season. He’s pitched well in spots, but too often is vulnerable to the big inning.

6. KEY: Does Pedro Martinez have an encore in him?
BREAKDOWN: Assume for a moment CC Sabathia continues his roll in Game 1 and beats Cliff Lee. The Phillies would then need Martinez big time in Game 2 as falling down by two games would make defending their title difficult.

7. KEY: Will CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee continue to roll?
BREAKDOWN: Both have been virtually untouchable in the postseason and rightfully assume their roles as a No. 1. The Series could turn on who stumbles first.

8. KEY: Is there a rebound series for Mark Teixeira?
BREAKDOWN: Teixeira carried the Yankees for much of the season and had a hot ALDS against Minnesota. The Angels handcuffed him, but gave away that edge with their faulty defense. A hot Teixeira gives the Yankees another superstar bat.

9. KEY: Whose second level stars perform best?
BREAKDOWN: Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez vs. Johnny Damon, Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher. Both teams are loaded and both have the marquee names, but those on the undercard are also vitally important.

10. KEY: What happens in the AJ Burnett and Joe Blanton games?
BREAKDOWN: Both starters have the capacity to pitch big and small. To win a series, a team needs a solid start from its No. 3 and No. 4 starters.

Oct 28

Annie Savoy and Steinbrenner ….

NOTE: Annie Savoy (not her real name) has been a friend of this blog since I started covering the New York Mets. We have corresponded off-line and I have learned of her fascinating background in the world of horse racing. She emailed me this story this morning with the intent of me sharing it with you.

George Steinbrenner and me -

I think this might be the right time to mention one of the times I spoke with George Steinbrenner. It was at the traditional dinner dance held the evening before the 1980 Belmont Stakes, at Belmont Race Track in New York where I was running a horse in the Belmont stakes for the first time.

The Belmont is the third of thoroughbred horse racing’s Triple Crown Races, the first being the Kentucky Derby and the second being the Preakness. These are the class races open only to three year old horses whose prize money to date has made the top ten list for their class.

Ever traditional, the dinner dance attracts the owners, trainers and jockeys who will be on the program for the Belmont Stakes as well as various other noted horsemen and women. It’s a very nice, formal event.

Right before the dancing started, George Steinbrenner who owned Kinsman Stables in Ocala, came over to our table to see me. Always the gentleman, he gave me a hug and said “my wife told me to be sure and wish you luck tomorrow from both of us – she has the same name as you do, so we follow your horses with special interest”. He then took a seat at our table, and talked with everyone there about horses, not baseball.

I’ve never forgotten that night, nor the George Steinbrenner I knew from the racing business and still saw around the major races and Saratoga in August.
Nowadays, George is finding success with another sport in another venue, and I want to wish him good luck this week, and hopefully a return to good health.

He deserves it all.