The New York Yankees clinched their twenty-seventh World Series championship at just before 5 a.m. British time this morning with a 7-3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. Hideki Matsui stole the show with a World Series record-equalling six RBI night, and was awarded the series MVP award as a result, while the Yankees’ win was fittingly topped and tailed by two veterans of the late-nineties championship team: Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.
Joe Girardi, New York’s manager, chose the uniform number 27 when he took charge prior to the 2008 season to serve as a constant reminder of what was demanded of him and his team. Now that his team has won that twenty-seventh World Series championship, it will be a fitting tribute to their achievement. However, knowing the lust for success in the Yankee organization, it would be no surprise if Girardi takes number 28 away from Shelley Duncan for the 2010 season. This group has earned a place in the Yankees’ illustrious history, but the great teams have gone on and won several titles and that will now be their aim.
Their defeated opponents know just how tough that will be. The Phillies mounted an excellent defence of their 2008 Championship by making it all the way back to the World Series and, as is the case with many short series, they may feel that things could have turned out differently had just a few more plays gone their way. Yet when we look back at the 2009 World Series, over the coming offseason and in years down the line, and take into account the regular season as well, it’s clear that the best team of 2009 won.
I always like looking at the series stats at the end of the Fall Classic, comparing how each team performed over the relatively small number of games. You can’t draw too many overarching conclusions about the players’ strengths and weaknesses from them, but it does give you another perspective on what happened during the games and also makes you think about the moments that caught your eye but don’t necessarily show up in the basic stats. (The stats are from MLB.com)
Top of the line-up
Jeter and Damon performed extremely well for the Yankees, a point that will become even clearer when the rest of their offense is considered further below. The Yanks’ 1-2 hitters kept setting the table for the players behind them and also drove home a few runs themselves. Damon’s double steal in Game Four will go down as one of the more memorable moments from the series, as will Jeter’s double-play turn in Game Two (particularly for Phillies fans cursing the first base umpire’s incorrect decision to call Chase Utley out. It was a great play by Jeter nonetheless).
As for the Phillies’ top two, their batting averages starkly reveal the lack of hits, but the eight walks they collected shouldn’t be overlooked as an equally useful way of getting on base in front of the sluggers. Victorino added to this by getting plunked on the hand by A.J. Burnett in Game Five, although only he will know whether it was worth the pain that he was so obviously in for the rest of the game.
Middle of the order
Considering they won the Fall Classic, these somewhat ordinary overall numbers above may come as a bit of a surprise. Still, sometimes in a short series, it’s not how many hits you get, but when you get them. Teixeira got a big home run against Pedro Martinez in Game Two and came around to score on four other occasions, whilst A-Rod made his hits count as well (he also helped out a bit in the previous two rounds). The same can certainly also be said of Matsui after his spectacular performance in Game Six and his numbers alone were far from ordinary.
The top two grabbed the headlines for different reasons. Utley delivered five telling blows and made a significant impact for the Phillies, while Howard’s main impact was on the additional work he created for strikeout-punching umpires, strikeout-noting scorers and strikeout-sign-hanging fans. I don’t think this was really a case of the occasion getting the better of him. A slugger like Howard can easily go into a strikeout spin for six games, just as he can club teams to death single-handed over the same span. It would be great if he could choose which games he went hot or cold in, but he can’t. Howard went 2-for-5 with four strikeouts in the first two games of the 2008 World Series and looked lost at the plate before he blasted three longballs in the next two games. Unfortunately for the Phillies, this time his first homer didn’t come until the sixth inning of Game Six when it was too late to make a difference.
Bottom of the order
|Jerry Hairston Jr.||3||6||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||.167|
The Yankees didn’t get a whole lot of offense from lower down the order. Nick Swisher’s performances throughout the first two rounds of the postseason resulted in him being dropped for Game Two, but he did at least get on-base a few more times than his batting average would lead you to believe. The same can’t be said for Robinson Cano. He had a miserable time of things at the plate during the Fall Classic, although his performances in helping them to get there during the regular season means he more than earned the ring that will be on his finger next April.
Pedro Feliz was nearly a hero in Game Four. If you’re only going to get four hits in the series, you might as well group three of them together in one game-winning effort and to make one of those hits a dramatic solo shot in the eighth inning. Sadly for Feliz, his work will simply go down as the backdrop to an incredible late Yankee rally. Carlos Ruiz deserves some credit for his work both at and behind the plate. Five of his six hits went for extra bases and he added five walks to his contribution as well. That was a decent return from the catcher; the Phillies just didn’t put enough offense together to make it count for more.
One of the statistical quirks of this year’s World Series is that the Yankees won despite Sabathia ending up with an 0-1 record. Most Yankee-winning predictions would have probably had Sabathia getting at least two wins, but he pitched very well in both of his starts despite the win-loss column’s unforgiving nature. Burnett was predictably unpredictable, with one excellent start and one lousy start, yet it was the consistency of the veteran Pettitte that helped to lay the foundations for the Yankees’ success.
Well, the Phillies got what they hoped for from Lee. He led the team into the playoffs after his mid-season trade from Cleveland and then went a combined 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in his five postseason starts. He gave them the perfect start by winning his duel with Sabathia in Game One and staved off defeat in Game Five, just as you would want from your ace. What the Phillies didn’t have in the World Series was one more starter to make for an intimidating 1-2 punch. They spent most of the season hoping that the 2008 version of Cole Hamels would suddenly reappear, but he never did. If he had then the complexion of this series would have been very different. Philly fans can add it to the list of ‘what ifs’ to ponder over the offseason.
What more can be written about the man at the top of the list? While other closers can go from hero to zero within the space of twelve months (see below: Lidge, Brad), Rivera stands alone as someone who excels year after year. The overall contributions of star position players like Pujols, A-Rod, Mauer and others might be worth more than what any closer could hope to provide in a season, but I don’t think any manager has a greater roster luxury than Girardi has in being able to call on Rivera to close a game out. It’s also worth pointing out the contribution from Damaso Marte out of the ‘pen. As a lefty specialist, he figured to have an important role in tying down Utley, Howard and Ibanez and the way he struck out the first two back-to-back in Game Six before handing the ball over to Rivera was the best example of that plan working out perfectly for the Yankees.
|Chan Ho Park||0||0||0||4||0||0||0||0||3.1||2||0||0||1||3|
Amid the carnage, there were some notable performances out of the Phillies’ bullpen, not least from Madson and Park. That raises the question of whether Charlie Manuel used his resources in the best way. The decision to use Brad Lidge in Game Four was undoubtedly a disaster and the panic attacks induced among Philly fans when he walked out to the mound are proof that this was to be expected, regardless of a few half-decent outings earlier in the postseason.
A great end to a great season
There were high hopes that this year’s World Series would be something special after a run of entertaining but short, and in some cases fairly one-sided, series in recent years. The Phillies and Yankees delivered in style, with the lack of a seventh game being the only minor complaint from this spoilt baseball fan. Teams are already making moves for 2010, so I’m sure the offseason will be full of news and talking points. The 2009 season has only just finished, but I can’t wait for the next one to start.