Chasing Away the Ghosts

Johnny Damon’s mad ninth-inning dash from second to third once he realized no one was covering will go down in the annals of World Series lore, but it was Alex Rodriguez who was the real story last night. From my writeup at Baseball Prospectus:

Last night, in the ninth inning of Game Four of the World Series, Alex Rodriguez put the lie to the seemingly endless string of complaints that have dogged him since 2004 regarding his ability to come through in the clutch. Never mind the fact that 15 of his 30 homers this year either tied the score or gave the Yankees the lead. Never mind the fact he had already bopped six homers during the Yankees’ current postseason run, early-inning homers to kick off the scoring or late-inning — even extra-inning — homers to tie games. For some of his critics, that could never be enough, simply because he’s the highest paid player in the game, and a socially awkward one at that.

Last night, in the ninth inning of Game Four of the World Series, Alex Rodriguez came to the plate with two outs and the opportunity to drive in a run to give his team the lead in a World Series game — the kind of situation just about anyone who’s ever played baseball has daydreamed about, whether in their own backyards as a schoolkid or when putting pen to ink on a multi-million dollar deal. And he did. And it was good. Knowing that with a runner on third base he could expect a fastball, Rodriguez ripped a 92 MPH Brad Lidge offering into the right field corner to bring home Johnny Damon, restoring the lead that the Yankees had held from the top of the first to the bottom of the eighth, only to fritter it away. The Yanks would add two more runs on a Jorge Posada single one batter later, but it was Rodriguez who drove in the decisive run, giving the Bronx Bombers a commanding 3-1 lead in the World Series. It doesn’t get much more clutch than that.

…Johnny Damon’s dash is what will likely be remembered years from now, and a well-deserved memory it will be, particularly after the tenacious at-bat in which he worked his way on base. But he’s not the only hero of this ballgame. On the night after Halloween, Alex Rodriguez chased away some ghosts with his first World Series game-winning hit. He’s now hitting .348/.483/.804 with six homers and 15 RBI this fall, and after all the drama that has dogged him since reports of his steroid usage broke, he produced on the game’s biggest stage in the biggest moment of his career. It may never be enough for some if his critics — it wasn’t Game Seven in the bottom of the ninth with the Yankees trailing, and he didn’t pledge to donate his entire annual salary to an orphanage in the postgame jubilation, after all — but those left standing to point a finger at him for being somehow unclutch are completely out of ammunition now.

And the Yankees are one win away from their 27th World Championship. The path to their fourth victory isn’t as straightforward as it might otherwise be, given that tonight they’ll face ace Cliff Lee, who nearly shut them out in Game One, while hoping that a less-than-fully-rested A.J. Burnett can string together his second straight glowing start, this time against a lineup that got a good look at his repertoire and his pattern of first pitch strikes. It may not be the ideal scenario for the Yankees, but it’s one for which the Phillies would certainly trade.

Damon’s dash really was something to behold, one of the crazier plays I’ve ever seen, and also one of the most heads-up. What amazed me after Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz two-hopped the ball to Pedro Feliz (the third baseman covering second during the shift on Mark Teixeira) was that he was so close when Damon made his break, perhaps less than three feet away. While Damon wasn’t likely to lose any footrace to a guy who hasn’t stolen a base since 2007, I have to think that a desperate lunge might have been enough to tag him out.

In any event, we’ve got a ballgame tonight, possibly the last one of the year. The boys and girls at BP, including yours truly, will be chatting it up starting at 8 PM Eastern. Check it out.

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