Life had been good for Brad Lidge and the Phillies last night. Well, if not good, certainly improving; Pedro Feliz had just hit a home run with two outs in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game at 4, and Lidge had dispatched the first two batters of the Yankees’ ninth inning without incident. Then Johnny Damon hit a single to left on a full count, and the Phillies put in a massive defensive shift to account for the dead-pull Mark Teixeira at the plate.
That shift put shortstop Jimmy Rollins well on the other side of second base and our hero from earlier, concrete-shod third baseman Feliz, nearer to the bag. So when Damon took off on a steal on the very first pitch, it was Feliz’s job to cover the bag, and that turned into a rather substantial problem - especially when Damon was the first person in the entire stadium to realize that there was nobody on third. Video, if you missed it last night, is after the break.
(No telling how long this stays up; hopefully MLB’s feeling charitable.)
Ouch. From there, disaster struck; Lidge plunked Teixeira two pitches later, A-Rod doubled Damon in to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead, then Jorge Posada’s two-run single effectively sealed the game; the Phillies couldn’t even put a runner on in the bottom of the ninth. With the series at 3-1 New York and two games at Biggest Joke Ballpark, that may as well be a death sentence.
ESPN’s Jayson Stark devoted a few hundred words to feverishly trying to convince us that this play was one of the best in World Series history, if not the best; if that sounds like a hyperbolic description of his column, well, you haven’t read his column yet:
We’ve seen Johnny David Damon do it with our own eyes, and we’re still not 100 percent sure it really happened. But an hour later, the scoreboard at Citizens Bank Park still read: Yankees 7, Phillies 4. So it must have happened. In real life. In the ninth inning of a World Series game people are going to talk about for the rest of their lives — and probably a thousand years after that.
[…] But mostly, because this play happened the way it happened, Game 4 of this World Series is going to live on in Fall Classic lore for generations, any time people begin to conjure up the once-in-a-lifetime plays that can’t possibly have happened on this stage — but somehow did.
Ten years from now, 20 years from now, 50 years from now, we won’t be remembering Cliff Lee’s Game 1 masterpiece or Alex Rodriguez’s replay-aided home run off a TV camera. We’ll be remembering Johnny Damon’s excellent first-to-third adventure. And so will he.
“I’m just glad,” the 35-year-old Damon chuckled later, “that when I started running, I still had some of my young legs behind me.” But Johnny Damon didn’t just pull off this amazing November magic trick with his legs. He couldn’t have done it without his bat. And he couldn’t have done it without his always-churning brain cells.
This is the unfortunate after-effect of euphoria in sportswriting: it taints what’s already remarkable and forces a reader to look with disdain at something that, by its own merits, doesn’t deserve it. Damon’s play was very good. It doesn’t have any effect on the series if Lidge can get any of the next two batters out (by the time Posada came up, the Phillies were already floating face-down in the kiddie pool).
Meanwhile, Stark is treating Damon’s play with more praise than was leveled on Enos Slaughter 63 years ago as he effectively one-upped Damon in the Cardinals’ World Series win over the Boston Red Sox. Oh, Damon stole two bases on pitch? Neat, but Slaughter scored the game-winning run from first… on a single:
In the bottom of the eighth of a 3-3 game, Cardinals outfielder Enos Slaughter took off from first with the pitch, which was shot into left-center by Harry Walker. Red Sox center fielder Leon Culberson bobbled the ball briefly, and there was no stopping Slaughter who recklessly ran through a stop sign at third and charged home. Second baseman Johnny Pesky’s relay throw was late and one of baseball’s most contended stories was born. Was it a double? Walker was credited with one, but he would surely have stopped at first if Slaughter hadn’t drawn a throw home. Thus, we say, Slaughter scored the Series’ game-winning run from first on a single (and fielder’s choice). The ultimate moment of hustle.
So while it’s nice to have Damon compared to the best plays of World Series history, the point is that his play doesn’t reach that level–not even close. And while it seems sort of natural that ESPN - the biggest Yankee hard-on home this side of the NYC tabloids - would devote graf after graf trying to convince us that this is the best play of all time, it doesn’t seem to stand up to even the most cursory of scrutiny.
Shame, really, because otherwise we’d have nothing but nice things to say about the play.