PHILADELPHIA - Alex Rodriguez waited all game long for this hit. Heck, he waited his whole life.
Rodriguez delivered the biggest hit of his career, a go-ahead, two-out double in the ninth inning off Brad Lidge, and the New York Yankees took advantage of Johnny Damon's daring dash to beat the Philadelphia Phillies 7-4 last night for a 3-1 lead in the World Series.
Derek Jeter delivered again, and Mariano Rivera closed it out as the Yankees moved within one win of that elusive 27th championship and first since 2000. Rodriguez could really savor this victory - seething after again being hit by a pitch, he struck back with his potent black bat.
The Yankees will try to clinch it tonight when A.J. Burnett faces October ace Cliff Lee.
"Facing Brad Lidge, he's a great competitor. He's had a lot of success late here. Just trying to make contact there," Rodriguez said.
Chase Utley and Pedro Feliz hit late home runs for the Phillies that tied it at 4. Then it moved to the ninth and Phils brought in Lidge - a postseason star last year, he had struggled all season before regaining his touch this October.
But November was not so kind to him.
Lidge had been the only closer in the playoffs who hadn't allowed a run until the Yankees tagged him. With two outs, Damon capped a nine-pitch at-bat with a single. The Phillies overshifted their infield to the right side for Mark Teixeira and Damon took off.
Damon beat the one-hop throw to steal second, popped up from his slide and noticed no one was covering third. That's because Feliz had handled the throw, and Damon easily beat the third baseman to the bag for a rare double-steal - fact is, who'd ever seen it?
Rattled or whatever, Lidge hit Teixeira with a pitch. So up stepped Rodriguez, 1 for 13 to that point in his first World Series and looking nothing like the feared slugger he was earlier in these playoffs.
Putting all his past postseason failures behind, Rodriguez lined a solid double into the left-field corner for a 5-4 lead. He connected so solidly, the sound echoed throughout Citizens Bank Park. Maybe it wasn't such a surprise - Rodriguez had homered and doubled in three prior at-bats against Lidge.
The crowd was silent when Jorge Posada followed with a two-run single. And just like that, the Yankees were on the verge of celebrating and the defending champion Phillies were on the brink of getting eliminated.
Feliz rocked Yankees setup man Joba Chamberlain with a two-out, solo home run in the eighth that tied it at 4.
Utley homered again off CC Sabathia, finishing the New York starter in the seventh. It was Utley's third shot off Sabathia in this Series and closed the Phillies to 4-3.
JETER HONORED: Jeter is stockpiling awards named after Hall of Famers.
The New York Yankees shortstop and Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals won the Hank Aaron Award in fan voting for the best offensive players in their leagues. Aaron presented Jeter with the award before the Yankees played the Philadelphia Phillies last night.
"Any award that's named after Hank Aaron to me is very special, what he has represented, not only in his playing days but how he handled himself when he was playing off the field and to this day," Jeter said before rushing off to join his teammates. "I have the utmost respect for him. This is an award that means a lot to me."
Pujols wasn't in attendance because he's recovering from elbow surgery.
The 35-year-old Jeter, a career .317 hitter, hit .334 with 18 homers, 66 RBIs and 30 steals to lead the Yankees back to the World Series for the first time in six years.
On Thursday, Jeter was presented the Roberto Clemente Award, given annually to a major league player who combines community service with excellence on the field.
Pujols hit .327 with a major league-leading 47 homers, 135 RBIs and 124 runs. His Cardinals won the NL Central but were swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the division series.
PHILLIES FLU BUG: Reliever Chan Ho Park's wasn't available last night because he has the flu. Park also wasn't available to pitch Saturday night.
Utilityman Greg Dobbs was sent home before Game 2 in New York because he had the flu. Dobbs returned to the team Saturday. Pedro Martinez felt under the weather before starting Game 2. Martinez allowed three runs in six-plus innings.39.95227 -75.16237