January 4, 2011
Pedro Martinez, tonight's starter in game two of the World Series, played the lead role, with a supporting part from Grady Little, in the third most disastrous moment in Red Sox history when he blew a 5-2 lead late in the seventh game of the 2003 American League Championship at Yankee Stadium before Aaron Boone's infamous upper deck shot (the top two most crushing Red Sox moments were the loss in game six against the Mets in the 1986 World Series and the Bucky F'ing Dent homerun in 1978). One has to wonder whether the memory of that moment is still all too close for the formerly brilliant pitcher.
More to the point, are the Phillies blowing any chance of taking a commanding two-games-to-none lead against the Yankees by starting Pedro against the team he admittedly had epic problems pitching against? A team he famously declared was "his Daddy." The diminutive pitcher is 1-2 with a 4.72 ERA in six postseason appearances against his hated rivals.
This much is certain: Pedro, though an effective pitcher and an important late season addition to the Phillies when he won five of six starts, he even in fact won his last start at Yankee Stadium while a Met in 2005, is nowhere near the peerless, intimidating Hall of Fame hurler he was from the late 1990's until 2002. He is several years past his prime and will face a fierce, patient and vicious Yankee offense that will be looking to break out after being utterly dominated by the suddenly unhittable southpaw Cliff Lee in game one.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is an eminently likeable, elder statesmen figure and has proven to be the perfect fit for his team of multifarious talents. In fact he is their Joe Torre, with his calm but intense demeanor, absolute loyalty to his players and his reliance on instinct over stats to enforce his managerial will on a game. But it seems to me that Manuel is injecting a most unwanted element of emotional confusion and drama into tonight's game by starting Pedro. I find it borderline masochistic. And it may prove to be the misstep that causes the Phillies a chance to score a decided upset and beat the Yankees in the series.
It is clear that Manuel has other options for tonight's game.
Why not go with Cole Hamels tonight and save Martinez for game three in Philly? After all, this would give Philadelphia two consecutive starts with lefthanders against the vaunted Yankee power. The formula for beating the Yankees hasn't really changed that much since Babe Ruth - start lefties against them at Yankee Stadium. Cliff Lee, with his pinpoint variety of pitches that left the Yankees flailing last night is Exhibit A. Granted, Hamels has been hit fairly hard in his three postseason starts thus far but his control has been superb and he's been striking out nearly a batter per inning. And though he's only pitched twice against the Yankees, he does have a 2.77 ERA in those games.
Cockiness and confidence - always a thin line between the two and often intertwined - are necessary components to a successful athlete's makeup. And there's no doubt that Pedro has reserves of these qualities. But emotion is an underrated and undervalued part of sport. No matter how much Pedro wants to prove his many haters wrong - Yankee fans and journalists alike - sometimes it's best to reach for a smaller measure of revenge against your foe. This could have been accomplished by having Martinez start game three in Philadelphia where he'll be free of the visual ghosts that reside in the South Bronx. And this version of Pedro can't rely on pure power to overwhelm an opponent when he doesn't have his best stuff as he did in years past. It'll be hard enough for Martinez to remain focused with his finesse game, always a more taxing mental approach then throwing hard.
Why tempt fate? Why awake the famous mystique and aura (Curt Schilling's words) that are looking forward to settling in to their new digs across the street from their old residence on River Avenue?
If Pedro delivers six innings with only a couple of runs Manuel will look like the genius, defending World Series champion manager he is - no matter what the final score in game two. But I'd be shocked if Pedro makes it through five stanzas. There will be much second guessing going on in that famously angry mid-Atlantic city (City of Brotherly Love? Are you kidding me?) Friday morning, before the series resumes tied at one game apiece Saturday night.