The Cliff Lee/ C.C Sabathia much anticipated Game 1 pitching matchup lived up to the hype.
Well, at least for one team.
It wasn’t that Sabathia pitched bad. He may not have been as sharp as he had been in his other three playoff games in 2009 (3-0), but he did not pitch bad. Exiting the game after 7 innings, giving up just 2 runs and scattering four hits, his performance should have put him in line for the win, or at least a no-decision, a testament to how his Yankees lineup usually performs.
Not on this night.
When Sabathia left the mound for good before the seventh inning stretch, his Yankees were down 2-0. His former teammate and current friend, Lee, was still on the mound pitching a gem, continued to do so for the next two innings as the Phillies poured on four runs of insurance off of a shaky Yankees bullpen to virtually guarantee a crucial Game 1 victory for Philadelphia on the road.
In all reality, all things considered in Philadelphia’s 6-1 victory, two pitches separated Lee’s and Sabathia’s performance and defined game 1.
Both of them, however, landed in the right field bleachers in the short porch of the Yankees stadium, giving the Phillies all the run-support they needed with their ace on the mound. Chase Utley’s 3rd and 6th inning solo shots gave the Phillies enough cushion to knock Sabathia out of the game destined for his first playoff loss in 2009.
While Utley’s first homerun in the 3rd was probably more personally disheartening for Sabathia since it was a pretty darn good pitch that Utley golfed two rows deep in RF to break a scoreless tie, Utley’s second longball (note the word longball) arguebly took all the potential momentum that the Yankees and Sabathia had, and placed it across the diamond into the Phillies dugout.
With two outs in the top half of the sixth, Sabathia had retired eight straight batters in a row when Utley stepped up to bat. Cruising since Utley hit his first HR, Sabathia worked himself into a perfect situation for a pitcher, one strike away from ending the inning without any potential threats.
A 95 mph fastball that caught the inner-half of the plate instead of being out of the strike zone, allowing Utley to use his quick reaction time to pull his hands through, put the barrel of the bat on the ball, and launch the ball about 390 ft., well over the fence in right-center field fence in Yankee Stadium. As Yankees RF Nick Swisher turned around and watched the deficit he faced double with Utley’s bomb, he was also able to watch his team’s positive moral exit the confines of the field with it.
Needless to say, it was a crushing blow.
Given a two-run lead, Lee was spectacular the rest of the way. As Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, and Raul Ibanez each capitalized on their opportunities to produce runs against the Yankees bullpen, the Yankees lineup had no such luck against Lee. Baffled by Lee’s sharp combination of a fastball, slider, and “spiker” curveball, the Yankees hitters left the stadium Wednesday night only able to produce one run (on an error), searching for the offensive swagger that made them the most dynamic offense (7 guys with 20+ homeruns) in recent history.
Huge win for the Phillies, as the Game 1 victory on the road in the Bronx will surely give Philadelphia the initial momentum in this series.
Momentum is an extremely valuable thing to have for any team in the World Series.
For that team to be the defending champs, that could be downright dangerous.