Phillies not entirely foreign to Yanks
New additions familiar with defending champions' roster
NEW YORK -- A.J. Burnett was on vacation in the Bahamas this past offseason when he ran into Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard, reminiscing about the good old days when all three called the National League East home.
A lot has changed since then. Sure, Burnett went from the Marlins to the Blue Jays and flew under the wing of ace Roy Halladay, learning how to be more of a pitcher than a thrower before scoring an $82.5 million contract with the Yankees.
But Rollins and Howard have taken the bigger leap, calling themselves World Series champions. Burnett will renew acquaintances between the lines on Friday, when Interleague Play kicks off at the new Yankee Stadium for the first time, and the right-hander says he respects where the Phillies are coming from.
"They were in the same boat we were," Burnett said. "Those teams were in struggle mode when we all came up together. I told Jimmy and Ryan how proud I was to see what we came from and what those guys are doing now. You can't take them lightly, that's for sure."
Most of the Yankees watched in some form or another as the Phillies dispatched the Rays in five games last October, securing their first World Series title since 1980. Burnett said that he tried to keep up here and there on television, but he didn't need to see every pitch to know what to look out for on Friday.
"They play good ball," Burnett said. "That's a good lineup and a good stadium for that lineup. When you have a pitching staff that keeps your team in the game like they did, you hand it over to [Brad] Lidge and there you go. Game, set, match. They have a handful of MVPs on that team, no question, and they came up together and bonded. They play together and they play hard."
No one had a better view of Philadelphia's rise to the top than CC Sabathia, who strapped the Brewers on his back for the postseason run only to smack into the Phillies' drive in the NL Division Series.
Sabathia's lone postseason start was not pretty -- he was rapped for five runs on six hits in 3 2/3 innings by the Phillies in Game 2 of that series. Sabathia walked four and struck out five that night, allowing a grand slam to Shane Victorino.
"They have a good lineup," Sabathia said. "[Jayson] Werth was hitting the ball well, Jimmy was swinging it well at that time. I remember them having a bunch of lefties in the lineup, and they've got [Raul] Ibanez in there now. Hopefully, I'll be able to throw more strikes and be able to get those guys out."
Sabathia said that the great advantage the Phillies have is their running game, sparked by Rollins, the former NL Most Valuable Player. With Rollins aboard, handling bats like Utley and Howard becomes that much more of a difficult task, and Sabathia believed that Philadelphia could go far in '08.
"I knew that their lineup was good enough," Sabathia said. "To be honest with you, I thought the Cubs had a good chance of winning it all, just playing against them a couple of times in the Central. The Phillies had their pitching step up at the right time. Cole Hamels had a great playoff, and Brett Myers stepped up."
The Yankees had something of a close look at the championship-winning team this spring, as the Phillies hold their Spring Training camp just across the Courtney Campbell Causeway from George M. Steinbrenner Field in Clearwater, Fla.
"They're a very tough club," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "They swing the bats, they close, they pitch, they run the bases. They're very tough. I think it's a good gauge. They're very explosive and they're the world champs, so everyone is somewhat chasing them."
Girardi said that the Yankees might not have been able to take much from their Grapefruit League experience against the Phillies, but at the very least, they did get a look at Saturday's starter, left-hander J.A. Happ.
"Sometimes Spring Training can be a hard judge of what you're going to see during the course of the year," Girardi said. "Chase Utley wasn't completely healthy, Jimmy Rollins wasn't there for most of Spring Training. You see it a little bit differently. But we did see Happ, so I think that's something you can look at."
Reflecting on his 2006 managerial campaign with the Marlins, Girardi said that he saw the building blocks of a winner in place with the Phillies, recalling that he was impressed how they went about their work. That's why, he said, he was not surprised they won in 2008.
"I think it's always great to face the defending champions," Girardi said. "You want to see how you match up. That's the feeling we get a lot of times playing teams in our division, too. We know how tough our division is."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.