For Pedro Martinez, déjà vu in loss to the Yankees
Pedro Martinez pitched masterfully for six innings of the Phillies' 3-1 loss to the Yankees Thursday. Now, he just needs a manager to take him out when he gets tired.
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One was A.J. Burnett, who at last did an excellent impression of the pitcher the Yankees spent $82.5 million to secure in the offseason.
Another was Mark Teixeira, who previously appeared as if he had spent much of the postseason batting with a rubber haddock until he walloped a game-tying home run in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Yet perhaps the most curious was the Yankees' continuing good fortune to play against opposing managers who see the baseball world through Pedro-colored glasses: first, the Red Sox's Grady Little in 2003, and now, the Phillies' Charlie Manuel.
Yes, New York already had a 2-1 lead when Manuel decided to send Pedro Martinez to the mound in the bottom of the seventh inning.
And the Yankees bullpen was already in the process of making the change to Mariano Savings Time – a two-inning zone at the end of the game in which opposing batters pay homage to the greatest closer in baseball history by repeatedly striking out on the same exact pitch (a cut fastball).
So the game, it seemed, was – if not in the bag – then at least opening the zipper and peering inside for the car keys.
Then again, it was only one run. Anything was possible.
Which made the decision to send Martinez to the mound again the equivalent of that moment in horror films when the soundtrack goes all quiet and the willowy blonde is wandering through the creepy house alone. Something bad was going to happen.
To that point, Martinez had pitched six innings of sparkling baseball. For a man who was out of baseball this spring and whose recent career comprised four years with the Mets that no one but Mets fans remember, it was a night of mastery as delightful as it was unexpected.
The fastball is gone, perhaps. But the changeup was intoxicating, luring batter after Yankee batter into fruitless lunges at balls that took an age to slap the catcher's mitt.
For six innings, it was Martinez and Burnett matching each other pitch for pitch, inning for scoreless inning like a game of H-O-R-S-E, spinning fastballs and curves past batters at ever-more improbable angles.
By the seventh, though, Martinez was a spent force. And yet, in the seventh, out he trudged.
Managers could be forgiven for being Pedro Martinez fans. For a pitcher whose craft relies not so much on honed technique or exquisitely developed muscle as on heart and sinew, it is perhaps human nature to want to give him a stout pat on the behind and cry "once more into the breach" at the beginning of each inning.
Given his competitive nature, Martinez was not going to point out what every sentient being this side of Alpha Centauri knew: By the seventh inning his fastball had lost what little zip it had, and his changeup was backing up into the strike zone like a tourist bus in a Denny's parking lot.
The Home Run Breakfast was about to be served.
Martinez gave up hits to the first two batters and was pulled.
It was eerily similar to Red Sox manager Grady Little's bid to let Martinez pitch the eighth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series – like Manuel, thinking that Martinez's heart would accomplish what his arm could not.
The Yankees were the team to pounce on him then, too, and to far greater effect, rallying from three runs down to tie – and eventually win – the game and the series.
Thursday night, the damage was limited to one run because of Yankee Derek Jeter's unfathomable decision to bunt with two strikes (he failed), and the umpires' decision to award the Phillies a double play when, in fact, they hadn't gotten anyone out on the play at all.
Yet it was enough.
For the Phillies, scoring one run would be a difficult enough task against Yankee closer Mariano Rivera, the man with the second-best earned run average in postseason history.
Now they had to score two.
Time to pack up the helmets and head to Philadelphia for Game 3.
Perhaps there, the World Series everyone expected might take shape – the best offenses in the American and National Leagues awakening from their Fox-broadcasting-schedule-induced slumber (playing only 11 games in 26 postseason days after playing 162 in 182 regular season days).
Only one thing seems certain: In Game 5, Pedro Martinez will pitch – and probably for an inning too long.
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