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Title hopes not so bright for Yanks after Game 5

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Bob Klapisch

Bob Klapisch covers baseball for The Record in New Jersey and worked at the New York Post and New York Daily News. The author of five books, he was recently voted a top-five columnist in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors.

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PHILADELPHIA

So the Yankees picked up, packed up and slogged up the Jersey Turnpike, wondering what happened to the Animal House party they were supposed to throw after Game 5 of the World Series. It was going to be mother of all blowouts, the one that would've ended a nine-year championship drought. All the Yankees needed to do was cash in on the leftover momentum for Game 4, the one Johnny Damon literally stole from the Phillies, and that 120-mile bus ride to the Bronx would've been the stuff of a reality show. Instead, the Yankees' reality looks a little dimmer today, thanks to A.J. Burnett's miserable two-plus innings (and Phil Coke's even more horrific span of four batters in the seventh). An 8-6 loss to the Phillies on Monday, which left Burnett "embarrassed" and distraught, now delivers the World Series to Andy Pettitte's doorstep. In any other circumstance the Yankees would be the strong favorites to close out the Phillies. In most respects they still are. But you couldn't shake the feeling that something about this Series had changed at Citizens Bank Park on Monday, and Pettitte, working on three days' rest, will be under duress. Why? Because he's coming off a less than stellar performance in Game 3, and at age 37, with 3,000 innings and two elbow surgeries on his resume, he'll be asked to throw on three days' rest in the postseason for the first time since 2003. Pettitte realizes he's lucky that Cole Hamels pitched dreadfully on Saturday, allowing five runs in the fourth and fifth innings and otherwise obscuring how few weapons Pettitte really had. He was in an early 3-0 rut and later told teammates he had "nothing" to neutralize the Phillies' sluggers. It turns out Pettitte found just enough bite on his cut-fastball to keep Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez at bay. This time around, however, Pettitte will have less than his usual four days recovery time, which may or may not diminish his cut-fastball. The Yankees love Pettitte — revere him, almost — but they have no assurance of his Game 6 success other than his unbreakable spirit. CC Sabathia is the only starter the Yankees trust unconditionally, but his role in this Series is compromised, too. If he's forced to rescue the Bombers in Game 7, the big lefthander will be working on three days' rest for the second consecutive start — no one's idea of a perfect setting. That's why the Yankees so deeply regretted their inability to finish off the Phillies when they had the chance Monday. Of course, they'll have the Stadium's crowd in their favor in Game 6 and it figures to be cold and blustery again, which can't possibly bolster Pedro Martinez. The Phillies' bullpen continues to act as a black hole — the Yankees, trailing by six runs in the eighth, actually had the tying run at the plate in the ninth — and if the Phillies do get to Game 7, their options for a starter include the spiritually broken Hamels, the inexperienced J.A. Happ or Cliff Lee on two days' rest.
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Manuel openly hinted Lee will end up on the mound, one way or another. He's the Phillies' last, best hope of a miracle comeback — no doubt, the odds are very long. The Yankees clearly realize this, and made a point of putting a positive, public spin on having to play Game 6. As Mark Teixeira reminded everyone, "it's very hard to beat that (Phillies) three times in a row in their ballpark." Still, life could've been so much easier if Burnett had simply thrown strikes. Instead, he gave away the Yankees' 1-0 lead in the first inning, getting clobbered for three runs before he'd even registered his first out. Once again it was Chase Utley who inflicted the wound — he has five HRs in the Series, upgrading him to machine-status. Four of the five blasts have come against left-handed pitching, which should be worrisome to Pettitte, but at this point every Yankee pitcher is susceptible to Utley's rampage. His first-inning HR, which went screaming into the seats in right-center, did more than give the Phillies a 3-1 lead. It told the National League they'd been blessed with the ultimate October gift — the "bad" A.J. who materializes at the most inopportune moments, usually on the road, and when the Yankees need him most. Burnett was smoked in a similar circumstance by the Angels in Game 5 of the ALCS, just as the Yankees were on the verge of finishing off that series, too. He gave up four runs in the first inning and just like that, the Yankees were forced to fly 3,000 miles to play Game 6 in the Bronx.
Monday night's debacle was eerily similar and Burnett had no explanation why. "It's the worst feeling in the world," he said afterward. "I had a chance to do something special tonight and I failed. I let 25 guys in here down. I let a city down." Burnett had spoken passionately about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, being the winning pitcher in a World Series clincher. Instead, he could only stare at the ground as Joe Girardi began that million-mile walk from the dugout in the third inning, as the Phillies were stretching their lead to 6-1. The manager took the ball out of Burnett's hand, the two men barely making eye contact. There wasn't much to say, really. The Series has been pushed to its outer limits, and while the stars and planets are still aligned in their favor, the Yankees boarded the bus with a touch of regret. It could've been a hell of a ride home.

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