Wednesday November 4th, 2009

1. So the World Series comes down to this: the old and familiar. Stop me if you have heard this before: a Yankees team with Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera trying to get through Pedro Martinez to a world championship. Game 5 barely was over in Philadelphia when even Jeter, rarely reflective, immediately understood that the World Series is reduced to a most familiar confrontation, an old narrative well told.

"Me and Derek were talking about it in the clubhouse [Monday] night," Pettitte said. "Just, 'How strange is this?' After all the battles, with him being in Boston."

This is how Martinez defined the matchup: "Two old goats out there doing the best they can, and having fun with it."

Isn't this grand: Upon Game 6, Martinez, 38, and Pettitte, 37, will have pitched in exactly 1,000 career games between the two of them.

Martinez, pitching on his sixth day, has a slight advantage because Pettitte is throwing on his fourth day after a laborious 104 pitches in Game 3. Pettitte may have an impressive postseason record on three days of rest (3-1, 2.80), but the bulk of it was built when he was a much younger man. He hasn't pitched on short rest in 104 consecutive starts, and hasn't done it coming off a 100-pitch outing since he was 29 years old.

Only once before has there been a World Series matchup between two pitchers past their 37th birthday, and that was a low-wattage Game 1 matchup in 2004 between Tim Wakefield of Boston and Woody Williams of St. Louis that devolved into an 11-9 game. This one means either the 27th world championship for the Yankees or the best day in all of sports, Game 7 of the World Series.

Baseball has been a game in transition as young pitchers assert themselves on the other side of The Steroid Era and the careers of former "old goats" such as Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina. This wave of young pitching is unmistakable. There have been only four seasons in history in which as many as 23 pitchers age 25-and-under made 30 starts. Two of them occurred in the pitching-friendly years of 1968 and 1969. The other two years with so many young starters were 2008 and 2009.

And yet even in this cresting wave, the postseason has proved to be no place for youngsters. Starting pitchers in their 20s are 5-10 this postseason, including 2-9 for those not named CC Sabathia. Starters in their 30s are 11-8.

In the elders they trust, and lucky for us. In Game 6 we get the next best thing to a Game 7, in every way. Pedro pitching against the Yankees for the 40th time. Pettitte pitching in a postseason game for the 40th time. The World Series decided, be it Wednesday or Thursday, at Yankee Stadium (old and new) for the 17th time. It's like a great bedtime story to a child. Tell me again, because it never gets old.

2. When you watch the Phillies play in this series you should have great empathy for what manager Charlie Manuel must go through late in games. He has so few pitching options that are obvious in trying to hold back the powerful Yankee lineup.

Philadelphia is fine as long as Cliff Lee is on the mound. The Phillies are 2-0 when he starts, 0-3 when he doesn't. The Yankees hit .217 with no home runs when Lee pitches, .262 with five homers when he doesn't. Guess what: Lee has perhaps only two or three innings left in what's been a 272-inning season, and Manuel only gets those innings if the Phillies get to a seventh game.

Game 5 was excruciating for Manuel. Basically, he was trying to find any way to get six outs before the Yankees scored six times. It was an ordeal -- down six, New York eventually twice brought the tying run to the plate -- but yet Manuel did not call on his closer, Brad Lidge, at any point.

After that game, in which Manuel said he was giving Lidge a "break," where can he use him in Game 6? Ryan Madson has thrown in each of the past four games. Scott Eyre hasn't pitched since Game 2. The Yankees have a .380 OBP against the Philadelphia bullpen.

Maybe you'll see Game 4 starter Joe Blanton in a big spot in the middle innings if Martinez does not give the Phillies much length. Maybe Chad Durbin is the guy Manuel wants to match up against Alex Rodriguez. Maybe Manuel has to use Madson in the eighth and ninth innings (he did get six outs three times this year), or maybe he regains trust in Lidge.

Whatever the case, Martinez looks like a five- or six-inning guy. "I would think what we want to do is drive up his pitch count, make him work," said Yankees outfielder Eric Hinske, which is exactly the battle plan the Yankees deployed against Pedro in his prime. Joe West is the home plate umpire tonight, so a small strike zone with these two teams hitting will mean tougher duty for the pitchers. (Strikeout, walk and slugging rates with West behind the plate all favor the hitter, compared to average rates.)

So if Manuel has to cover 12 to 15 outs with multiple pitchers out of his bullpen, the game is bound to get very interesting. He is a manager working without a script.

3. If the Phillies get to a Game 7, Cole Hamels has to get the ball, though with a very short leash. The media drama surrounding Hamels is irrelevant. Yes, he might have been victimized by a lack of context to his full quote after Game 3 about looking forward to the end of the season.

Hamels, though, felt badly enough about it that he met with Manuel for 10 minutes after Game 5 to explain himself, then stood at his locker and explained himself to reporters. "I'll never quit," he said, while realizing his stream-of-consciousness way of speaking does land him in trouble. "It's hard to play baseball and talk at times," he said, laughing.

Of course, teammate Brett Myers took a clubhouse verbal shot at Hamels, but as Manuel put it about the acerbic Myers, that was "Brett being Brett."

So what? What matters is that Hamels, as shaky as he has been, still appears to be Manuel's best option if there is a Game 7. J.A. Happ, his next best choice, hasn't started a game in more than three weeks.

Hamels did show he could pitch once around the New York lineup. Manuel's plan should be to hand Hamels the ball, but to get him out at the first sign of trouble. Hamels has shown time and time again, and by his own admission, that he has done a poor job of limiting damage when things start to turn.

And when Manuel does need another option behind Hamels, it might very well be Lee. Thursday would be his normal throw day, and there are no more games to worry about after that. Then again, there is rain in the forecast for Thursday ...

4. This is the latest date a major league baseball game ever has been played, matching Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Yes, Wednesday is the eighth anniversary of when the Diamondbacks came back against Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning to win the World Series. It is also the eighth anniversary of the last time anybody scored more than one run off Rivera in a postseason game -- a stretch of 35 consecutive postseason games in which Rivera has allowed either no runs (31 times) or one run (four times).

After all these years, Rivera remains the ultimate postseason weapon, the guy who gives Yankees manager Joe Girardi a huge advantage in Game 6, especially because Rivera is so fresh (13 pitches in the past five days). New York is playing a seven-inning game tonight while Philadelphia is playing a nine-inning game. That is an enormous advantage. Rivera is available for six outs, and don't think Girardi won't start him in the eighth inning if New York has a lead of three runs or less.

5. Some final thoughts: The Yankees have to quit throwing so many fastballs over the plate to Chase Utley. Here are the counts and pitches of his record-tying five home runs: 3-and-2 fastball, 0-and-2 fastball, 1-and-2 slider, first-pitch fastball, 3-and-2 fastball. Utley has 21 plate appearances in the series. He has swung at the first pitch only three times, and put it into play only once: the first-inning home run off A.J. Burnett in Game 5. ... How bad was the start by Burnett? He became only the third starting pitcher with a chance to close out a World Series to give up six earned runs without lasting more than six outs. The others: Pettitte in 2001 and Smoky Joe Wood in 1912. ... Nick Swisher could be back in right field after better at-bats in Game 5. He saw 19 pitches in four plate appearances. Girardi did play Jerry Hairston against Martinez in Game 2, citing his .370 average against him, but what do those numbers mean? Hairston had not seen Martinez in five years. Swisher is the better defensive player, too. ... Maybe the Yankees don't beat Lee in Game 5, anyway, but this idea that Jose Molina has to play because he's the only guy who can catch Burnett is a myth. Girardi made it appear as fact simply by choosing to have Molina catch Burnett every start down the stretch. But now that Burnett has a 5.27 ERA in the postseason, what does the Molina Plan really mean? With Melky Cabrera hurt and Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui on the bench, the Yankees sent a B-grade bottom of the lineup against the hottest pitcher in baseball. Posada did pinch hit in the fifth after Burnett left the game, but that meant the Yankees could not pinch run for him if it was needed late in the game.

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