PHILADELPHIA - Alex Rodriguez waited all game for this hit. In fact, he waited his whole career.
Rodriguez delivered the biggest hit of his career, a go-ahead, two-out double in the ninth inning off Brad Lidge as the New York Yankees took advantage of Johnny Damon's daring dash to beat the Philadelphia Phillies 7-4 on Sunday night for a 3-1 lead in the World Series.
Derek Jeter came through again and Mariano Rivera finished it off as the Yankees moved within one win of that elusive 27th championship and first since 2000.
Rodriguez could really savour this victory - seething after again being hit by a pitch, he struck back with his potent black bat.
"There's no question - I've never had a bigger hit," Rodriguez said.
The Yankees will try to close out the defending champions Monday night when A.J. Burnett faces October ace Cliff Lee.
Of the 42 teams to take a 3-1 lead in the World Series, 36 went on to win the crown. The last club to overcome such a deficit was Kansas City in 1985.
Chase Utley and Pedro Feliz hit late home runs for the Phillies that tied it 4-4. Then it moved to the ninth and Phils brought in Lidge - a post-season 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 prominent failures behind, Rodriguez lined a solid double into the left-field corner for a 5-4 lead. The three-time American League MVP 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.
"I get a good pitch and put a good swing on it, good things usually happen," Rodriguez said. "Facing Brad Lidge, he's a great competitor. He's had a lot of success late here. Just trying to make contact there."
Rodriguez stood at second with his 15th RBI, tying the Yankees post-season record shared by Bernie Williams and Scott Brosius. A-Rod's other hit this week came in Game 3 when his double was changed to a home run after an instant replay review.
The crowd was silent when Jorge Posada followed with a two-run single. Then it was Rivera's turn and he quickly got three outs for his 11th World Series save. Chamberlain was the winner in his second Series appearance.
Just like that, the Yankees were 27 outs from their record 27th title and the Phillies were on the brink of getting eliminated. Philadelphia faces a daunting task; New York lost three in a row only twice after the all-star break.
"I think we take a lot of pride on being resilient and the way we bounce back," Phils manager Charlie Manuel said. "I've seen us go through it before. We've blown 22 games from the seventh inning on or something this year. That's got to tell you something about the resilience of our team."
The Yankees' late burst hushed fans who had been festive from the start. Many of them had walked across the street after watching the Philadelphia Eagles rout the New York Giants 40-17.
Feliz rocked Yankees setup man Joba Chamberlain with a two-out, solo home run in the eighth that tied it 4-4.
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.
Down all evening, the Phillies kept scrapping. They eventually drew even on the home runs, a common sight at a park where the ball really flies.
Jeter put the Yankees ahead from the get-go, leading off the game with a single and scoring in a two-run first. The inning also included plate umpire Mike Everitt warning both teams after Rodriguez was hit by a pitch for the third time in two days.
Howard barreled home to tie 2-2 in the fourth. The big Phillies slugger braced for a collision with Posada and got a piece of the New York catcher - replays, however, appeared to show Howard never touched the plate, yet another missed call in a shaky post-season for umpires.
Jeter and Damon hit RBI singles in the fifth off Joe Blanton and the crowd grew quiet as Sabathia, working hard on three days' rest, kept working out of trouble in the middle innings.
Then Utley rang the big Liberty Bell in centre field with his home run. And after Chamberlain struck out his first two batters in the eighth, Feliz gonged him with a no-doubt drive over the left-field wall.
NOTES: Yankees CF Melky Cabrera hurt his left hamstring running out a grounder to end the sixth. Brett Gardner replaced him. ... Rodriguez and Max Carey (Pittsburgh, 1925) are the only players hit by pitches three times in a Series. ... Philly native Joe Frazier did a routine with the Phillie Phanatic on the field before the sixth inning to the sounds of "Rocky."
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