Yankees, Phillies Deliver October Feel
So why does it seem Rollins is forever talking about the Mets and the Yankees? Two seasons ago he made a remark that proved to be pretty prophetic, saying his Philadelphia Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East, and Mets fans reacted as if Rollins personally removed the frontal lobe from Jose Reyes' brain. Now from Rollins' crystal ball comes this enticing prediction: the Phillies will play the Yankees in the World Series this October.
Rollins didn't elaborate on his forecast Sunday, after the Phillies beat the Yankees, 4-3, on Carlos Ruiz's two-out, run-scoring double in the 11th inning. It had been a rollicking weekend filled with dramatic comebacks and sky-rocket home runs and blown saves and pies in the face, and if Rollins wasn't exactly handing out "save the date" cards as he left Yankee Stadium, he sure sounded like a man who planned to return at summer's end.
"How great would that be? A World Series here, us against the Yankees?" Rollins said with a grin. "We've proved we can put on a pretty good show."
The Phillies took two out of three games from the Yankees, but such basic numbers can hardly define this interleague series. Along the way a few truths were revealed. Away from home the reigning world champions are lunch-pail tough, finishing their 10-day, three-city road trip with an 8-2 mark for a league-best 16-6 on the road. They were just a dead-red hit away from sweeping the Yankees, and their starting rotation might not be as brutal as everyone thinks. But the Brad Lidge problem is a legitimate worry. He had two save opportunities in two days, blew them both, couldn't stop the Yankees from stealing behind him and looks nothing like the closer who last season was only perfect.
Over on the home team's side, the weekend confirmed the Yankees have indeed had the sticks surgically removed, allowing them to rediscover some of the feel-good karma that used to bounce off the walls of the old Stadium. This is a team with chemistry and a will to fight, two traits that defined the champion Yankee teams of the 1990s and mesh well with a payroll stretching past $200 million.
"We have a belief we can win games late, even if we've been down all day," said Johnny Damon.
The Yankees had four walk-off wins during a homestand in which they went 8-2, and though Sunday ended without anyone being pelted with a pie in the face during a giddy post-game interview, the Yankees departed for Texas feeling, as Damon said, "like Little Leaguers playing in the state tournament."
Clubhouse attendants rushed to ready the crème pies in the bottom of the ninth when Lidge started to crumble. One day earlier Lidge gave up a ninth-inning homer to Alex Rodriguez that tied the game, then lost it when Melky Cabrera smashed a single for the 5-4 Yankee win. Now it was Robinson Cano leading off the ninth with a single to center, and pinch-runner Ramiro Pena stealing second, and Cabrera, the walk-off king, slapping a single that danced under the glove of a diving Rollins, and Pena racing around to tie the game, and Cabrera stealing a base, and all those Phillie fans who had invaded Yankee Stadium suddenly felt their throats clutch.
Lidge recovered, getting Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner on groundouts, but you could already hear the rumble down the turnpike. What's wrong with Lidge? How long will manager Charlie Manuel continue to have faith in a closer who turns most every inning he pitches into a power walk on a tightrope?
The questions lingered well after the Phillies worked a little comeback magic of their own, starting when Yankee reliever Brett Tomko walked Chase Utley with two outs in the top of the 11th. That mistake proved pivotal when, after Utley stole second, Ruiz smashed a 3-2 slider that skimmed the third-base line and scooted into the corner, scoring Utley and igniting fires under the large pockets of red-shirted fans.
The Yankees have built a moat that divides the $2,500 seats from the poor folks who pay $400 or less to watch a game. There were no barriers between the invading Philly fans and the home team supporters, always a hospitable bunch. (The amount of fights in the stands matched the intensity of boos directed at Lidge.) When the bottom of the 11th ended with a whoosh, with reliever Clay Condrey retiring three straight for the win, it sounded as if Citizens Bank Park had been dropped in the Bronx.
Lidge is probably lucky he didn't cross paths with any of the thousands of Philly faithful as they left the Stadium. It was his fourth blown save in 12 opportunities this season, his third on the 10-game road trip, his second against the Yankees, but Lidge insists there is no linear issue binding them together.
"Man, today was totally different than yesterday. I felt great," Lidge said. "I was throwing the ball where I wanted to. They got two ground balls that weren't necessarily hit that well, and a stolen base in there and that was a recipe for a run. The things I was in control of today I feel real good about. I'm disappointed with the result and I know that I've got to start -- no matter what it is -- I've got to start getting them down."
Manuel said his confidence in Lidge hadn't wavered. He liked his closer's fastball and slider, said Lidge still has plenty of talent. "You know what he needs? Just to get 'em out one more time. That's what he needs. He's fine," Manuel said.
Regarding his shortstop's prediction of a Phillies-Yankees World Series, Manuel was only slightly more guarded.
"You know Jimmy, he's pretty confident," Manuel said. "And he's not often wrong."