PHILADELPHIA -- While the Yankees have to be considered a fairly heavy favorite with only one win needed as they head back to the Bronx, the Phillies still have some characteristically serious fight in them. Until last rites are read to the Phillies, they should be assumed to have plenty of life.
Here are some reasons this World Series is far from over ...
1. The Phillies aren't called the Fightin' Phils for no reason. And they aren't the defending champs for no reason, either. As Yankees GM Brian Cashman said, "We're playing the world champions, and it's going to take a world-championship effort to beat them." Being down 3-2 isn't going to faze the Phils. They create comebacks without the fanfare and cream pies that have marked the Yankees' wonderful season, but the Phillies did post a National League-high 43 come-from-behind wins. Manager Charlie Manuel considered talking to them as a team before Game 5, but Jimmy Rollins said Manuel merely threw up his hands when it became clear the Phillies were as focused as ever. According to Rollins, the only major change they made going into Game 5 was to remove Jay-Z's Empire State of Mind from their pregame clubhouse soundtrack. (Not sure if Elton John's Philadelphia Freedom is a worthy replacement, but New York-based songs are definitely not the way to go.)
2. They are road warriors. The Phillies were a baseball-best 48-33 on the road this year.
3. Chase Utley is currently unstoppable.Reggie Jackson couldn't be found for the first time this Series on Monday, but it would have been interesting to see what he would have had to say about Utley tying Jackson's World Series record with five home runs. Utley's five have come in one less game (five to six) and mostly against left-handers (four of five were vs. lefties, three vs. CC Sabathia). "He's not missing pitches. He's tough," Sabathia said. "He's not missing, so you have to make (all) quality pitches."
4. The vaunted, balanced Yankees lineup isn't all that balanced right now. Back home they'll get the benefit of a hot Hideki Matsui (.556, two homers) in the lineup, and with A.J. Burnett done now, Jose Molina is through hitting, so that's another plus. Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez are at the top of their game now, but two Yankee stars -- Mark Teixeira (2 for 19) and Robinson Cano (3 for 18) -- currently look slightly lost at the plate. They're so cold even Nick Swisher looks hot compared to them.
5. Cliff Lee may not quite be through. Philly has some issues of its own, what with their own pitching miracles needed the next two games. After Pedro Martinez tries to beat his "daddy" in Game 6 (I wouldn't put it past him), the Phillies have posted a TBA for Game 7 if it's needed because no perfect choice exists for them. The most likely option to start a Game 7 may be 2008 hero/2009 goat Cole Hamels, who seemed to suggest he wished the season was over in quotes a couple days ago (the humorous Hamels told Manuel on Monday he didn't mean it, then admitted to writers he is sometimes prone to putting his foot in his mouth -- "It's hard to talk and play baseball at the same time," he said with a smile). Hamels has yet to post a good start in four tries this postseason. But Lee isn't counting himself out of the mix. Thursday is his throw day, so perhaps he can put in a few more innings. "I'm available. I think I'll be fine," Lee said. "If it's going to help the team win, I'm in."
As usual, the Phillies are in it to win it. The odds are against them, but this resilient bunch can never be counted out.
Longtime Yankees postseason star Andy Pettitte told several teammates he had absolutely "nothing" after hanging in six innings to win Game 3, and now he is being entrusted to summon something better with only three days' rest in Game 6 Wednesday. Pettitte is the all-time winner in postseason play with 17 victories, but if a younger A.J. Burnett lost so much in the three days from Game 2 to 5, there is wonder even within the Yankees clubhouse about how this will all work out.
Pettitte won more respect from teammates for hanging tough in a game where he not only didn't have his best stuff but by his own private accounts to longtime friends actually had zero. Zip. Nada.
Three Yankees teammates recounted how Pettitte told the team he took "nothing" (his word of choice) out to the mound for Game 3. But even beyond his self assessment, the plan for short rest for the Yankees' three vaunted starting pitchers was always seen as by far the most worrisome in the case of Pettitte, who at 37 is five years Burnett's senior. Plus, Pettitte is 5-7 lifetime on three days' rest (compared to Burnett's 4-0 mark going into his Game 5 disaster), and Pettitte hasn't done it once since he was a youngster of 34.
It's unrealistic to knock Yankees manager Joe Girardi for going with Burnett and Pettitte on three days' rest, as journeyman Chad Gaudin, who represented the other option, could never be seen as such a palatable option against the lefty-heavy Phillies lineup. Sending out Gaudin vs. Lee in Game 5 would have been tantamount to throwing out a white towel.
When Pettitte, a postseason stalwart, tells you he wants to pitch twice, and can do it, it's impossible to pass him up for a run-of-the-mill right-hander (Gaudin is 34-35 lifetime).
"Andy will be ready to go. He's a competitor," Cashman said after Burnett's Game 5 debacle, when Girardi was still officially leaving the door slightly ajar to turn elsewhere. "All these guys wanted to take the ball. Andy's looking forward to it."
That's somewhat reassuring. Yet, one person in the Yankee hierarchy said, "The only thing that worries me (about Games 6 and 7) is that both (Pettitte and Game 7 starter CC Sabathia) are going on three days' rest." So even within the inner circle of the storied franchise, there is still a smidgen of unrest about the lack of rest.
• The Yankees have interest in bringing back Johnny Damon -- "We need him," A-Rod said -- but could well get competition from at least the White Sox and Giants. The Cardinals, Braves and Red Sox are among other teams looking for a corner outfielder, though it's hard to imagine him going back to Boston. Before these playoffs, the Yankees were believed willing to go for two years and $16 million for Damon. But that was before his solo double steal in Game 4
• Damon saw a replay of his brilliant double steal, and said, "I didn't realize (Pedro Feliz) was that close." Damon and others wondered if Feliz was close enough to try to lunge at him right when Damon took off.
• Manuel's explanation that somebody should have been covering third base didn't really cut it. If he himself couldn't have named the person, it's no wonder the Phillies players didn't know who should've been there.
• Mariano Rivera is "better now than ever," according to one scout. "Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino look like they have no chance." Rivera is now the only closer not blow a game on all eight playoff teams.
• The whole idea that the Yankees have so many mound meetings because the Phillies have a rep for stealing signs, as Larry Bowa suggested on a Philly radio station, seems absurd in that the Yankees have to lead in mound meetings against all teams. Jorge Posada spent a lifetime on the mound this season. The Yankees may be trying to prevent sign stealing (among other things), but there's no evidence it's particular to the Phillies. Oddly though, Victorino grew very defensive when told of Bowa's comments. Victorino explained his anger by saying that he thought Bowa's remark implied that the Phillies aren't such a great team without stealing signs. Bowa implied no such thing.
• If the Yankees win one more game, Mike Mussina wins the award for unluckiest Yankee, beating Don Mattingly. A Yankees from 2001-2008, he will have provided the stale sandwich meat to the Yankees' World Series wins in 2000 and 2009.
• The reason the Yankees added Ramiro Pena to the roster to replace the injured Melky Cabrera (hamstring) is that they have little faith in Freddy Guzman's defense and would rather employ Jerry Hairston Jr. as a backup outfielder, with Pena sliding in to take Hairston's spot as the backup infielder.
• One order of business for the Reds will be to find a shortstop. They could do worse than Marco Scutaro.
• The San Francisco Giants hired Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens as hitting coach. Nice guy, but nobody ever had a worse approach to hitting as a player. And if anyone needs help, they do. They have Rick Down working in the organization, and Down has succeeded coaching hitters with the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, Dodgers and Mets (hey, they were better back then), but the Giants went to Meulens instead. Very odd.
• If the Red Sox could figure out how to squeeze in two hitters between free agents Matt Holliday and Jason Bay and trade target Adrian Gonzalez, they might look to excise either Mike Lowell or David Ortiz, who are both going into the final year of their contracts.