Monday, November 02, 2009

Phillies - Yankees Live

It all started with an innocent, if not fairly common, telephone call from my older brother around 10am on Sunday this weekend. I was on my way back from the weekly run to the grocery, and when I picked up my cell, the one sentence I heard would change the path of my day and my weekend:

"The team needs us, man. Joe Blanton needs us."

I couldn't even begin to argue with my brother's sentiment. After Philies manager Charlie Manuel exhibited his mental retardation when it comes to pitchers better than I ever could have dreamt up on my own, opting to pitch Joe Blanton in World Series Game 4 -- a crucial game for the Phils, down 2-1 in the series -- against Yankees' ace CC Sabathia instead of going with Phils' ace Cliff Lee, I knew my brother was right. The Phils simply had to win Game 4, and to do that under the circumstances Charlie Manuel had put the team in was going to take every ounce of support from the real Phillies fans in Citizens Bank Park on the night.

The logic was inescapable. I had to be at that game.

The internet is really a modern day miracle. Within half an hour or so, my brother had not only found us a pair of incredible seats to Sunday night's World Series Game 4 at The Bank via StubHub but sitting in my email box was a printable pdf which included my actual ticket. Unbelievable. I went from spending the afternoon with some friends who were bringing their new baby over to hang with our kids, to heading down Route 95 to Philadelphia to make the trek from Yankees land to Chilladelphia and see my team through to a 2-2 World Series tie.

After the tickets had been procured, the next question was when to get there. In a rare two-game city sports matchup, the Eagles were already playing the Giants at Lincoln Financial Field, just caddy-corner from the Bank, in a 1pm game which would probably end close to 4:30pm. The traffic from that badboy was sure to last until at least 5:30 or 6 in and around the stadium, and I did not necessarily feel like getting involved in that whole morass if I could avoid it. But then with the World Series scheduled to start shortly after 8pm in basically that same space, it stood to reason that the traffic for that game would likely start picking up somewhere around 6pm as well. So, I reasoned, my best bet was probably to make it into parking lot of The Bank sometime around 6pm and try to sneak in during that small window where the football traffic should be winding down while the baseball traffic should just be starting to pick up.

Amazingly, the 124.3 mile trip from my place to my parking lot at The Bank took me under 2 1/2 hours despite having to drive clear through two major cities, and I managed to time things just about perfectly. What's more, my brother arrived just minutes after I did, and we quickly headed upstairs to one of the sit-down restaurants at The Bank for a couple hours of preparations for the big game. This would actually be the third World Series game I would be attending with my brother, having been at both the 15-14 Mitch Williams debacle and the 2-0 Curt Schilling dominatory shutout in the 1993 Phillies-Blue Jays series, so we pretty much have the routine down pat and we executed it to perfection on Sunday night, such that by game time we were nice and toasty in our seats and ready to see the Phils take back control of this series.

Oh, did I mention our seats were incredible?

This is the view of the Fox Sports set on the field just prior to the first pitch. It's also the view from sitting in my seat for the game. We were in the second row of the stadium, not three feet from the dirt in foul ground about ten feet behind first base, where you often see people leaning way over the gate to try to pick up a foul ground ball. We were right on the aisle, second row, right there. It was so sick. Like I said, if you have the money to spend, you can get some pretty effing amazing things from the internet pretty much on demand. While I've been to several World Series games before in my life, I can definitely say that I've never gone in style quite like this. But that's one of the great things about my older brother, which I know I've written about here before in the context of my Vegas trips with him over the past few years -- the man certainly knows how to live right.

The Bank was electric as Joe Blanton threw the first pitch to Carlos Ruiz to start the top of the 1st inning, but right from the first couple of foul balls and even one lineout, it was obvious that the Yanks were keyed on him early. Within minutes, Blanton had quickly given up two runs and somehow had managed to quiet the stadium's 45,145 fans even before the Phillies had come to bat. But a run in the bottom of the first brought the home town crowd back into it, and the Phils spent the next several innings doing what they've been forced to do all through this World Series -- playing catchup. Blanton calmed down a bit and put the Yanks down without further runs over the next few innings, and in the meantime in the 4th, as Sabathia's pitch count ran into the 60s, the Phils eked out another run to finally get back to even. It seemed that Blanton's early mistake had been forgiven and now the team was being given new life to win this game that they knew they had to win. But no sooner had that occurred than Blanton came out and gave up two more runs to the Yanks in the top of the 5th to bring the score to 4-2 and leave the Phils in yet another 2-run hole, and the home crowd once again gasping for its collective breath just minutes after feeling like the team had finally gotten the second chance at this game that it dsperately needed.

The fans in the stadium were amazing. After Blanton was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the 5th, the stadium erupted in support of Chan Ho Park and Ryan Madson as they came in to try to hold the Yanks down while the Phils could chip away at another 2-run lead, and chip away they did. While Park and Madson weaved their way through a couple of mistakes and continued to hold the Yankees at 4 total runs, first Chase Utley smashed a home run deep into the right field seats in the 7th to bring the Phillies to within 4-3, which really got the crowd rocking and rolling. Then, out of nowhere with the bottom of the Phillies' order up in the 8th, Phillies' third baseman Pedro Feliz drove a liner deep to left-center, clearing the wall and sending the hometown fans into a serious frenzy as he tied the game up once again at 4 with just one inning left to go. Carlos Ruiz soon grounded out to end the Phillies' 8th, but one thing was clear to every single person in the stadium -- the fans, the players on both teams on the field, even retard Charlie Manuel as the 8th inning ended -- hold the Yankees scoreless in the top of the 9th, and the Phils were going to win this game with the top of the order coming up in the bottom of the 9th. You just knew, with the way the game had gone, the Phils' unlikely tying of the game in the 8th, and with how desperately the team needed the game. Three more outs from Madson, and the Phils were going to nab a run off whoever Joe Girardi ran out there to pitch to the home team in the bottom of the 9th and tie this series up at 2.

But unfortunately this is not a fairy tale, and when management repeatedly fails to address the team's blatant, glaring weaknesses in the bullpen, stuff tends to happen. Charlie Manuel unabashedly brought Brad Lidge out to hold the Yanks scoreless in the 9th inning, and the whole stadium collectively groaned. Even when Lidge got the first two batters out in short order, and got up 1-2 on third batter Johnny Damon, nobody exhaled. Because on some level we all knew. We all knew this was Brad Lidge, the literal worst player in the entire major leagues this year as I've been screaming here for months. We knew this was a huge, huge spot for the team and for the franchise, and we know how hideous Lidge has performed in this situation over the months and months that have comprised the 2009 season. Despite the refonkulous claims of manager Charlie Manuel that Lidge was "back", that the postseason was a "clean slate" and that Lidge was ready, willing and able to lead this team back to another world championship, I'm not the only one who knows who truly untrustably bad Lidge is and always will be. We all knew, all 45,000+ fans on their feet all through that 9th inning, so when Lidge ended up giving up a hit to Damon after running the count to 3-2, then plunking Mark Teixeira to let two guys on base, and then serving up a delicious swedish meatball to Alex Rodriguez to lose the tie before throwing another soft-tosser in there to Jorge Posada for another two runs and to complete the blowout, nobody was surprised. Stunned, yes. Definitely. But not in a surprised kind of way. More in an I-told-you-so kind of way.

Despite sometimes feeling like I'm completely alone here in this space screaming for months about how horrible Brad Lidge is and how the Phillies had absolutely, positively zero chance of repeating as World Champions when Brad Lidge was our closer, on Sunday night I had the oppotunity to learn how 45,145 of my fellow Phillies fans felt about Lidge, and what I learned is that everyone -- every body in the city -- feels just like I do. Nobody wanted Lidge out there to pitch to this lineup, in this stadium. Nobody thought the inning was over at 2 outs, nobody on, and 1-2 to Johnny Damon. And nobody thought there was any chance whatsoever that Lidge would be able to stop the bleeding at just one run by getting Posada out, down 5-4. Everybody knew. And somehow, for some reason, I actually take a little comfort in knowing that. We were all in the same boat at The Bank yesterday, and walking out with the hordes as that game came to a close on Sunday night, I recognized all too well the dazed looks I saw everywhere I turned my head. I was sporting the same look myself, as I eased into the front seat of my car and started the long trek that would eventually get me back into my own bed shortly after 2am.

Let me be clear about one thing: I still expect this series to get back to New York, which is all I ever felt sure about coming in to the series as far as length. Although I can personally attest that the loss on Sunday night was emotionally draining for the team and for the city, these players have been through this before. Several times. Like, 15 times just this season with Lidge, plus another 6 or 7 with Madson and others. Blowing a game in the 9th in a spot like this is always one of the hardest things to get over, and I can't say I would be completely shocked if the team couldn't muster up enough chutzpah to grab one win in Philly tonight after what has happened in Philadelphia over the past few days. But this Phillies team has been resilient all through the season, and they've come back with tough, hard-fought wins time and again in the face of adversity, even the day after Lidge blows a big game like happened on May 25 to end that Phillies - Yankees intraleague series back in the spring. I like the matchup of Cliff Lee vs AJ Burnett, and I think there is a good chance that the defending World Champions will not let the Yanks off that easy tonight at The Bank. After Game 5 the Phils will have a major uphill battle to wage, but at this point, you know the routine.

One Game at a Time.

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Blogger Shrike said...

Brad Lidge v2009 reminds me so much of Mitch Williams. It must be torture having that guy put in situations he can't handle by a manager who doesn't trust anyone in his bullpen.


12:50 AM  
Blogger 1Queens Up1 said...

all he had to do was pitch around arod. Ill never forgive Charlie for that one.

8:10 AM  
Blogger 1Queens Up1 said...

sorry for spamming your comments but one more thing:

Why would you not give your closer some work during the blowouts during the Dodgers series? I mean seriously coming into last nights game with 17 days rest is a travesty. You mean nobody had the brilliant idea to let Lidge get some work in during any of the blowouts? Rediculous.

8:52 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Queens, the answer to your last question is obvious.

No blowout is safe once Brad Lidge enters the game.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Riggstad said...

I can't believe you went to that game. I just can't believe it.

And those seats!!

Lidge and Charlie need to work on allowing him to throw his best pitch. Once he abandoned the slider, it was all over.

Stupid. This series should be tied.

Pedro tonight, and "all hands on deck" for game 7 (Pedro and Phils bats willing).

12:13 AM  

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