It was hard to miss the baseball gods pulling the strings on the scene in Philadelphia late Sunday night. Two outs, go-ahead run on third base and who should come striding to the plate but Alex Rodriguez. He's spent most of the postseason erasing every black mark on his resume, but was still just 1 for 13 in the World Series. A failure in that spot would renew some chatter about his inability to perform under pressure while a hit would cement everything that had come before in these playoffs.
It was, in other words, the stuff of great diamond drama.
Brad Lidge threw a fastball, Rodriguez drove it into left field and the Yankees are one win away from getting their 27th world title. If the Yankees go on to win the World Series, this 7-4 victory and his winning double will be the lead pieces in A-Rod's Yankeeography because they were the final pieces of the puzzle that he's been trying to complete since coming to the Bronx in 2004.
It would be wrong to intimate that he somehow made it all happen on his own. The fact that Lidge did an impersonation of Armando Benitez helped quite a bit. Johnny Damon fought his way to a single on the ninth pitch of his at-bat. That seemed to unnerve Lidge, but it was nothing compared to when Damon stole second and then moved up another base because no one covered third as a result of a bizarre defensive strategy employed by the home team. Lidge, coming unglued by the second, plunked Teixeira and then delivered the fateful pitch to A-Rod. To make matters even worse, he grooved a pitch to Jorge Posada to let in two more runs that Mariano Rivera didn't need but surely appreciated in the bottom of the ninth.
It was a thrilling capper to what was a terrific game overall. It started with A-Rod getting hit by a pitch and raising tempers in the first inning. It was a fairly deliberate pitch by Philly starter Joe Blanton and the third time Rodriguez has been hit in the last two days, but there was no retaliation (tonight anyway) because of a warning from the umpires to both teams. From there Blanton and CC Sabathia battled without either guy having all that much zip on their pitches but escaping great danger more often than not.
Sabathia's luck ran out when Chase Utley beat him for a third home run of the Series, but it looked like the Yankees would get the ball to Rivera up a run because Joba Chamberlain was continuing his rebirth. He struck out the first two batters he faced with filthy stuff in the bottom of the eighth and had two strikes on Pedro Feliz before Feliz guessed right on a 97-mph fastball and crushed it into the night. That tied the game and set the stage for the man who has made this postseason all his own.
It was a huge win for the Yankees and the kind of colossal gutpunch that makes you think that the Phillies can't recover in time to win Monday night's Game 5, Cliff Lee be damned. History says you shouldn't be calling out of work for a parade just yet, but use the time to come up with a good excuse for when you actually need to convince the boss.