Commentary

Yankees are playing Series spoilers

New York is turning a potential classic into a ho-hum romp toward a 27th title

Updated: November 2, 2009, 7:39 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- What if I told you the New York Yankees are ruining this World Series?

What if I said that Andy Pettitte has as many hits as Mark Teixeira?

Or that CC Sabathia has as many pitching wins as George Steinbrenner?

And yet, incredibly, the Yankees can close out this thing with a win Monday night. They can make the Philadelphia Phillies the ex-world champions. They can do what few, if any, people predicted: beat the Phillies in phive.

That's how good these Yankees are. They improvise. Adapt. Overcome. Talk all you want about their $208 million payroll and their roll call of stars, but the Yankees are winning because of their hearts, not their bank accounts.

One night -- the first night of this World Series -- they were down 1-0. Now they're up 3-1 and on the brink of a long-awaited 27th world title.

"That was sooooo awesome," gushed actress Kate Hudson as she walked toward the Yankees' clubhouse after Sunday evening's 7-4 victory.

Hudson and Alex Rodriguez are an item. But the real love affair is between Yankees fans and A-Rod's two-out, go-ahead RBI double in the top of the ninth off Phillies closer Brad Lidge. It was only his second hit of the series, but, like his opposite-field home run of a night earlier, it was a crucial at-bat.

"There's no question I've never had a bigger hit," Rodriguez said.

A-Rod, useless at the plate in the first two games, now delivers when it counts.

Sabathia is 0-1, but he has given the Yankees 13 2/3 quality innings.

Mariano Rivera, who wore a postgame shoulder ice pack the size of batting helmet, picks up his second save and has yet to give up a run in three appearances. He'll be 40 in four weeks.

"It's incredible," said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman of the growing (is that possible?) legacy of the Sandman. "It's simply incredible."

Johnny Damon, who graduated summa cum laude in baseball instincts, realizes the Phillies have done a Homer Simpson and, D-oh!, forgotten to cover third base because of their infield shift. So he steals two bases on the same ninth-inning play and later scores the go-ahead run.

Mark Teixeira & Alex Rodriguez
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesMark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are one win from their first World Series title.
"He called himself an idiot a few years back," said Derek Jeter, who had two more hits Sunday evening and now leads both teams with a .412 Series average. Yawn.

One more win. That's all that separates the Yankees from their first world title since 2000 -- an ice age for a franchise that has won 26 of those trophies. When you play for the Yankees, they ask for your Social Security number and your ring size. Nothing matters but those rings.

"Well, I'd lie if I said I wasn't going to go home and think about it all night," said Game 5 Yankees starter A.J. Burnett, who will be going on three days' rest. "…You dream about it. This is what you talk about growing up. … I'm not going to take it as just one ordinary game or another start. It's the World Series Game 5, and I'm the starter. That's what it's all about."

Jeter is calm. Burnett is geeked. Meanwhile, Cashman shrugs his shoulders at it all.

Cashman watched the Phillies tie the score on a two-out, two-strike solo home run by Pedro Feliz (who entered the game with exactly one Series hit) in the bottom of the eighth inning. Then he watched his Yankees score three runs in the top of the ninth, followed by Rivera's putting the Phillies to sleep in the bottom of the ninth.

I'd be a wreck. Cashman barely fidgeted.

"Yeah, for better, for worse, to be honest," he said. "Just play it out. Watch it and see what happens and hope for the best."

He got it. The Yankees have won three consecutive games. They didn't panic when reliever Joba Chamberlain gave up the dinger to Feliz. If anything, they were ruthless. And still are.

"We feel very, very confident right now," said Nick Swisher, who scored one of those seven Yankees runs. "We'll put our A-game out there."

The Phillies picked the wrong time to put their B-game out there. Starter Joe Blanton pitched well enough (six innings, four runs allowed), but Lidge gave up three hits and three runs. Plus, neither he nor catcher Carlos Ruiz covered third on Damon's steal (the Phillies had the shift on for Teixeira, hitting left-handed).

Ryan Howard still has just one RBI in four games. And the 4-5-6 hitters in the lineup (Howard-Jayson Werth-Raul Ibanez) went 1-for-11 against Sabathia on Sunday night.

"We're down, but you know what, we're still breathing," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.

Shallow breaths, to be sure, but anybody who thinks this Series is finished needs to be strapped to a Barcalounger and forced to watch a replay of Game 1. Remember Cliff Lee? He's starting for the Phillies on full rest. The first time he faced the Yankees, he threw a complete game and struck out 10.

And if Lee wins, the Phillies live and breathe for a Game 6, which means they likely will get 37-year-old Pettitte on three days' rest. Beat Pettitte and next up is winless Sabathia making his third start in nine days against a combo pitching platter of maybe Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ and Lee.

But first there's Game 5 and the very real possibility that the Yankees could return to New York with champagne stains on their pinstripes.

"We have yet to accomplish anything," Jeter reminded everyone.

He's right. And wrong. Taking a 3-1 lead against a team like the Phillies is accomplishing something. But we know what he's saying: Manuel's team isn't an easy out.

For the sake of a Series predicted to be an actual Fall Classic, it would be nice if the Phillies could somehow push this to a seventh game. But, sigh, I'm not holding my breath.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

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