Paul Hagen: Rollins' clutch play in fifth inning two good

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Jimmy Rollins scores on a Raul Ibanez single in the 8th inning of Game 1 of the 2009 World Series at Yankee Stadium. (Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer)

NEW YORK - Yankees designated hitter Hideki Matsui opened the bottom of the fifth with a single up the middle. It was the first time New York had gotten the first batter of the inning on base. The crowd began to stir.

The Yankees hadn't done much against Phillies starter Cliff Lee up to that point. Still, the New York lineup is always a crooked number waiting to happen. This could be the start of something big.

Robinson Cano followed with a humpbacked line drive toward shortstop Jimmy Rollins. And that's where the play started to turn strange.

Instead of taking a step forward and catching the ball cleanly, Rollins hung back. With his glove on the ground he received the ball in a scooping motion, ran to tag second base then threw to first.

Second base umpire Brian Gorman jerked his thumb in the air, signaling an out, but it wasn't immediately clear whether he meant that Rollins had caught the ball in the air or that Matsui had been forced at second. First base umpire Jeff Nelson indicated that Rollins' throw had pulled first baseman Ryan Howard off the bag. Rollins ran toward Howard, yelling and gesturing that he should tag Matsui, who was wandering back in the direction of the dugout.

Confused? The umpires were. As they huddled, the television replay clearly showed that Cano's popup had been caught before hitting the ground. That meant he was out. And, since Howard had tagged Matsui, it should be a doubleplay. After a brief discussion, that's exactly what the umps decided.

"I was trying to let it hit the ground," Rollins said. "I looked up and I saw Robinson kind of halfway. Worst-case scenario is

I catch the ball and that's what happened. Gorman, from the time I caught the ball, started yelling, 'Catch! Catch!' And I was kind of disappointed. I was like, 'Nooooo.'

"So I went ahead and went through it anyway and Matsui was walking back with his head down. I was trying to yell at Ryan to make sure he tagged him. And he did. So I turned around to Gorman and said, 'That's two outs.' And he was like, 'Let's talk about it.' Once I caught it and we tagged him, it was kind of automatic. There was nothing to mess up there."

It may not have made a difference. But in what was still a 1-0 game at the time, it also just might have.

Ever since his proclamation before the 2007 season that the Phillies - not the Mets - were the team to beat in the National League East, Rollins has been a special target of New York fans.

And last night's 6-1 Phillies' win in Game 1 of the World Series was no exception.

"You know, fans do what they do," he said with a shrug. "I really enjoy when they get on us as a visiting team. They should. This is their field, their home field. So they have to make it as tough as they can for us. When the game starts, you really don't hear all that stuff anyway.

"It's not about me. Everyone in this clubhouse understands that it's a baseball game, not a talking battle."

 

Hero

 

Chase Utley had a terrific game, but pitching rules in the postseason. So the nod goes to lefthander Cliff Lee, the before-the-trading deadline acquisition who threw a blanket over the powerful Yankees lineup. You can't do much better than a complete game, six-hitter with 10 strikeouts and no walks. The only run he allowed was unearned.

 

Goat

 

Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez was batting .438 in the postseason. But in his first World Series game ever, A-Rod went 0-for-4 and struck out three times for just the third time this year and the first time since July 30.

Dishonorable mention to the New York bullpen. Five relievers combined to allow four runs in the last two innings.

 

Did you notice . . .

 

* That even though Jimmy Rollins bunted for an out on CC Sabathia's first pitch of the game, the Phillies still made the Yankees ace throw 24 pitches in the first inning?

* That Chase Utley's home run in the top of the third was the first Sabathia allowed to a lefthanded hitter at Yankee Stadium this season? Then he hit another against Sabathia in the sixth.

* That Utley also accounted for the first run of the 2008 World Series, a two-run homer against Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir in the top of the first at Tropicana Field?

 

The dating scene

 

Not saying the World Series is running a little late this year. But Game 1 was played last night on Oct. 28. Last year the Phillies finished off the Tampa Bay Rays on Oct. 29. And that was after a 2-day weather delay.

 

Numerology

 

* 5: Yankees on the active roster who were with the team during its last World Series appearance in 2003: Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera.

* 17: Straight scoreless innings for the Yankees in World Series play, dating back to 2003, before pushing across a cosmetic, unearned run in the bottom of the ninth.

* 26: Straight postseason games Chase Utley has reached base after a first-inning walk. That's a major league record, breaking a tie with Baltimore's Boog Powell.

* 107: Yankees home games in the World Series, including last night. Including the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants and the Mets, there have been 189 Fall Classic games played in New York.

 

Miscellany

 

* The Phillies are 6-0 in the first game of postseason series in the last 2 years.

* Also among the crowd of 50,207: Alec Baldwin, Jeff Gordon, Rudy Giuliani, Kate Hudson, Spike Lee, Matthew McConaughey, Mark Messier and Kurt Russell.

* From 2005 through this year, the only team to appear in the World Series more than once is the Phillies.

* The American League leads in World Series wins, 61-43, but the NL has won two of the last 3 years.

* This is the third straight year that a different AL East team has been in the World Series. The Yankees follow the Rays (2008) and Red Sox (2007).

* The team with the homefield advantage has won 18 of the last 23 World Series. The exceptions: 1992 Blue Jays (over Atlanta), 1999 Yankees (over Atlanta), 2003 Marlins (over Yankees), 2006 Cardinals (over Detroit) and the Phillies last year.

Send e-mail to hagenp@phillynews.com