A. J. BURNETT – Sully Baseball Unsung Post Season Hero of October 29

Generated by IJG JPEG Library - William Perlman/The Star-Ledger

Generated by IJG JPEG Library – William Perlman/The Star-Ledger

OCTOBER 29, 2009 – World Series Game 2

The Yankees have a reputation of signing big name free agents and piling up World Series titles. But save for one season, the Yankees have fallen short of the title every year since 2000. And many of the big contracts have disappointed in the long run.

The Bronx Bombers almost found themselves in a giant hole in the 2009 World Series. But they were rescued by A. J. Burnett, a pitcher who save for that game looked like the personification of a bad signing.

Going into 2009, the mighty Yankees had not won a single post season series since the Red Sox stunned them in the 2004 ALCS. With Joe Torre gone to LA, the Yankees missed the post season altogether in the final year of Yankee Stadium and the first season for manager Joe Girardi.

With owner George Steinbrenner’s health failing, the team spent big and abandoned the patient “develop the pitching staff” approach from 2007 and 2008. In came sluggers Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher as well as Cy Young contender CC Sabathia. Burnett was also acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays and the fortified Yankees were ready.

After a slow start, the Yankees clicked and won the Division with 103 wins and swept Minnesota in the Division Series, getting the monkey off of their back and advancing in the post season.

The Angels challenged the Yankees but in the end, it was an old fashioned Northeast World Series between New York and Philadelphia.

A pair of former Indian Cy Young Award winners faced off in the opener. Cliff Lee topped Sabathia and the defending World Champion Phillies had a 1-0 lead. Pedro Martinez was ready to go in Game 2. The future Hall of Famer was a shell of his former self, but the potent Philadelphia lineup seemed poised to jump all over Burnett.

The free agent pick up did not have a bad year but he had a disastrous August that was fresh on Yankee fans’ mind. So was the thrashing he endured by the Angels in Game 5 of the ALCS.

With the specter of a 2-0 hole going back to Philadelphia and at least one more Cliff Lee start, the pressure on Burnett was intense.

A ground rule double by Raul Ibanez and an infield hit by Matt Stairs put the Yankees in an early 1-0 second inning hole. Pedro made it through 3 inning unscathed before allowing a game tying homer to Teixiera.

The Phillies would get on base against Burnett but could not cash in the runners. Jayson Werth was picked off one inning. Ryan Howard struck out with runners in scoring position in another.

In the sixth, Burnett faced the mighty heart of the Phillies order and got Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth in order.

When eventual series MVP Hideki Matsui homered with 2 outs and 2 strikes in the 6th, the Yankees finally had a lead.

In the 7th, Burnett once again got the Phillies in order, getting Pedro Feliz to ground out to end the inning. He had gone 7 innings, 4 hits, 1 run and 9 strikeouts. Eventually the Yankees gave Mariano Rivera an insurance run and the series was tied heading to Philadelphia.

The Yankees took a pair of wild games before Burnett got his chance to close out the World Series in 5. His luck ran out as he could not record an out in the third and the Phillies sent the series back to New York where the Yankees won in 6.

The rest of Burnett’s time in New York was rough. A pair of season where his ERA spiked above 5 saddled him with a “Free Agent Bust” label. Eventually he was dumped by the Yankees who picked up his salary while he played (and had success) in Pittsburgh.

But anyone who tries to totally dismiss Burnett’s time in New York needs to admit one fact: Had he not won Game 2, the Yankees were probably going to lose the World Series.

They have not even played in a World Series since, let alone win one. Imagine a world where the Red Sox had won 3 World Series since the last Yankees title. That almost happened.

And for that reason, A. J. Burnett is the unsung post season hero of October 29.

VIC DAVALILLO – Sully Baseball Unsung Post Season Hero of October 7

TOPPS

TOPPS

OCTOBER 7, 1977 – National League Championship Series Game 3

With no Big Red Machine in the 1977 playoffs, the Phillies and Dodgers saw a chance to make it into the World Series. The Phillies won the Best of 5 NLCS opener in Los Angeles with two in the 9th and Don Sutton tied the series with a complete game win in Game 2.

The third game saw both teams exchange collapses, but the Dodgers game winning rally was sparked by a savvy veteran coming off the bench and laying down a bunt.

The winner of Game 3 would be a win away from the World Series. A Phillies win at home would set them up in Game 4 with eventual Cy Young Winner Steve Carlton on the mound and a shot at the team’s third pennant in their history.

Things were looking up for the Phillies when Dodgers starter Burt Hooton was knocked out after just 1 2/3 innings and three straight bases loaded walks.

But Philadelphia starter Larry Christenson could not get through the 4th and Dodgers reliever Rick Rhoden stopped the Phillies offense.

In the 8th inning, the score was tied at 3. With a runner on second, Garry Maddox smacked an RBI single and advanced to third on a bad throw from Dodgers right fielder Reggie Smith. The Phillies took advantage of a Ron Cey throwing error to take a 5-3 lead. Philadelphia reliever Gene Garber, who had already thrown two innings, batted for himself in the 8th and took the mound in the 9th, trying to close out the game.

Garber got the first two batters out in the 9th and the Phillies were one out from a 2-1 lead and handing the ball to Steve Carlton for a potential Game 4 clincher.

With the game on the line, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda pulled catcher Steve Yeager and sent up Vic Davalillo as a pinch hitter.

A native of Venezuela, Davalillo was an All Star for the Cleveland Indians in the early 1960’s. Between 1963 and 1974, he bounced around from Cleveland to the Angels to St. Louis to the Pirates and the A’s. Along the way, he picked up a pair of World Series rings, one with the 1971 Pirates and the other with the 1973 A’s.

In 1977, Davalillo was playing for Aguascalientes in the Mexican League when the Dodgers bought his contract. LA used him mainly as a pinch hitter and he did the job well. He batted .313 over 48 at bats while only playing a handful of games in the field.

Now with Veterans Stadium going crazy, Davalillo was called upon to extend the game by at least another at bat.

With the count 0-1, Davalillo slapped a bunt towards second base. It was perfectly placed between pitcher Gene Garber and second baseman Ted Sizemore and Davalillo reached.

Now the Dodgers found new life and Lasorda turned to his other top pinch hitter, Manny Mota, who hit a deep drive to left field. Phillies outfielder Greg Luzinski made a leaping attempt to catch it and for a moment it looked like he clinched the game for Philadelphia.

But he trapped the ball against the wall and made a bad situation worse with a wild throw to second base. Davalillo scored to make it a one run game and Mota found himself at third as the tying run.

Dodgers second baseman Davey Lopes hit a chopper that Mike Schmidt threw to first. Initially, Lopes looked out but first base umpire Bruce Froemming called him safe, scoring Mota and tying the game. Phillies manager Danny Ozark and the entire Philadelphia infield argued, but the replays were inconclusive.

Another Phillies error and another Dodgers hit later and LA’s comeback was complete. Reliever Mike Garman closed out the 6-5 win and the next day Tommy John clinched the pennant with a 4-1 complete game.

But the momentum turned with 2 outs in the 9th with a of all things a drag bunt by a 40 year old pinch hitter who spent most of the season in Mexico. That makes Vic Davalillo the unsung Post Season hero of October 7.

Sully Baseball Daily Podcast – May 12, 2015

H RUMPH JR./AP

H RUMPH JR./AP


With so few teams truly out of contention, the 2015 season could be the perfect time for the Phillies, Braves, Brewers and Rockies to stock up in their farm system.

Make trades thinking of quantity over quality. That worked for the A’s and Astros!

That and a few passing references to Tom Brady on  Episode 931 of The Sully Baseball Daily Podcast.

Scott Van Slyke, Mark Teixeira, Shelby Miller, Colby Lewis, Adam Eaton, Christian Yelich and Tom Koehler all added to their totals for Who Owns Baseball?

 

Continue reading