A.J. Burnett picked one heck of a time to have the best start of his Yankee career, tossing seven strong innings of one run ball as the Yankees beat the Phillies 3-1 in Game 2 of the World Series to even the series at one game apiece.
Burnett (9 Ks, 2BB, 4H) and Phillie starter Pedro Martinez (6 IP, 6H, 3ER, 2BB, 8K) locked horns in what wound up being a bit of a surprising pitcher’s duel. I was amazed to see the Yankees flail at a wide variety of significantly off-speed pitches in the early going (the Yankee Stadium gun had Pedro’s curve and change-up in the low 70s), and to Pedro’s credit, he kept the Yankees bats off balance for the most part, registering an impressive eight strikeouts over his six innings.
After Burnett let a run in during the top of the 2nd inning on a Matt Stairs single past Alex Rodriguez that appeared fieldable — at least from my vantage point in Section 331 — it started to feel like Game 1 all over again, with the Phillies taking an early lead and their starter cruising.
Thankfully Mark Teixeira finally gave the Bronx faithful something to cheer about in the World Series, blasting a solo home run in the bottom of the 4th to knot the game at 1. From that poijnt on the tenor of the Stadium completely changed for the remainder of the game, from one of apprehension to one of supreme confidence. Hideki Matsui added a huge solo home run two innings later, and the Yankees would add a third run on a big Jorge Posada pinch-hit RBI single.
Burnett would continue to toss up zeroes, and looked stronger than he did all game in nearly striking out the side in the top of the 7th. All told it was Burnett’s strongest outing in pinstripes by far, especially given the desire to not fall behind 0-2 heading into Philadelphia.
The Yankees looked poised to add more runs in the bottom of the 7th, with Derek Jeter at the plate, runners on 1st and 2nd and no out. Unfortunately what ensued will likely get glossed over by the media since the Yankees won, but I was utterly and absolutely apoplectic to the point of being ready to fire Joe Girardi on the spot were I the owner of the Yankees. Jeter — the Yankees’ best hitter in the postseason not named A-Rod — squared to bunt.
That’s right. Derek Jeter, who posted one of the finest offensive seasons of his Hall-of-Fame career and who has continued to hit in huge spots throughout the 2009 postseason while the majority of the lineup has languished, squared to bunt. It was bad enough that he did it once, but then he tried to do it again, and missed on called strike 2.
At this point I figured we were finally free of Joe Girardi’s bizarre machinations, but apparently not, as Derek Jeter then inexcusably bunted with two strikes and fouled out. While I assumed this had been a call from the dugout, several folks have since told me that Girardi himself looked incensed on television, so apparently Jeter decided to do this on his own. Why Jeter — one of the most heads-up players in baseball — would elect to hand the other team an out on a silver platter, I suppose we’ll never know. And unfortunately the Yankees were unable to capitalize thereafter on a strange play off Damon’s bat that the umpiring crew apparently incorrectly ruled a double play.
After Burnett made it through the seventh unscathed, Girardi finally decided to not get cute and went straight to his biggest weapon, Mariano Rivera, for a two-inning save. While you can’t expect Mo to do this every game in the World Series, and Girardi’s going to have to figure out exactly who he can trust in his bullpen, this was the right move for this game, as the Yankees absolutely could not afford to lose after taking the lead. Mo closed the 8th and 9th out without incident — although it did require nearly 40 pitches — evening the series up for the Yankees.
Not to be lost in this recap is the dominance of the Philly bullpen, which was viewed as something of a weakness coming into this series. Once Pedro was finally lifted in the 7th, the Philadelphia bullpen pitched three innings of two-hit, no-run ball, including four strikeouts — three of which were recorded by Ryan Madson as he struck out the side in the bottom of the 8th.
It’s also worth nothing that Alex Rodriguez is 0-8 in two World Series games with six strikeouts. As ant regular reader knows, I’m one of the biggest A-Rod supporters there is, so I don’t read anything into this, but it would be great for the team if Alex can get his swing back on track. In any event, A-Rod is the least of my worries in an offense that has mustered four runs over two games. Girardi’s simultaneous Hairston and Molina start didn’t end up backfiring quite as disastrously as I’d thought (Hairston picked up a hit and Molina a walk), although the offense on the whole still looks to be scuffling.
The series now moves to Philadelphia, and the Yankees will send Andy Pettitte to the mound against Cole Hamels in Game 3. As Alex Rodriguez said in the postgame, it’s now a five-game series. The Yankees only need to win one of the three games to send the series back to the Bronx, but hopefully they’ll do at least one better. Regardless of what happens in the next few days, the Yankees gave their fans a new lease on life, at least for tonight, and hopefully the good feeling continues as the series moves on.