Thursday, October 22, 2009

A-Rod, C.C. put Yanks on cusp of World Series

After losing Game 3 on a controversial bullpen decision by Joe Girardi, the Yankees bounced right back in Game 4 to all but put away the Angels in the ALCS, opening up a 3-1 series lead with a 10-1 blowout victory.

This may remind some Yankees fans of the 2004 ALCS, where New York took a 3-0 lead on Boston with 19-8 victory in Game 3, only to lose the next four and watch the Red Sox sweep the Cardinals in the World Series.

This result seems less likely this time around, with the Yankees playing their best baseball in years at the right time and the Angels struggling to keep the potent New York lineup in the ballpark.

The Yankees have hit eight home runs in four games this series, including two in Game 4. Smoking-hot Alex Rodriguez hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning to extend the Yankees lead to 5-0 and Johnny Damon hit one in the eighth to push the Yankee advantage to 7-1. C.C. Sabathia allowed just one earned run over eight innings, winning on three-days rest.

The game was marred by multiple mistakes by the umpires, particularly third-base umpire Tim McClelland who missed two important calls that luckily didn't affect the outcome. Since this game, there has been talk of bringing instant replay to baseball, which will only be accelerated if the umpiring blunders continue.

This win came after the Yankees found themselves in their second straight extra-inning battle in Game 3. After getting six-plus innings from Andy Pettitte, Girardi used Joba Chamberlain, Damaso Marte and Phil Coke for one out each leading up to Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera, who got the Yankees through 10 innings.

With just three pitchers left in the bullpen, including Chad Gaudin who was being held back in case he was needed to start Game 4, Girardi was short-handed in case the game went longer than 11 innings. His saving grace was the presence of Alfredo Aceves, who has shown the ability to go anywhere from three to five innings out of the pen.

After David Robertson retired the first two Angels on 11 pitches, Girardi made the move to Aceves to face Howie Kendrick, a fastball hitter. Aceves is more reliant on his off-speed pitches than Robertson, who likes to use his fastball to retire hitters. On paper, this seemed like a decent move. But they don't play baseball on paper.

Aceves got into a fastball count against Kendrick and allowed a single up the middle and the next batter, Jeff Mathis, ripped a 1-0 pitch off the left-field wall which plated Kendrick to give the Angels a walk-off victory.

The questions began for Girardi, who took out an effective pitcher after just 11 pitches to go to what could have been the last man standing in his bullpen. This was a classic case of overmanaging by Girardi, who seemed to make his decision based on pitch statistics rather than the flow of the game, which dictated that Robertson was pitching well enough to finish the inning.

The hope is that Girardi learned his lesson from that game, and we will see if he has in the games upcoming. But for now, the Yankees have a chance to put the Angels away on the road and advance to the World Series for the first time since 2003, when they lost to the Marlins.

The way A-Rod has played throughout the postseason, including three straight games with a home run and numerous big plays in the field and on the basepaths, this team looks stronger the deeper they go in the playoffs. If Rodriguez continues to play out of his mind, the 2009 playoffs may just be remembered as "A-Rod's Redemption."

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