Phillies Won't Let Yankees Win Easily
From the start of Saturday night's Game 3 in Philadelphia until whenever the last pitch of the World Series takes place, the New York Yankees will have much to worry about regarding the Philadelphia Phillies.
Oh, the Yankees still will win it all. They have several boppers of their own -- well, if this A-Rod stops resembling that other A-Rod when it comes to vanishing or prospering in October. Plus, despite Lee's Sandy Koufax routine, the Yankees have better starting pitchers. They also have those pinstriped ghosts, their Gipper in George Steinbrenner and the incomparable Mariano Rivera.
That said, the Yankees must understand something more striking about the Phillies than what I just wrote: the Phillies aren't scared.
The Yankees should be, but only to scare themselves straight. And, no, it doesn't matter that Pedro Martinez became one of their children again on Thursday night at Yankee Stadium to even things at 1-1. First, there was the Phillies' 6-1 laugher in Game 1 courtesy of Chase Utley's bat and Lee's arm. Then, down the stretch of the Yankees' 3-1 victory in this one, the Phillies kept tossing dirt out of their grave. They had the tying runs on base with one out in the eighth inning against Rivera. In the ninth, Raul Ibanez ripped a two-out double before Rivera became His Awesomeness again with a game-ending strikeout of Matt Stairs.
It didn't matter. Stairs resembled nearly everybody else in the visitors' clubhouse afterward. He shrugged, and then he said with a pleasant dose of defiance, "Well, it's funny that we had such a great year, but the Yankees are considered the favorites. We don't feel like we're inferior. We feel like we have a great team, and that we can hit with anybody and pitch with anybody.
"Coming in here, splitting the series, it happened. We won one of two games against them, but we wanted to sweep."
So much for the Yankees huffing and puffing and threatening to blow away the supposedly underdog Phillies mentally as well as physically. Given the spunk that the Phillies have shown thus far after two World Series games in the Bronx -- where they threatened to stop between innings to spit at those Yankee plaques behind center field -- who said these guys were underdogs, anyway?
"We've heard it," said Jimmy Rollins, the little mouth that roared so loudly before the World Series (he picked the Phillies in five games, no longer than six) that a New York tabloid declared on its back pages, "Shut Him Up!" Added Rollins, "We don't feel that way [as underdogs], and that's really the most important thing, that we don't consider ourselves underdogs. We're not going out there trying to prove anything, just going out there trying to win four games."
The Phillies have three more to go. So do the Yankees, which means the 2009 world championship will belong to the team that blinks last.
That's why Game 3 is so huge. Every World Series game is huge. But the Phillies can snatch home-field advantage back from the Yankees Saturday night inside of their cozy ballpark if Cole Hamels returns from Steve Blass territory. Just last season, he was magnificent -- especially in the postseason, when he finished as the most valuable player in the National League Championship Series and the World Series. He was 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five postseason starts.
This year? Brutal (1-1, 6.75 ERA in three starts). That's opposed to Andy Pettitte, the Yankees' scheduled starter for Saturday night who won the Yankees' series-clinching victory over the Los Angeles Angels in the ALCS. His 16 postseason victories are more than anybody in history, but you know what?
The Phillies aren't scared.
Remember, too, the Phillies are the defending world champions, and no NL team has won the World Series in consecutive years since the 1975-1976 Cincinnati Reds of Big Red Machine fame. In other words, the Phillies aren't scared, because they are doing everything they can to have a legacy of their own.
"No, not really," said Rollins, causing eyebrows to rise. That was until he followed those words with another reason for the Yankees to be scared: The Phillies get it, because Rollins added, "We still have so much work to do, I believe, and I believe everyone in the clubhouse feels the same way. You start looking at yourself and being content and getting happy, you find yourself sliding the wrong way quickly."
Sounds like Derek Jeter. After all, the Yankees captain keeps saying during the postseason that his team only focuses on the game at hand. That means the Yankees and the Phillies have the same obsession with focus.
That means this will be a tight World Series.
That means the Yankees will win it by a Rivera cut fastball.
Terence Moore is a national columnist and commentator for FanHouse. He is a frequent panelist on "Rome Is Burning," an ESPN show hosted by Jim Rome, that is seen Monday through Friday at 4:30 PM ET. Moore spent more than three decades working for major newspapers, including 26 years as an award-winning sports columnist for the San Francisco Examiner and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He resides in Atlanta.