On October 10, 1923, in the first World Series game ever played at the original Yankee Stadium (its first season in existence), the New York Yankees lost to the New York Giants 5-4.
And while the opening to the inaugural World Series in the brand new palace deemed the "House that Ruth Built" was inauspicious for the Yankees it ultimately proved to be merely a minor bump in the road for a team that would win the series and soon evolve into the historically revered Murderer's Row.
Driven by Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel, and Wally Pipp, Miller Huggins' Yankees would take down the John McGraw-led Giants in six games for the first Championship in the history of the Highlanders/Yankees team, effectively replacing the Giants as the dominant franchise in Gotham City. Ironically, Casey Stengel hit the lone home run in that first game. Stengel was an outfielder for the Giants at the time who would later famously manage the Yankees (1949-1960) to seven World Series championships and 10 AL pennants.
Over 76 years later, on October 28, 2009 the New York Yankees lost the first World Series game in the New Yankee Stadium's history (also in its first season of their occupation of a new home) to the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies by a score of 6-1. In a battle of former Cy Young-winning Cleveland aces — on an inspiring night to be an Indians' fan — Cliff Lee got the better of his former teammate CC Sabathia. Lee dominated the Yankees for nine innings, allowing one unearned run. Otherwise Cliff strangulated the opposing offense, scattering six inconsequential hits while striking out 10 without walking a single batter on the excessively patient New York squad that led the MLB in OBP with a .362 mark.
Sabathia was tough in his own right — going seven innings and allowing two runs on four hits with six Ks — but even without the breakdown by the Yankees' bullpen that followed his exit, CC's performance was not enough to secure New York a win. Somehow gripping his wicked curve ball and baffling changeup amidst the rain that sprayed the field to varying degrees consistently the entire game, Lee turned in a classic performance and as a result — as in 1923 — a powerful Yankees' squad finds itself down 0-1.
Oddly it was once again an opposing hitter who slugged the first dinger in the new stadium's World Series history. This time it was Chase Utley who clobbered the first two home runs (the second lefty to hit two home runs off a southpaw pitcher in a World Series game, the other being Babe Ruth in the 1928 Fall Classic). And while the game shared the further coincidence of Utley's home run with the 1923 inaugural game, it seems unlikely that Mr. Utley will follow in Mr. Stengel's footsteps and occupy the role of Yankees' skipper at any point in the future.
While New York came back to win the World Series of 1923 in six games, the future of the current series is still obviously very much in doubt. And while there would seem to be nothing good that could be derived from the Yankees' dismal performance on Wednesday night, that assessment may not be entirely true.
Because Cliff Lee displayed such awesome superiority over the New York lineup Charlie Manuel — following his old school approach to the game — decided to leave his starter in the contest for the full nine innings, racking up 122 pitches on his arm in the process. If the Phillies had a solid staff or bullpen beyond their ace this might not be cause for such concern but the reality is that those conditions simply don't really exist.
Pedro Martinez will start Game 2 on Thursday and while he has experienced a mini-resurgence during his time in Philadelphia, facing the Yankees lineup is
a whole different level of difficulty than notching a few wins in the NL backed by the best lineup in the league. After Pedro, the horribly ineffective (as of late)
Cole Hamels will take the ball in Game 3 and then either the rookie J.A. Happ, the struggling Joe Blanton or conceivably Brett Myers will throw for the Phils in Game 4. Unless, that is, they decide to follow the Yankees' example and use a three-man rotation, ensuring Lee will face Sabathia in CC's next outing and also in a possible Game 7.
The answer would be far easier had Manuel not let Cliff go well over 100 pitches in a game that was totally out of reach by the bottom of the ninth inning and retrospectively out of reach by the 8th. Pitch-volume is the one factor that can prevent a pitcher from performing effectively on short rest and it also leads to a large increase in the risk of injury. With the strain of such a high amount of pitches thrown Lee may now not be ready or able to pitch out of his usual rotational spot, or at the very least, likely won't repeat his dominate performance of Wednesday night, likely necessary for a win. This could be devastating with Sabathia set to go in Games 4 and 7. And that doesn't even begin to address the issues that a 3-man rotation would cause for the 37 year old, injury prone Pedro Martinez.
Inevitably this series will come down to the Yankees' pitching and the Phillies' ability to hit said pitching. AJ Burnett and Andy Pettitte must win their matchups against the inferior pitchers they will inevitably face. And beyond simply pitching well they must maintain their command throughout their respective starts, keeping their pitch counts low and going, at minimum, seven innings. As long as the New York Yankees' offense produces as normal (unlike on Wednesday) this effectively shortens the game to a Hughes/Chamberlain (likely Chamberlain after Hughes' recent performances) and Rivera conclusion. The rest of the bullpen is apparently too young and inexperienced to be relied upon under the pressure of the World Series, as they clearly demonstrated in their collective effort in Game 1.
The Phillies cannot expect to achieve victory in another pitchers dual without Cliff Lee on the mound. If they have any hope of winning a game in which he does not appear (which they must do to win the series) they must get to the Yankees' starters early and often, forcing them into the less effective parts of their bullpen early. New York will score runs off Philadelphia whomever they throw out there not named Cliff Lee. So while the Phillies will need to muscle up and score more than the two runs that they notched off Sabathia, against two other very high quality pitchers, the Yankees rotation must also find a way to contain the explosive opposing lineup and prevent further exposure of their middle relief weakness. In any case, these two teams are providing one of the more intriguing World Series matchups in a very long time with a first chapter that more than lived up the hype.