PHILADELPHIA - Alex Rodriguez waited all game long for this hit. More than that, he had waited his whole life.
Rodriguez delivered the biggest hit of his career, a go-ahead, two-out double in the ninth inning off Brad Lidge and the New York Yankees took advantage of Johnny Damon’s daring dash to beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 7-4, on Sunday night for a 3-1 lead in the World Series.
Derek Jeter came through again and Mariano Rivera finished it off as the Yankees moved within one win of their 27th championship and first since 2000.
Rodriguez could really savor this victory – seething after again being hit by a pitch, he struck back with his potent black bat.
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“There’s no question – I’ve never had a bigger hit,” Rodriguez said.
The Yankees will try to close out the defending champions tonight when A.J. Burnett faces October ace Cliff Lee.
Of the 42 teams to take a 3-1 lead in the World Series, 36 went on to win the crown. The last club to overcome such a deficit was Kansas City in 1985.
Chase Utley and Pedro Feliz hit late home runs for the Phillies that tied it at 4. Then it moved to the ninth and Phils brought in Lidge – a postseason star last year who had struggled all season before regaining his touch this October.
But November was not so kind to him.
Lidge had been the only closer in the playoffs who hadn’t allowed a run until the Yankees tagged him. With two outs, Damon capped a nine-pitch at-bat with a single. The Phillies overshifted their infield to the right side for Mark Teixeira and Damon took off.
Damon beat a one-hop throw to steal second, popped up from his slide and noticed no one was covering third. That’s because Feliz had handled the throw, and Damon easily beat the third baseman to the bag for a rare double-steal – fact is, who’d ever seen it?
Rattled or whatever, Lidge hit Teixeira with a pitch. So up stepped Rodriguez, 1 for 13 to that point in his first World Series and looking nothing like the feared slugger he was earlier in these playoffs.
Putting all his prominent failures behind, Rodriguez lined a solid double into the left-field corner for a 5-4 lead. The three-time American League MVP connected so solidly, the sound echoed throughout Citizens Bank Park. Maybe it wasn’t such a surprise – Rodriguez had homered and doubled in three prior at-bats against Lidge.
“I get a good pitch and put a good swing on it, good things usually happen,” Rodriguez said. “Facing Brad Lidge, he’s a great competitor. He’s had a lot of success late here. Just trying to make contact there.”
Rodriguez stood at second with his 15th RBI, tying a Yankees postseason record shared by Bernie Williams and Scott Brosius. A-Rod’s other hit this week came in Game 3 when his double was changed to a home run after an instant replay review.
The crowd was silent when Jorge Posada followed with a two-run single. Then it was Rivera’s turn and he quickly got three outs for his 11th World Series save. Reliever Joba Chamberlain was the winner in his second Series appearance.
Down all evening, the Phillies kept scrapping. They eventually drew even on the home runs, a common sight at a park where the ball really flies.
Utley homered again off CC Sabathia, finishing the New York starter in the seventh. It was Utley’s third shot off Sabathia in this Series and cut the Phillies’ deficit to 4-3.
Feliz rocked Yankees setup man Chamberlain with a two-out, solo home run in the eighth that tied it at 4.
Jeter put the Yankees ahead from the get-go, leading off the game with a single and scoring in a two-run first. The inning also included plate umpire Mike Everitt warning both teams after Rodriguez was hit by a pitch for the third time in two days.
But the Yankees’ late burst hushed fans who had been festive from the start. Many of them had walked across the street after watching the Philadelphia Eagles rout the New York Giants, 40-17.
Just like that, the Yankees were 27 outs from their record 27th title and the Phillies were on the brink of getting eliminated.
Philadelphia faces a daunting task tonight: New York lost three in a row only twice after the All-Star break.
“I think we take a lot of pride on being resilient and the way we bounce back,” Phils manager Charlie Manuel said. “I’ve seen us go through it before. We’ve blown 22 games from the seventh inning on or something this year. That’s got to tell you something about the resilience of our team.”