Thursday, October 29, 2009

WS Game 1: Cliff Lee Dazzles; Rollins Spot On [J. Mark English]

Following last nights dazzling performance by Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies, I offer up a reactions from journalists of both cities:

Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer: Cliff Lee is the coolest man in baseball.

There he was, pitching in the first World Series game of his life, and the first ever at the new Yankee Stadium. Derek Jeter, a future Hall of Famer who has played nearly a full season's worth of October games, slapped a base hit up the middle in the bottom of the sixth, the Phillies ahead by two runs. Fifty thousand New York fans leaned forward, eager for the Yankees rally that was sure to follow.

How many times had it started this way, with Jeter finding his way on base and his teammates taking some poor pitcher apart?

So here was Johnny Damon, as capable of tying the game with a home run as hitting behind Jeter and getting the rally going. Ball one. Ball two. A hitter's count. Damon fouled off a pitch, took a called strike. Another foul, then another.

Lee, working fast as always, fired the 2-2 pitch and Damon swung. The ball ticked off the handle of the bat and arced back toward Lee, a little pop-up.

And Cliff Lee, the coolest man in baseball, held his glove waist-high and let the ball drop into it. He caught it as casually as if he were getting a new baseball from the plate umpire, then cracked his gum for punctuation.

"I caught it, he was out," Lee said with a grin. "To be successful at this level, you've got to be confident. You've got to go out there and believe you're going to get everybody out. I try not to go over the edge and rub things in and be cocky."

Oh, and then he got Mark Teixeira and his $180 million bat to ground out weakly to second base. End of another inning, easy as you please.

The Phillies won Game 1 of the 2009 World Series, beating the mighty Yankees' hefty lefty ace and seizing homefield advantage. And they were able to do it because Lee pitched the toughest lineup in Major League Baseball like he was working a B game in spring training.

William C. Rhoden of the New York Times: Jorge Posada was stoic Tuesday afternoon as reporters flocked around, eagerly awaiting a response to the first salvo of World Series trash talk.

The catalyst was — surprise — Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies’ lightning-rod shortstop. On the “Jay Leno Show,” of all places, Rollins had predicted that Philadelphia would do more than defeat the Yankees in the Series, which began Wednesday night. He said that the Phillies would emphatically roll right over the Bronx Bombers, and they started out with a 6-1 victory in Game 1.

“Of course we’re going to win,” Rollins told Leno. Then, as if to make sure he had created a stir, Rollins added: “If we’re nice, we’ll let it go six. But I’m thinking five. Close it out at home.”

Rollins’s comments predictably set off a knee-jerk reaction around New York on Tuesday and created a distraction on a rain-soaked workout day for both teams. In the past, Rollins made extemporaneous predictions in his clubhouse or on the field. In this instance, Leno gave Rollins a grander, more calculated stage on which to be provocative. The talk show host cast the bait, and Rollins happily took it, which leads to legitimate questions as to whether Rollins really believed what he said or was just going Hollywood.

Or maybe he was really trying to get inside the Yankees’ head. “He’s been Nostradamus, that’s what I heard,” Posada said. “So we’ve got to take that away from him.”...

....But in Game 1 on Wednesday night, Rollins was more quiet than he was with Leno until the eighth inning, when he started a two-run rally with a walk and a stolen base. In the ninth, he added an infield single and scored. And Howard was right: the crowd booed Rollins loudly.

What was interesting about his latest prediction is that some Yankees fans reacted indignantly. It’s almost as though this is 2000 and the Yankees are the defending champions and the Phillies are The Little Engine That Could facing the Yankees’ mighty freight train.

In fact, the Yankees do not even have quite the home-field advantage they used to enjoy. Although the Yankees were 57-24 in their first season in the new Yankee Stadium, it is not the intimidating place that the old one was, where so many visiting teams got the shakes. This new stadium has no memories yet, no haunting veneer. It is a flashy billion-dollar building waiting for its first championship.

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