Late show for NY: Everybody loves Damon
Heads-up baserunning sets stage for A-Rod's latest heroics
PHILADELPHIA -- The processing took a matter of seconds. Running and thinking at roughly the same speed, Johnny Damon realized that Phillies third baseman Pedro Feliz was covering second base and that no one was covering third. He saw that Feliz had caught the ball in front of the second-base bag, ever so slightly to the right. He clocked his own speed and that of Feliz, and gauged the risk.
Then he bolted.
"I'm just glad that when I started running, I still had some of my young legs behind me," Damon said.
The result was one of the more remarkable plays in World Series history and what could go down as one of the more memorable plays in Yankees history, as well. Damon, stealing second base in the ninth inning of Game 4, exploited a defensive shift and a mental lapse to take third base as well, setting the stage for Brad Lidge's meltdown and Alex Rodriguez's game-winning double in what became a 7-4 Yankees victory.
"That's instinct," manager Joe Girardi said.
It was, in essence, the perfect baseball storm. With two outs and Damon on first base in the ninth, the Phillies fell into the defensive alignment they use regularly when switch-hitting first baseman Mark Teixeira bats left-handed. Second baseman Chase Utley moved into shallow right field and shortstop Jimmy Rollins hovered around the second-base bag, with Feliz moving into Rollins' vacated spot on the left side of the diamond.
When Damon broke for second on a stolen-base attempt, Feliz covered the bag. Receiving catcher Carlos Ruiz's throw in front of and to the right of the base, Feliz watched Damon pop up from his slide, take a quick glance at the shifted third baseman and bolt for the next bag.
Lidge, who could have covered the base, stood stunned off the mound, taking a few steps toward third but correctly considering it futile. And Damon raced away from Feliz, who chased him for a brief moment but quickly lost the footrace.
"I've got to cover the bag," Feliz said, referring to second base. "[Damon] didn't see anybody on the other side, so he just took off."
"Teams usually have a backup plan where a pitcher covers or a catcher covers," third-base coach Rob Thomson said. "Somebody has got to cover third base. I'm sure they do. Somebody missed his assignment."
That somebody, according to the Phillies' shortstop himself, was Rollins. Though it was Feliz's job to cover the second-base bag, it was Rollins' duty to make sure Lidge was prepared to cover third. But he did not open his mouth, and Lidge did not move his legs.
"I'm the captain of the infield," Rollins said. "It's my job."
Rollins, like Lidge, had no choice but to worry about the next batter, Rodriguez. Damon's sprint to third base changed the complexion of the at-bat, because Lidge had to be wary of throwing his signature pitch, a slider, in the dirt, where it could easily scoot away from Ruiz and allow the go-ahead run to score.
Instead of tempting fate with a slider, Lidge threw two consecutive fastballs to Rodriguez. And the Yankees' most frequent postseason hero pulled the second of them into left field for a game-winning RBI double.
"We would have gone to sliders real soon," Lidge said, dismissing the notion that Damon's presence changed his strategy. "We probably should have gone to it sooner."
The pitch selection, though, was just fine by Rodriguez, who had previously smacked a Lidge fastball over the fence during a comeback victory over the Phillies at Yankee Stadium in May.
"His money pitch is a slider, and that's where he gets all his punchouts," Rodriguez said.
Later in the inning, with Rodriguez on second and Teixeira on third, Jorge Posada hit a two-run single that sucked most of the drama out of the bottom of the ninth. Like the others, it was a big hit. But the Yankees all circled their credit back to the man who started the two-out rally.
The next pitch was Lidge's ninth of the at-bat, and his fifth straight fastball. Damon served it into left field for what briefly seemed like an innocuous single.
It was not. Moments later, Damon initiated his chaos on the bases, putting the gears of a game-winning rally in motion.
"Great play," Yankees closer Mariano Rivera said. "When you play aggressive like that and you know what you're doing out there, something's going to happen."
The initiative was not entirely foreign to the Yankees, even if the success of it was. On Opening Day in 2003, Derek Jeter attempted to run from first to third on a slow ground ball to the pitcher's mound, which Blue Jays third baseman Eric Hinske -- now with the Yankees -- had bolted in to field. Jeter collided with Jays catcher Ken Huckaby, who raced over to cover the third-base bag, dislocating his left shoulder and missing six weeks of the season.
That misfortunate memory, though, did not skew Jeter's perspective of what he and his teammates considered an expert baserunning maneuver on the most significant of baseball stages.
"It's an unusual play," Jeter said. "It's not something you practice. It was a heads-up play by Johnny."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.