November 5, 2009
It's been almost a full decade since the last time the New York Yankees lived up to their high self-imposed expectations, in which nothing less than a world championship is seen as satisfactory. But last night they finally rose above the post-9/11 cloud of frustration and won their 27th World Series title, perhaps getting back the team's "mojo" at long last. After a shaky first month that raised questions about manager Joe Girardi and the new Yankee Stadium, the Bronx Bombers got their act together in May and started playing like a true team for the first time in years. Even though they finished the regular season with the highest winning percentage in the majors (.636), fans were nervous that they might choke in the postseason once again. Well, for whatever reason this year was different, and almost every Yankee played superbly, which is why they finally won the World Series once again.
It was by no means easy, however, and you have to give the defending champs, the Philadelphia Phillies, a lot of credit for playing hard and playing well. Manager Charlie Manuel was clearly distraught when interviewed by Ken Rosenthal after the game, but he has nothing to be ashamed of -- other than pitcher Cole Hamel's apparent lack of competitive spirit, that is. Chase Utley's five World Series home runs tied Reggie Jackson's record from 1977, and if a few of his team mates had done a little better, they might have won it. In fact, Ryan Howard set a World Series record, with 13 strikeouts. I was actually glad when he hit a home run last night, to at least partly redeem himself. Overall, the Phillies were a very worthy opponent, and they will be a force to be reckoned with next year.
In the deciding Game Six last night, Hideki Matsui was the star, batting in six runs to tie a World Series record. He hit a two-run homer in the second inning, a two-run single in the third inning, and a two-run double in the fifth inning. He was just a triple shy of hitting for the cycle. Matsui has played well for the Yankees over the past seven years, but he never lived up to the expectations befitting his nickname "Godzilla." See MLB.com. When you combine that performance with his slugging over the past few days, including home runs in Games Two and Three, there is little doubt that he truly deserved the 2009 World Series Most Valuable Player award. (Some purists probably cringe that a designated hitter would get such an award, just as many have questioned whether career "DHers" like Edgar Martinez deserve to be considered for the Hall of Fame.) Since Matsui's contract is about to expire, this may be his last season as a Yankee, in which case it would be good that he went out on a high note.
On the mound, Andy Pettitte proved all the nay-sayers wrong, pitching confidently and solidly for 5 2/3 innings. Both he and C.C. Sabathia did just fine on only three days rest, which was all that most pitchers in the "good old days" of baseball could expect. It's amazing the Yankees did so well this year with only those two plus A.J. Burnett as first-class pitchers. As for the other Yankees, Mark Teixeira got the only other RBI of the game last night, while Derek Jeter got three more hits, pushing his World Series batting average over .400, and Alex Rodriguez got one hit and two runs. He did get a few clutch hits during the World Series, but not enough to qualify him for "Mr. October" status, a role that he seemed to be filling last month in the ALDS and ALCS.
Speaking of which, I just learned from a book I recently bought that in the 1977 World Series the real "Mr. October," Reggie Jackson, hit four of his record-setting five home runs on four consecutive swings. Pretty amazing, huh? That was over the course of Game Five and Game Six, and included a four-pitch walk in between two of his four-baggers.
And so, just as happened in the original Yankee Stadium, the Bronx Bombers win a world championship in the very first year of their new ballpark's existence. Whether or not you believe in the "Destiny" hype, it's another incredible chapter in the Yankees' saga...
A few random notes: This was the first World Series that went as far as Game Six since 2003, when the Marlins beat the Yankees, four games to two. In 2002, the Angels beat the Giants four games to three. According to MLB.com, this was the first time that C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Hideki Matsui, and Alex Rodriguez have been part of a World Series champion team. Of course, Johnny Damon enjoyed such a status as part of the 2004 Red Sox. Attendance at Game Six was about the same as in the first two games: 50,315, about 2,000 less than capacity of New Yankee Stadium. (That's just not right!) "Win one for the Boss!" Ailing franchise owner George Steinbrenner was present for games One and Two, but then returned to Florida, so he was unable to be part of the celebration. Tragically, the game ended much too late (almost midnight) for most young boys in America to watch the game on TV. When are the MLB executives going to reform the playoffs to make it more accessible to young fans, to ensure the future viability of the sport? As one of those who have become Washington Nationals fans since 2005, the success of my other favorite team takes the sting out of what was a truly horrible year.
Whew! Now that baseball games are done for the year, I can get back to the task of revising the rest of those stadium diagrams...