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Yankees take 3-1 series lead

Sun., Nov. 1, 2009, 9:52 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA — In a season filled with comeback wins, the New York Yankees completed their most important late victory yet — with Alex Rodriguez at the center of it all.

A-Rod’s two-out double to left in the ninth scored Johnny Damon with the go-ahead run, and Jorge Posada’s two-run single — both off Phillies closer Brad Lidge — brought the Yankees one win away from their 27th world championship.

Mariano Rivera quickly finished off an improbable 7-4 Yankees’ victory at stunned Citizens Bank Park, where a sellout crowd had just celebrated Pedro Feliz’s sudden, game-tying, eighth-inning homer off Joba Chamberlain.

Making his first appearance in the Series, Lidge got two quick outs in the ninth before Damon — on a gritty nine-pitch at-bat singled to left. Then things got really weird.

With the right-side shift on Mark Teixeira, Damon stole second, got up and raced to an unoccupied third base; he was credited with two steals on the play.

“I’m just glad when I started running I still had those young legs behind me,” Damon said. “By getting to third base, that takes away a tough slider in the dirt (for a potential wild pitch); one I may be able to score on.

“(Alex) is the reason we’re sitting here. Without him, who knows when our road would have stopped? He’s been driving us through the playoffs.”

Teixeira was hit by a pitch, and A-Rod who tied a Series record by being plunked for the third time earlier in the game, drawing warnings to both sides — untied the game with his 15th RBI of the postseason.

That tied a Yankee record shared by Bernie Williams (’96) and Scott Brosius (’98).

On three days’ rest, CC Sabathia restlessly navigated through 6 innings, charged with three runs. Chase Utley had connected on another Series homer off the lefty ace, cutting the Yankees’ lead to a single run in the seventh inning and putting a charge back into the sellout crowd on a chilly Sunday night.

On three days’ rest in Game 4, Sabathia’s evening ended after Utley concluded his trot around the bases.

“This is a very tough lineup to navigate through,” said Yanks manager Joe Girardi. “I thought he gave a gutsy performance.

“I felt all year long this team has been extrememly resilient. (Tonight), all I’m thinking about is to go out and play a good game and see where we’re at.”

Damaso Marte continued his renaissance postseason, striking out Ryan Howard after the home run to end the inning.

The Yanks had scored four runs off starter Joe Blanton to take a 4-2 lead after five.

With the score tied at 2, Nick Swisher led off the fifth with a walk and Melky Cabrera reached on an infield hit to second when Utley fielded a backhand and couldn’t make a clean glove flip to Jimmy Rollins for the force.

With three attempts, Sabathia couldn’t put down a sacrifice bunt and struck out, but Derek Jeter bailed him out with a single through the left side that scored Swisher with the go-ahead run.

With Cabrera at second base, Damon blooped a single to right and Cabrera never broke stride. Tearing through third-base coach Rob Thomson’s stop sign, Cabrera scored to make it 4-2. But he easily would’ve been out had right fielder Jayson Werth’s throw been on line.

An inning later, Cabrera grounded out to end the sixth and exited with an apparent hamstring injury. He was replaced by Brett Gardner.

The Phillies threatened in their half of the fifth, as Rollins (single) and Shane Victorino (walk) reached base.

There were several breaks for mound chats with Jorge Posada, to the heavy booing of 46,145 fans, but Sabathia made it through the heart of the Phils’ order — getting Utley and Howard to pop out before striking out Werth.

The Phillies tied the game at 2 in the fourth after Howard led off with a single and made an awkward — yet successful — attempt to steal second base, possibly on a blown hit-and-run call.

It paid off when Feliz slashed a two-out single to left, which Damon was forced to play on a short hop.

Lumbering from third, Howard lowered his left shoulder into Posada as Damon’s throw came in on a hopand skipped past the catcher. Replays showed that Howard had launched himself past the plate without touching it, but the Yankees never argued.

But there was plenty to complain about in the first inning, and A-Rod was at the core.

The Yankees had taken a quick 1-0 lead, as Jeter started the game with an infield hit, moved to third on Damon’s double to right and scored on Teixeira’s RBI groundout to first.

Damon moved up to third on the play, and with first base conveniently open, A-Rod was drilled in the left shoulder by Blanton’s first pitch.

Having absorbed the blow, Rodriguez stared directly into his dugout as if he was looking for his teammates’ acknowledgment of a conspiracy by Philadelphia pitchers. A-Rod was hit twice in Saturday’s Game 3 — before and after his replay-reviewed two-run homer off Cole Hamels.

Once Rodriguez made his way to first base, the umpires convened and warnings were issued to both dugouts by plate umpire Mike Everitt who instantly got a visit from Girardi.

Posada’s sacrifice fly made it 2-0.

Girardi’s fear that Sabathia might be hindered by an inability to pitch inside — because of the warnings — seemed to take root.

After Victorino doubled off the glove of a charging Damon in left, Utley rifled an RBI double off the right-center field wall, cutting the lead to 2-1. Howard struck out for the 10th time in 14 at-bats in the Series, and Sabathia was faced with an early moment of truth.

Struggling with Werth, he intentionally walked him to face Raul Ibanez, who struck out to end the inning.

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