Friday, October 30, 2009

Bombers Burnett Bests Pedro


Game 2 of the World Series felt a lot like Game 2 of the National League Championship Series. With Pedro Martinez again on the hill, the Phillies took an early 1-0 lead, but could not do anything more offensively to support a good pitching performance, and ultimately let the game slip away. In both games, the Phillies seemed to lack the same urgency and determination exhibited in other post season games after having already snatched home field advantage.

Last night, Pedro returned to the city that has been such a big part of his career. First, he was a loathed player on the Yankees arch rival and later pitched for the "other" New York team with a less hallowed history. Of course, the new Yankee Stadium was filled with fans of the Bronx Bombers, not the Mets team across town, so the sentiments aligned with the former scenario. "Who's your daddy?" chants rained through the stadium, along with other derisive calls and gestures, as fans recalled their team's history with Pedro.

Martinez was up to the challenge, effectively shutting out the distraction and shutting down the powerful Yankees line-up for most of the night. Unfortunately, AJ Burnett, his pitching counterpart, was even sharper, limiting the Phillies to one run over 7 very strong innings before handing things over to the post season's most prolific closer to finish it off.

The Phillies used a two out Raul Ibanez double and a single to left by DH Matt Stairs to take a 1-0 lead in the 2nd inning. Alex Rodriquez whiffed on Stairs ground ball, a play that could have easily been ruled an error, and the raucous crowd drew quiet as they had the previous night.

Mark Teixeira evened things up leading off the bottom half of the 4th when he jumped on a Martinez change-up and drove it over the center field fence. Otherwise, both pitchers held their opponents in check, until Hideki Matsui golfed a curve ball just over the short right field fence with two outs in the 6th. The home run gave the Yankees their first lead of the World Series and riled the spirits of their fans.

After Burnett mowed down the Phillies again in the 7th, Martinez returned for the bottom half of the inning despite having already thrown 99 pitches. The Yankees put together 3 straight singles to extend the lead to 3-1, the second of which ended Martinez's night. Chan Ho Park struck out Derek Jeter and then Johnny Damon hit a liner to Ryan Howard off Scott Eyre. The ball was ruled an out and Howard touched a runner to record an inning ending double play; however, replays appeared to show the ball being trapped.

Yankees skipper Joe Girardi called upon Rivera to start the 8th to close the game out. After a quick out, Jimmy Rollins worked a walk and Shane Victorino singled. Rivera went 3-0 on Utley, but came back to induce an inning ending ground ball double play; however, once again, replays showed that Utley beat the throw to first.
Ibanez doubled with two outs in the 9th to keep the Phillies hopes alive, before Rivera sent Stairs down swinging to end the game.

Cliff Lee played a role in the game as he unintentionally served as inspiration for Burnett. Lee's post game comments the night before resonated with Burnett, who elected to take a similar approach and turned in arguably his best career performance. He limited the Phils to 4 hits and a pair of walks, while striking out 9.

Despite having a little less velocity and movement on his fastball, Pedro battled hard by mixing pitches and nibbling on the corners. His change-up was particularly sharp, which effectively made his fastball quicker and had the Yankees swinging at air throughout the evening. In six innings of work, he recorded 8 strikeouts, half of which came against Jeter and A-Rod.

Trailing 1-0 at home, the game was arguably more important to the Yankees. It surely may have had more to do with superb pitching by their opponents, but the aura of the Phillies was that they were playing a game that would be nice to win. By no means was there any nonchalance; however, they did not seem to possess the same high level of intensity that typically accompanies them in the post season. Perhaps this was a reflection of a strategy to wait out Burnett faltering on his own as he has been prone to do, but that never materialized last night.

The teams are now in Philly, preparing for a match-up of lefties with a history of post season success. With CC Sabathia likely waiting in the wings to pitch Game 4, the Phillies are looking to Cole Hamels to channel some of his 2008 post season magic after struggling in his first two playoff outings. Veteran Andy Pettitte opposes him and is currently pitching very well. Although teams typically try to use lefties to neutralize the Phillies left-handed sluggers, Pettitte has actually been more effective against right-handed hitters.

There will be no shortage of adrenaline this weekend. As always, the Citizen's Bank Park crowd will provide an added boost for the Phillies, particularly with the marquee team from Gotham City in the opposing dugout.

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