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November 3, 2009

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9th-inning rally puts Yankees on the brink

THE New York Yankees scored three runs in the top of the ninth inning to forge a commanding 3-1 World Series lead with a 7-4 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday.

The Yankees broke open a 4-4 tie with three runs off Phillies reliever Brad Lidge and moved within one victory of claiming their 27th Fall Classic crown with Game 5 in the best-of-seven series being played in Philadelphia today (Shanghai time).

After home runs by Phillies' Chase Utley in the seventh and Pedro Feliz in the eighth tied the game, Lidge gave up an RBI-double to Alex Rodriguez and a two-run single to Jorge Posada to hand the Yankees their winning margin.

The last-inning outburst was ignited by Johnny Damon, who stroked a two-out single to left, battling back after falling behind in the count against the Phillies closer.

With the infield in an over-shift to protect against batter Mark Teixeira pulling the ball through the right side, the speedy left-fielder stole second base. When third baseman Feliz cut in front of the bag to handle the catcher's throw, Damon alertly popped up from his slide and raced to third base, which was not covered due to the shift.

The daring play seemed to unnerve Lidge, who hit Teixeira with a pitch and then yielded a line-drive double to left by Rodriguez that scored Damon. Posada followed with a single to left to bring home Teixeira and Rodriguez.

Damon was credited with two stolen bases on the play.

"That's the first time we've had it happen to us this year," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel told reporters. "It's the catcher or pitcher that's got to be heads up."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi praised Damon. "I thought it was a great instinctual play by Johnny Damon."

Closer Mariano Rivera came on in the bottom of the ninth and retired Philadelphia in order to clinch victory in the most exciting game of the series so far and put New York on the brink of its first title since 2000.

Both teams stormed out of the gate in the first.

New York scored two runs off Joe Blanton after Derek Jeter's infield single and Damon's double put men on second and third with no outs. Jeter scored on Teixeira's ground-out to first, and Damon came home on Posada's sacrifice fly.

The Phils answered with back-to-back doubles by Shane Victorino and Utley off starter C C Sabathia, but Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez struck out to end the threat.

Philadelphia tied the game 2-2 in the fourth when slugging first baseman Howard singled, surprisingly stole second and scored on a sharp single to left by Feliz.

Replays showed that Howard failed to touch home plate on his head-first slide but the Yankees did not apply a tag.

New York regained the lead with two runs in the fifth on RBI-singles by Jeter and Damon for a 4-2 edge.

The home runs by Utley, which chased Sabathia, and Feliz, off Joba Chamberlain, put the white-towel waving Phillies fans into a frenzy before their fightback unraveled in the ninth inning.

"For me, the key of that whole inning was an unbelievable, tenacious at-bat by Johnny Damon," Rodriguez said. "Then he goes first pitch, and then goes to third and put us in position to get a big hit there in the ninth."


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