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WINTER HAS COME

When Shane Victorino hit a routine 4-3 grounder to end the World Series Wednesday night November 4 2009, as far as I’m concerned winter officially came. It breaks your heart this game of ours, as late baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti put it eloquently. Just when you need it the most as the days grow short and the leaves abandon us to the sobering reality of barren trees, baseball leaves us, too. Yet the days will start growing longer in barely six weeks and soon spring training will be on our radar. And as a hopeless Oriole fan I take solace in the Birds finally having a permanent training base in Sarasota for both major and minor leaguers. Talk about grasping at thin straws!

There can be no doubt that the Yankees deserved to be crowned champions in 2009. They out-pitched, out-hit and out-fielded all their post-season opponents and in the case of Johnny Damon, they out-ran them, too. If Damon’s two stolen bases on one play in the ninth inning of Game 4 had occurred in the final game of the Series, it would rank up there among the immortal events in the Fall Classic. Like Red Sox second baseman Johnny Pesky hesitating a fraction of a second as gritty St. Louis Cardinal Enos Slaughter scored the eventual winning run from first base in the 1946 World Series. (Though the Fall Classic is a cliché, it does bring back to mind the halcyon pre-1969 days before inter-league play when there was just one playoff series to determine a winner and the incessant use of the term “post-season” was yet to be born.)

It would have taken a far more alert pitcher than struggling Phillies closer Brad Lidge to cover third base in the situation when third baseman Pedro Feliz took the throw from catcher Carlos Ruiz at second base because the shift was on against the left-handed pull-hitter Mark Teixeira. To Damon’s credit he saw third base unoccupied and decided correctly that he could outrun Feliz to the bag. It would have been a riskier play, Damon said afterward, if the Angels fleet third baseman Chone Figgins had taken the throw at second. He might have beaten Damon to third but the greatness of Damon as a competitor is he was always taking chances and playing hard-nosed baseball. He even backed up third base when Mariano Rivera made a wild throw in an eventual loss to the Angels in the A.L. championship series. Hustling all the way in from left field! That is a definition of a gamer, as high an accolade a player can receive.

There were still two out in that pivotal 4-4 Game 4 in the 9th inning but Lidge, as he had done so often in 2009, couldn’t shut the door, hitting Teixeira and then quickly giving up the eventual game-winning hit to Alex Rodriguez on a double into the left field corner. To compound the Phillies’ agony and prove again how excruciating a game baseball can be, it was Pedro Feliz who had homered off Joba Chamberlain in the previous half-inning to tie the game and definitely shift momentum towards the Phils. Yet he lacked the speed and instinct to cut down Damon on his now-immortal dash to third base.

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YANKEE ARROGANCE KNOWS NO BOUNDS! I thought I was making a joke when I cracked during the playoffs that tightly-wrapped Yankees manager Joe Girardi would wear #28 next year if the team won in 2009. When he took the job before the 2008 season he declared that he was wearing #27 to inspire the next championship for the Bronx Bombers. Evidently it is not a joke. Girardi is thinking about wearing #28 in 2009. He has said that he got the idea from Tony LaRussa who when he took over the Cardinals chose the number #10 to inspire the team to their 10th championship which they won in 2006, beating the Mets in a 7-game league championship series and then the Tigers in 5 games in the World Series.

I wrote one of the shortest poems ever when the Cardinals’ catcher Yadier Molina homered off Aaron Heilman in the 9th inning of the climactic game in 2006 against the Mets: “Yadier/Get outa here.” Thinking back at that game, Mets left fielder Endy Chavez had preserved a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning with a great leaping catch at the wall. Then he popped up with the bases loaded in the bottom of the same inning and the Mets never scored again. I thought of this play when writing about Pedro Feliz’s home run heroics in one half-inning and then being caught napping by Johnny Damon in the key play in the next half-inning. Just another example of baseball’s greatness. YOUNEVERKNOW, YOUNEVERKNOW, do you? And to quote basketball's immortal coach Joe Lapchick, "Peacock one inning, feather duster the next."

Stay tuned to this site as tales from the Hot Stove League pick up immediately. Ciao for now!




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