Game 3, series tied at one game apiece.
Bottom of the second. Bases loaded. Shane Victorino at the plate. Andy Pettitte pitching, and on the ropes.
This single at-bat, which began with Pettitte’s 51st pitch of the game, may have been the moment that turned the World Series in favor of the Yankees and lost it for the Phillies.
Let’s review this a bit. By game three, Joe Girardi had already announced his intention to go the rest of the Series pitching his key starters on three days rest. It was a gamble that the pundits were already not only debating, but berating Girardi about long before the Series would play itself out. Some were already arguing that if this gambit failed, Girardi would lose his job in the off-season.
And so, as this game opened every interested eye was focused on the performance of the oldest of the three-man tandem comprised of C. C. Sabbathia, A. J. Burnett, and Andy (the only one with a first name) Pettitte and singled out by their manager to perform under these circumstances.
After giving up a single on his first pitch to Jimmy Rollins, Pettitte would get Victorino to pop out weekly to third, then strike out Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. On the surface, this would look like a good start to the game for Pettitte. But it took him 24 pitches to get through his first trip to the mound. This trend could not continue if he were to succeed not just in this game, but for a manager who had already told the world that even this aging veteran would pitch next on short rest.
We come now to the second inning. The Phillies are at home, and are looking to press this narrow advantage to its limits. Having split in New York, this is their first Series game in front of their own fans. This inning would give them something to cheer about, and lift their hopes for brighter prospects as the Series continued.
Jason Werth led off the inning with a homerun. Not good for Pettitte, but not the whole story of this at-bat, either. First pitch ball. Second pitch ball. Third pitch ball. 3 and 0 to one of the legitimate power threats in this rich lineup is not a recipe for success. Taking 3 and 0, Jason times the next pitch and fouls it off. On the 6th pitch of the at bat, Werth would send the ball out over the wall for the first run of the game. Pitch count now over 30 with no one out in the second.
Pettitte would battle back to strike out Ibanez on four pitches, showing how this veteran, on the road in a big game, was not going to be easily rattled.
Pedro Feliz would come up next, and would double on a hard hit ball deep into the outfield reaches of the park.
Carolos Ruiz would come up next and walk on 5 pitches.
Had the Phillies won the Series, this next at-bat could have been cited as the turning point. Cole Hamels comes up with a one run lead, runners on first and second, and one out. He is called on to bunt, sacrificing both runners into scoring position with two out, but with the star short-stop on deck who had already singled in the game.
Hamels lays down a decent bunt, about 30 feet out in front of the plate and to the third base side of the pitcher’s mound. Charging in to field the bunt was Andy Pettitte. Charging out to field the bunt came Jorge Posada. In a classic case of “I got it, you take it,” both pulled away from the bunt at the last second assuming the other would field it. The ball rolled untouched while all three runners advanced without a play.
Bases loaded. Jimmy Rollins strolls to the plate.
Pitch one: ball.
Pitch two: ball.
Pitch three: ball.
Pitch four: taken 3 and 0 for a called strike.
Pitch 5 - the 50th pitch of the game, with one out in the second inning: ball four.
The second run scores while the defense twiddles their thumbs, unable to do a damn thing about it.
Let’s review the second inning: homer, out, double, walk, bunt single, walk with the bases loaded.
Here comes Victorino - in what I believe is the turning point of the Series.
The first two pitches are the key to this at-bat, and in some ways a testimony to the grit and resolve of this sly veteran (who else, after losing control and walking a batter with the bases loaded, would start the next batter with two sliders low and away?).
Both pitches were sliders in the dirt - low and outside.
Neither pitch was even close to the strike zone.
In what is still for me an inexplicable mystery, the count after those two pitches? 0-2.
Yep, Shane Victorino swung meekly and rather sickly at two pitches that not only never threatened the strike zone, but which offered him no hope of even making contact. With a weakening Pettitte fumbling to maintain control of his pitches and the Yankees hopes in game 3, Victorino took him out of the dog house. With two strikes, he would hit a weak fly ball to left field, deep enough to score another run to give the Phils a 3-0 lead, but effectively end what could have been a back-breaking inning for them. Utley would follow with a strike out to completely end the rally.
Pettitte would come out again in the third, already having thrown 57 pitches and down 3-0, and find his stuff again. His Yankee teammates would score two runs in the 4th to make it a ball-game again, then three in the 5th to take a lead they would never relinquish.
Pettitte would go six, throwing 104 pitches (only 59 for strikes) and picking up the win.
There is no way to predict what would or could have happened if... . But, Shane Victorino swung mysteriously at the first two pitches thrown by a man who was on the ropes, who had walked the previous man with the bases loaded, and then ended up trading an out for a run and killing a rally. It is not to to see how this single at-bat ultimately changed the outlook for both the Phillies and the Yankees, and could have gone very differently but for two inexplicable swings and misses. I’m not saying the Phils would have won the Series, or even for that matter the game. But for me, this was the turning point in the Series - the point after which, and perhaps even because of which, the Yankees withdrew triumphant.