Damon steals the show in Game 4
Yankee outfielder's two stolen bases on one pitch might be Series-defining moment
PHILADELPHIA -- We've seen a World Series turn on a magical swing of the bat. We've seen a World Series turn on a flash of leather. We've seen a World Series turn on a gaffe that history never forgets.But we've never seen this. We've seen Jim Leyritz change a World Series. We've seen Kirby Puckett change a World Series. We've seen Bill Buckner change a World Series.
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"You know how people always tell you that they've been in baseball for 40 years, 50 years, and things happen every game that they never saw?" asked Yankees coach Tony Pena, after his Sunday night had turned into Monday morning and he was still trying to digest one of the most astonishing finishes to any game in his 35 seasons in baseball."Well, I've never seen that before," said Tony Pena. "I never saw that before in my life." Hey, Tony, you should know this: You've got lots of company. We've seen a lot of baseball games. We've seen a lot of postseason games. We've seen a lot of World Series games. But we've never seen anything quite like Johnny Damon, racing the baseball to second base in the ninth inning of a tied World Series game -- and then picking himself up and stampeding all the way to third, as 46,000 occupants of a stunned ballpark turned and asked each other: What just happened? One moment, they'd seen the Phillies' previously M.I.A. third baseman, Pedro Feliz, tie this game with a shocking, two-out, two-strike, eighth-inning homer off Joba Chamberlain. And that quickly, after three hours of waiting for something, anything, to shred their vocal cords about, these people had flipped on their bedlam switch. They'd watched the man who threw the last pitch of the last World Series, Brad Lidge, come sprinting in from the bullpen. They'd seen him pop up Hideki Matsui, and strike out Derek Jeter, and get within one strike of blitzing through a dominating 1-2-3 ninth inning. And then "It all happened so fast," said Lidge. Boy, did it ever. Unless something equally unprecedented goes down in the next day or two or three, what happened next is going to be the defining moment of this World Series. Ten years from now, 20 years from now, 50 years from now, we won't be remembering Cliff Lee's Game 1 masterpiece or Alex Rodriguez's replay-aided home run off a TV camera. We'll be remembering Johnny Damon's excellent first-to-third adventure. And so will he. "I'm just glad," the 35-year-old Damon chuckled later, "that when I started running, I still had some of my young legs behind me." But Johnny Damon didn't just pull off this amazing November magic trick with his legs. He couldn't have done it without his bat. And he couldn't have done it without his always-churning brain cells. He couldn't have done it, first of all, without the single greatest at-bat of this World Series -- a nine-pitch duel with Lidge that included a gritty battle back from a 1-and-2 hole, four foul balls, a foul tip that barely squirted below catcher Carlos Ruiz's mitt and, finally, a soft single to left on a 3-and-2 fastball on the outside corner.
I'm the captain of the infield. It's my job. I didn't signal to Brad to make sure he gets to third on a throw. All you've got to do is take two steps in that direction and you stop it right there. But I didn't do my part in making sure he knew the defense we were in.” -- Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins
But this wasn't Feliz's fault, either. It was Rollins' responsibility to decide who would cover second on a steal. So it was the shortstop who blamed himself afterward for not making sure everybody knew their assignment."I'm the captain of the infield," Rollins said. "It's my job. I didn't signal to Brad to make sure he gets to third on a throw. All you've got to do is take two steps in that direction and you stop it right there. But I didn't do my part in making sure he knew the defense we were in." So it was all these forces, all these decisions, all these miscommunications and one brilliant stroke of genius by Johnny Damon that managed to converge at this remarkable point in time. And the result was a play we'll be rehashing for a millennium. "It is unusual. That's for sure," Lidge said. "You kind of wonder how that happens -- or, I guess -- how it doesn't happen more often, with The Shift on. Hopefully, we'll figure out a way to prevent that from happening again." Yeah, they definitely ought to put that on the old to-do list, all right. But it's a little late now. What the Phillies really need to do is figure out a way to win three huge baseball games in a row. Or they'll have the next four months to rehash what went wrong on an unforgettable Sunday night in November. Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.
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WORLD SERIES GAME 4: YANKEES 7, PHILLIES 4
The Yankees stand one win away from their 27th title after Alex Rodriguez sparked a three-run ninth to take a commanding 3-1 series lead over Philly. World Series page »