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 27

World Series notebook ….

Expect to see the Phillies use Raul Ibanez as the DH for at least Game 1 of the World Series against lefty CC Sabathia.

GIRARDI: Has some decisions to make.

GIRARDI: Has some decisions to make.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi is undecided about going with a three-game rotation. Chad Gaudin could get a start in Game 4. No doubt, Girardi might be thinking he’s pressing his luck by going with Sabathia on three days rest again.

Girardi also said the Eric Hinske could be activated for the Series. The Yankees may also opt to add a reliever. To accommodate, the Yankees would likely go back to carrying two catchers instead of three.

POSADA: Still wants to catch Burnett.

POSADA: Still wants to catch Burnett.

Jose Molina is still on for starting behind the plate to catch AJ Burnett. Don’t expect the Yankees to use Jorge Posada as the DH when Molina catches because if he has to replace him behind the plate the Yankees would lose the DH.

After a horrendous regular season in which he blew 11 save opportunities, Brad Lidge returned to form in the playoffs with three saves and a victory without giving up a run. A strong Lidge gives the Phillies a similar presence to what the Yankees enjoy with Mariano Rivera. Of course, nobody matches Rivera, but if Lidge is on his game and the Phillies lead late, the odds are against a blown save that would bring Rivera into the game.

Oct 27

Pedro gets the ball in Game #2

There wasn’t much surprise to the announcement when you consider some of the variables. Pedro Martinez will start Game 2 in New York because, 1) he’s pitched better than Cole Hamels recently, 2) he used to pitching in hostile Yankee Stadium, and 3) Hamels pitches better at home than on the road.

Martinez pitched seven shutout innings in a no-decision to the Dodgers in Game 2 of the NLCS. He is 8-4 with a 2.95 ERA in 16 regular-season starts and 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA in two postseason starts at Yankee Stadium while with Boston. The most memorable of those games was Game 7 in 2003 when Grady Little stuck with him in the eighth inning with a three-run lead. The Yankees tied it and eventually won on Aaron Boone’s homer.

MARTINEZ: Money pitcher gets the ball in Game 2.

MARTINEZ: Money pitcher gets the ball in Game 2.


Undoubtedly, there will be the “who’s your daddy chants,” in reference to a statement Martinez made about the Yankees being his daddy.

Martinez vs. the Yankees is one of the more intriguing storylines of this World Series, made so because the veteran pitcher is a grinder and the expectations are of a close game. And, in the Series, you’ll always take close because you never know what might happen. Back then, the Red Sox were snake bit by the Yankees with the Curse and all, but there’s none of that with the Phillies.

“He’s been in the big moment, and I think that his performance the other day in Dodger Stadium, how good he pitched, he deserves another chance to go back out there,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said of Martinez. “I think he’s still got quite a bit left. I was watching those playoff games that he pitched in [for the Red Sox]. I noticed his velocity on his fastball was sitting at like 87 to 91 mph.

“He was even better than that over there at Dodger Stadium. He knows how to pitch. He uses all of his pitches. His command is absolutely outstanding. He doesn’t rely on throwing the ball by people anymore. He’s a pitcher.”

While it is true Martinez has pitched well for Philadelphia, it must not be overlooked he’s worked a minimum of innings and is fresher than he normally would be this late in the season. To look at Martinez’s success it is easy to say the Mets made a mistake, but it must be remembered, 1) he did have an injury history with the Mets, 2) Martinez did not want to come back in the secondary role he eventually settled with in Philly, and 3) the Mets had expectations from their rotation that never materialized.

I thought the Mets did the right thing with Martinez in not bringing him back. It was time to move younger, but who knew Maine, Pelfrey and Perez would all hit the skids for one reason or another?

As well as he pitched for the Phillies, the full season work load will still be a question when he goes on the free-agent market this winter. Martinez has given indications he wants to continue, but should he pitch well in the playoffs and the Phillies win, he might find it a good time to call it quits when he’s on top.

Oct 25

TALKIN’ BASEBALL: Could Game #6 give us another classic?

The champagne was on ice. Baseball officials were setting up the congratulatory phone call from the President of the United States. A makeshift stage was set-up in the Boston clubhouse.

And, for a few seconds, the Shea Stadium scoreboard flashed the message, “Congratulations Red Sox On Your World Series Victory.’’

The Red Sox never tasted champagne that night because in the words of Mets catcher Gary Carter, in describing what happened and also the essence of his sport, said, “none of us wanted to make the last out.’’

``It gets through Buckner ... ''

``It gets through Buckner ... ''

Carter might not have meant it as such, but he acutely described the beauty of baseball seen in no other sport. Football and hockey have sudden death, but mostly their games have a foreseeable ending when clock winds down.

Not so in baseball, which only ends with a last out.

Game 7 is the glamour game, but there’s more a sense of urgency, of tension, of finality in Game 6. Tonight marks the 23rd anniversary of the night Mookie Wilson’s ground ball went through the legs of Bill Buckner in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

Eleven years earlier, Carlton Fisk’s homer in arguably one of the greatest World Series games ever, prolonged the 1975 Series with Cincinnati. The Mets played that night because they survived a memorable Game 6 less than two weeks earlier at Houston.

Whom will the fates choose tonight’s Game 6 between the Yankees and Angels?

Unfairly, but that’s how sports sometimes can be, today’s game could define a career as that play did the careers of Buckner and Wilson, who’ll forever be linked in time in the manner of Ralph Branca and Bobby Thomson.

However, baseball history is rarely that precise and measurable. The Red Sox lost that night for several reasons, including Roger Clemens leaving the game with a blister and manager John McNamara mis-managing, Bob Stanley’s wild-pitch and Calvin Schiraldi’s bullpen meltdown.

Let us also not forget, that the 5-3 lead Boston kicked away in ten innings was their third blown lead of the game.

``Here comes Knight ... ''

``Here comes Knight ... ''


Wally Backman and Keith Hernandez flew out to open the inning, and as the story goes, the latter, not wanting to see the Red Sox celebrate, retreated to the manager’s office to watch the rest of the game on television.

“When you’re down two runs in the last inning against their ace reliever, it’s not the most comfortable feeling in the world,’’ Wilson said that night. “But you don’t give up. Two runs is not a great deficit to make up. How did we do it? Mirrors, maybe. Whatever, but we did it.’’

But Carter singled to left, and Kevin Mitchell and Ray Knight followed with singles for one run. Enter Stanley, who promptly wild-pitched in the tying run.

Defeat for Boston was a formality, with Buckner’s slow roller only to delay the inevitable. Wilson still insists he would have beaten Buckner to the bag, and it was bearing down hard on the injured Red Sox first baseman, of whom it is often forgotten should have been removed for defense.

No, Buckner was not distracted by Wilson.

“I did concentrate on that ball,’’ Buckner said that night. “I saw the ball bounce and bounce, and then it didn’t bounce. It just skipped. It didn’t come up. I can’t remember any time I missed a ball like that, but I’ll remember that one.’’

So too, will history.

NOTE: This was posted early. I’d love for you to tell me what you remember from the Buckner game, the Houston Game 6, or anything on your mind. Then, keep it here for the Yankee game. Talk with you tonight.

Oct 24

Game #6: Will they or won’t they?

Heavy showers forecast for tonight could wipe out Game #6 at Yankee Stadium. If so, it would be played tomorrow night with a possible Game #7 on Monday.

If Game 6 is washed away, Angels manager Mike Scioscia would consider bringing back John Lackey on three days’ rest to pitch a potential Game 7 against CC Sabathia, who already has stymied the Angels twice in the series.

Will rain wash away Game 6?

Will rain wash away Game 6?


“We’ve talked about a lot of different scenarios,” Scioscia said. “We’re going to let this thing unfold a little bit and see how the weekend goes. If there is an opportunity to look at bringing a guy like John back, it’s something we certainly would consider. We’ve talked about a bunch of things.”

Lackey shut down the Yankees for much of Game 5, but was pulled with two outs and the bases loaded in the seventh. The Yankees scored six runs that inning, but the Angels rallied to force the return trip to New York.

“It doesn’t get any better than this, especially going into that ballpark,” said Angels infielder Chone Figgins. “It’s going to be another crazy game, I can tell you that. You go back and just enjoy it. The pressure is on both teams.”

While the Angels face elimination, they are also playing with house money. They weren’t favored and are lucky to be here. The Yankees, meanwhile, have pressure to wrap things up immediately so they can enter the World Series against well-rested Philadelphia their pitching intact.

If there’s a Game 7, the Yankees won’t be able to use Sabathia until Game 3 of the World Series at the earliest. The Phillies have already said Cliff Lee would start Game 1. If the ALCS lasts seven games and the Yankees prevail, they’d have AJ Burnett going in Game 1.

Andy Pettitte will start tonight, or tomorrow depending on the weather, for the Yankees. Pettitte has 15 career playoff wins, including four series clinchers.

“However many starts I’ve had in the postseason or how many innings, it’s not going to help me when I go out there,” Pettitte said. “It’s a matter of getting out there and my cutter cutting, my location being good, and this is a game of just inches.”