We now know the real difference between the Phillies and the Yankees: it’s in the bullpen. They’re both shaky… until the very end. When the Yankees have a lead in the ninth inning, they win. When the Phillies have a lead, they might win.
That, more than any reason, is why a Phillies team that is otherwise demonstrably better than last year’s may not win this year’s World Series. They’ve added Cliff Lee, Pedro Martinez, and Jayson Werth has made the jump from WWE lookalike to 38-home run smacking WWE lookalike; still, the Phillies have lost their edge. Last year, Brad Lidge was untouchable. This year, everyone in the bullpen is getting roughed up. Last night, Charlie Manuel went to Ryan Madsen—a player with such a sad early history that we named an award for futility after him in our fairytale baseball league—up three runs in the ninth inning. He let the first two guys on, and only a double play ball by Captain Clutch Jeter got him out of a giant mess. Johnny Damon singled, but Madsen got the suddenly slumping Mark Teixeira to end it. A-Rod never got a chance to gallop into history.
Now the series heads back to New York, with the Yankees in an interesting position. On the bright side, they get to face Pedro again, and it’s entirely possible that they launch a NASA-like program off his arm. On the negative side, they have Andy Pettitte starting a game six on three days’ rest, and Pettitte’s up-and-down postseason history seems overdue for a down (especially against this lineup). If they Phillies are somehow able to win game six, they’ll enter game seven in a situation they haven’t found themselves in all year: they’ll be without a solid starter, but the closer situation will be locked down. You have to figure that Cliff Lee will be pitching whenever the Phils need him… if we get that far.
After the Red Sox beat the Yankees in game five of the 2004 ALCS, the signs on the highway all read “Red Sox 5, Yankees 4,” knowing that both teams would pass underneath them on their way back to New York. Each win seemed to give the Sox strength. After last night’s win, there was no jubilation from the Phillies. They high-fived but for the most part did so with lips pursed, business-like. Maybe they’re not confident they can win two in a row, or maybe they’re not content to celebrate until the job’s done. They’ve got 48 hours to draw up a game plan, insofar as there is one besides “just win.” They came out swinging against A.J. Burnett last night, making sure that he couldn’t get ahead of them with the fastball to drop the curve on them. The teams will scout Martinez and Pettitte and reconvene at 7:57 tomorrow. It’ll all be over by this time on Friday, folks. Drink it up.