New York, New York, my kind of town

by

A Game 1 victory by the Philadelphia Phillies was not a total surprise. The manner in which they took that step, however, was impressive.

On a night where fifty thousand fans, CC Sabathia, and a loaded Yankee’s lineup were the star attractions,  Cliff Lee and the  Philadelphia Phillies kept their cool and shocked the New Yorkers with a 6-1 victory that can best be described as dominant.

With arguably the finest pitching performance of the postseason (9 innings pitched, 10 K’s, no ER) Cliff Lee co

UUtley

Not much went wrong for Utley ... except maybe his hair.

mbined with Chase Utley to wrest homefield advantage away from the New York Yankees.

92343071CC169_Philadelphia_

So much for postseason pressure.

Lee was absolutely in control from start to finish, effectively keeping Yankee hitters off balance with a mixture of pitches, and keeping New York off of the scoreboard in the process.  With coma-level calmness, Lee worked both sides of the plate and shut down a Yankee lineup that led the majors in runs scored during the season.

By winning the all-important first game of the series (11 of the last 12 teams to win Game 1 went on to win the series), the Phillies did more than just take a one game lead, they  served notice that they were not going to merely roll over for the heavily favored Yankees, they’re here to defend their World Series title.

It’s always important in these closely matched series to set the tone, and last night, Philadelphia certainly did that. I predicted before the series that the Phillies would win in six games, and Game 1 did nothing to change my mind. I’m not saying the series is over, in fact, I think it could be one to remember, I just think that the Phillies established some serious momentum heading into tonight’s Game 2.

Okay, enough about game 1, let’s take a look at Game 2:

If I’m Charlie Manuel, there isn’t a whole lot I can complain about. I got power from the middle of the lineup (6 for 15 with 2 HR and 5 RBI), solid defense (minus the Jimmy Rollins ninth inning error), and fantastic starting pitching from Cliff Lee (complete game, 0 ER). However, not everything was perfect for the fightin’ Phils. If it wasn’t for Chase Utley’s home runs and the Yankee’s crappy middle relief, I don’t know if their offense could have manufactured any runs. Take away Utley’s dingers and that offense was fairly contained.  I’m interested to see if they can produce some runs without the long ball in tonight’s game. The Phillie’s are at their best when the top of the order gets on base and gets in scoring position for the power guys in the middle to drive them in. If they have to rely on the home run for all of their scoring, then the Yankees will win this series.

Girardi

Looks like Joe has more problems than his bullpen

On the flip-side, if I’m Yankees skipper Joe Girardi, I have to wonder: what happened to my team’s offense? The middle of the lineup absolutely disappeared in last night’s game (2 for 18, 8 K’s for the 3-7 hitters), and the only player who seemed to be ready to play was Derek Jeter (which shouldn’t even be a surprise by now). There’s absolutely no way the Yankees can win without production from the guys in the heart of that lineup. When you build a team around two big sluggers, you open yourself up to the possibility of losing when they have a bad night.

Also, if I’m Girardi, I’m absolutely terrified of what happened with my bullpen last night. Going into the eighth inning, it was a two run game with  one trip through the heart of the lineup remaining for the Yanks. All the bullpen had to do was hold the fort and keep the game within a couple of runs. That would have given them a chance to win, since coming from behind hasn’t been a problem for them this season. (They had 15 walk-off wins this year… 15!) But as they say, “sometimes even the best laid plans go to waste”. The middle relief, which had been solid all year, channeled their inner Tanyon Sturtze, and proceeded to blow what was a close game into a six run deficit. It’s true throughout the regular season, and it’s doubly true in the playoffs: you can’t win with a crappy bullpen….. unless you get a complete game from your starting pitcher.

Which leads me to tonight’s game:

There are 3 keys for each team in tonight’s Game 2:

Philadelphia Phillies

1. Keep Pedro focused on the task at hand:

I’m thrilled to death to see Pedro Martinez pitching in the World Series again. As far as postseason heroes from this era, he’s near the top of the list. However, what makes Pedro effective at this point in his career isn’t what made him effective 10 years ago. What makes him a solid pitcher now is his ability to change speeds an

Pedro Martinez

Pedro Time?

d move the ball around the strike zone. If he falls into the mano a mano attitude and tries to strike out the side every inning, he will get knocked around by this Yankee lineup. If he stays within himself and sticks to the gameplan, he will give them six or seven solid innings tonight.

2. Make A.J. Burnett work for every out.

A.J. Burnett is the prototype for wasted talent in a pitcher. Throughout his career he has shown flashes of brilliance, but he has never been able to put that all together for an entire season, despite having some of the nastiest stuff in baseball. If the Phillies can work the count and make Burnett think about his pitches, he will lose focus; and that’s when you can get your runs off of him. If they are over-anxious, it plays into his hand; and once Burnett has confidence in his stuff, he becomes one of the more dangerous pitchers in the game today.

3.Get out in front:

As it is with most teams, the Yankees feed off of the emotion of their fans. Luckily for them, they have some of the best (if not the best) fans in the game. That’s just a fact. As much as I hate to admit it, it’s true. They’re absolutely fantastic. They mix support for their team and hatred for the opponents as well as anyone out there. (Oddly enough, Philadelphia has the same sort of support these days.) However, if you can scratch across some early runs and take a lead, it can occasionally shut them up; or at least quiet them down a little bit.  Also, by scoring early, they force Girardi to go to his bullpen…. we’ve discussed this already… it’s not a good option.

It’s all pretty elementary, if the Phillies can jump out in front, play smart baseball, and keep Pedro Martinez focused, they should be able to take a strangle hold on this series.

Here’s what the Yankees can do to even things up:

1.Rally around the captain:

No, no, I’m not advocating a team bonding session over a fifth of rum before the game. In order for the Yankees to be successful, they have to follow the example of their leader, Derek Jeter. It’s impossible to say too many good things about him. Even in a losing effort he jumped out at me in Game 1, good at-bats, flawless defense,

Captain

What's it going to take to wake up this Yankees lineup?

the man can play some ball. However, he can’t do everything himself. But the Yankees are lucky when it comes to Jeter. Their best postseason player is also their undisputed leader. If I’m Derek Jeter, there’s no way I put up with the stupidity and lack of effort from my teammates. (Note: if we find Hideki Matsui buried under the outfield in Yankee Stadium don’t say I didn’t warn you.) I see the Yankees coming out fired up for Game 2.

2. Use the Crowd:

As I said earlier, the Yanks have a fantastic crowd, and they never fail to rally around their team in a big moment. There’s no way to judge or measure the effect that a positive crowd has on a team, but like Yogi Berra said, ‘100 percent of this game is 90 percent mental.’ The better the start for the Yankees tonight, the more into it the crowd will be, which will make it tougher on the Phillies hitters; and after last night’s game, there’s no way the crowd isn’t electric throughout the night.

3. Swing the bats:

I know it sounds simple, but I can’t stress how absolutely dumbfounded I am by the lack of offense the other night. The hitters for the Yankees need to step back and realize that they’re not facing Sandy Koufax or Christy Matthewson here; they’re going up against some very hittable pitchers, with a lineup that was the best in baseball. If they go to the plate looking for their teammates to do the work, they’ll continue to struggle. But if they go up looking to do some damage, there’s no reason they can’t bounce back with a big night tonight.

One final note about tonight’s game: it reminds me a lot of one of the old Yankees/Red Sox series: great lineups, good storylines, and rabid fan bases. I can’t tell you how excited I am for the rest of the series….

Tonight’s Prediction: 6-4 Philadelphia phils_logo

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