When we look back on World Series, it is often about singular names. This guy pitched well in his starts, that guy had a couple big home runs, a role player stepped up big. Baseball is a game of individual pursuits played within a team concept, but there are certain integral jobs that almost by definition go unnoticed.
Middle relief won the Yankees those four championships in the late 1990s and early 2000s. More than Derek Jeter, more than Mariano Rivera, or Paul O’Neill or Bernie Williams, the long forgotten arms of players such as Mike Stanton, Jeff Nelson and Rafael Mendoza were often the difference. ``It always seems,’’ former Phillies middle relief man Larry Andersen said before this World Series began, ``that the weakest link for any team at this time of the year is the bench and their middle relief.’’
As if a prophet, Andersen’s words became deeds in Game 1 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium. Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia pitched like the postseason misers they were advertised to be. Lee was the more masterful of the two, dumbfounding the Major League’s best hitting lineup with pinpoint control, a live fastball, and an array of offspeed pitches that seemed to vary from inning to inning. He struck out 10, including the side in the fourth inning, churning through the heart of the order the first two times he faced it.
Sabathia made it through seven innings, leaving with his team down 2-0. Phil Hughes began the eighth inning by walking two batters. Damaso Marte, the Yankees tough lefty, got Chase Utley and Ryan Howard to strike out, but David Robertson, the Yankees young righthander, walked Jayson Werth and surrendered a two-run single to Raul Ibanez.
The Phillies scored two more runs against New York’s bullpen, which was supposed to be one of their advantages coming into this series. It’s dangerous though to go by regular-season numbers this time of the year, as Brad Lidge can tell you. With the exception of closer Mariano Rivera, the Yankees have a lot of young arms bridging their starters to the close, which is why Rivera had to be used for six outs in the Yankees Game 6 ALCS clincher.
In Game 5 Hughes, a Yankee untouchable at one point in his career, allowed three of the four batters he faced to reach base.
``It was his first World Series game,’’ Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland said after Game 1.``Hopefully he got the jitters out. We're certainly not going to throw in the towel on him."
And maybe he rights himself. Still, it’s been an interesting back story throughout the Phillies postseason. The Rockies were supposed to have the better bullpen, but they were young and wilted under the heat of this time of the year. The Dodgers were supposed to have three guys who can close, yet they lost two games by surrendering late-inning runs. They too, were young.
The Phillies bullpen, crippled by an amazing array of injuries during the season, has become healthy just in time for the postseason. Most of them, too, were around for last year’s run.
`` The way our bullpen came on at the end of the season and in the playoffs, I have no problem with that part,’’ Andersen said.
At the least, it bears watching.