Damon helps Yankees steal one against shifty Phils
PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Johnny Damon slid into second base, saw third was uncovered and swiped that, too. All on a single pitch.
The Philadelphia Phillies never recovered.
Damon’s daring dash at Citizens Bank Park will be remembered for a long time. He scored the tiebreaking run on Alex Rodriguez’s ninth-inning double off Brad Lidge, and the New York Yankees moved within a victory of their 27th World Series title with an unusual 7-4 victory over Philadelphia on Sunday night.
Yup, they definitely stole this one.
“It just worked out that way,” Damon said. “There was a throw, the third baseman covered, and the pitcher did not.”
Philadelphia tried to be shifty, and it backfired when Damon took advantage.
Pedro Feliz had tied the score with an eighth-inning homer off Joba Chamberlain, and Damon came to the plate with two outs and none on in the ninth.
Ball one, three fouls, two more balls and a full count. Another foul, then another. Lidge was consistently clocked in the low 90s on the radar gun and Damon was struggling to keep up.
“I kept sitting slider, and he kept throwing the fastball. They really don’t teach you to do it that way,” Damon said. “But I felt like his slider made me look silly on a couple pitches, so I kept sitting slider and just reacted to the fastball.”
Damon sliced the ninth pitch of the sequence into left field – but the really hard work was just beginning.
Philadelphia went into a shift with Mark Teixeira at the plate, moving third baseman Pedro Feliz to the shortstop position, sliding shortstop Jimmy Rollins to the right side of second base and putting second baseman Chase Utley on the right-field grass, about 20 feet off the foul line.
Damon broke for second, and Feliz took a step in front of the base and slightly to the first-base side to scoop up catcher Carlos Ruiz’s one-hop throw. Damon popped up, realized that third was uncovered and kept on going, displaying the guile gained during 15 major league seasons. He started with a 5-foot lead on Feliz, who couldn’t catch up. Lidge started to sprint over from the mound, but gave up a good 25 feet from third base.
“I know that I still have some decent speed left in the tank, but I was just hoping,” said the formerly speedy Damon, who turns 36 on Thursday. “I knew Pedro’s speed, also. I mean, if it was Chone Figgins, that might have been tough. I just went off of instinct, and fortunately it worked out.”
But it’s clear the Phillies weren’t prepared. They never talked about how they would deal with Damon.
“We never got anybody to say, ‘OK, you’ve got to go in there; you’ve got to go here,'” Feliz said.
With no one else close, Lidge was the most obvious candidate to cover third.
“It was kind of an unusual play. All of a sudden there’s no one at the bag,” the closer said. “He’s a very heads-up player and was able to take an extra base right there, which was obviously pretty big.”
Most runners wouldn’t have had the awareness to realize third base was open. Damon ran faster than his legs seemed capable of.
“That’s instinct. You better be sure because you’ve got Tex and A-Rod up behind, and you’d better be sure,” Yankee manager Joe Girardi said. “It was a great instinctual play by Johnny.”
Teixeira’s at-bat was cut short when he was hit with a pitch by Lidge. Damon could have walked home after Alex Rodriguez delivered the biggest hit of his life, a hard-hit double into the left-field corner. The next batter, Jorge Posada, followed with a two-run single to put the game out of reach.
Mariano Rivera closed it out with a 1-2-3 ninth.
“We’ve won three games. That’s not what we set out to do,” Damon said. “When this playoff time started, we set out to win 11 games. We’re at 10 and, hopefully, we can get No. 11 tomorrow.”