October 29, 2009

NEW YORK -- It was an old villain in a new ballpark that did in Pedro Martinez.

Yankees designated hitter Hideki Matsui has never figured out Martinez in the regular season, but he owns the Phillies starter in playoff games.

On Thursday night, in the tied sixth inning of World Series Game 2, Matsui golfed a down-and-in curveball -- on a 1-2 count, Martinez's 97th pitch of the night -- into the first few rows of the right field bleachers, the ball barely rising above the 314 painted on the fence. But it traveled far enough, breaking the 1-1 tie en route to a 3-1 Yankees win that knotted the series at one game apiece. The series resumes with Game 3 Saturday evening in Philadelphia.

"It was low but caught the inside part of the plate," Matsui said through an interpreter, "and I was able to put a good swing on it."

It was a fine time for Matsui to break out of a prolonged power drought. He entered the game batting .203 with one homer in his previous 82 postseason plate appearances, dating back to the 2005 ALDS. Matsui entered the game with only two extra-base hits since Sept. 22.

But Godzilla has had Martinez's number in the postseason. In his first two plate appearances, Matsui singled in the second inning and walked in the fourth, then hit his sixth-inning homer in his third at-bat. Though he's only 4-for-28 against Martinez in regular-season games, he is now 7-for-17 -- with four doubles and a homer -- off the Dominican legend in playoff games, dating back to 2003 and '04, most famously contributing a ground-rule double at the old stadium across the street in the Yankees' three-run, eighth-inning comeback in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series

"Personally, I really don't know," Matsui said of his postseason success against Martinez. "I take the same approach as I do in the regular season."

Yankees starter A.J. Burnett returned to the mound for the top of the seventh and promptly struck out Raul Ibañez and Matt Stairs, both looking, then induced a weak groundout from Pedro Feliz to cap a good first World Series start for the free-agent acquisition. Burnett threw seven innings of one-run ball, striking out nine.

"He was great tonight," New York manager Joe Girardi said. "He gave up the one run, but he gave us seven extremely strong innings. He was able to work in and out with his fastball and throw his good curveball and get some good swings and misses tonight."

Closer Mariano Rivera pitched two innings for the save. He now has 30 postseason saves of at least four outs. No other pitcher has more than 16 playoff saves of any length.

Matsui's homer, Mark Teixeira's fourth-inning solo shot and Phillies manager Charlie Manuel's curious decision to allow his starter to begin the seventh inning spoiled an otherwise solid outing from Martinez, whose return to the Bronx was the unquestioned top storyline of the week. For 5 2/3 innings, he kept the Yankees off balance with his darting changeup, complemented by his curve and fastball that crept up to 89 miles per hour.

Martinez allowed six hits and two walks, to go along with eight strikeouts, in six innings. He also faced two batters in the seventh, giving up hits to each, and one of them scored for his third earned run. The situation to let him start the inning was not unlike former Red Sox manager Grady Little's decision to leave Martinez in during that fateful ALCS Game 7.

"He said that he was fine," Manuel said of Martinez. "He said that he wanted to go back out and pitch. The bottom of the lineup was up and everything, and I thought he hadn't lost anything."

Martinez did, however, reveal after the game that he was sick, battling a sore throat, a tight chest and a nagging cough, though he insisted that he "wasn't going to give anybody the opportunity to take me out."

Both lineups worked deep counts, driving up the starters' pitch counts. Burnett and Martinez each had thrown more than 80 pitches through the first five innings. But the Phillies were patient almost to a fault. Burnett started the first 11 Phillies with strikes, the first eight with bats on the hitters' shoulders. His curveball was especially sharp. Though Burnett is prone to wildness -- he has joked about being used to pitching with men on base, and even walked nine when he threw a no-hitter in 2001 -- he issued only two walks in Game 2.

"I just wanted to come out and set the tone early and be very aggressive," Burnett said. "My key was strike one tonight I think. I threw a lot of first-pitch strikes and that allowed me to open up and expand the zone after that."

In the top of the second, Ibañez sliced two-strike pitch into left field corner, bouncing it off the foul ball line chalk and into the stands for a ground-rule double, an eerie replay of the ball hit by the Twins' Joe Mauer in the division series, only this time the left field umpire got the call right. The next hitter, Matt Stairs, punched a grounder past a diving Alex Rodriguez for an RBI single and the game's first run.

In the bottom of the inning, Ibañez robbed Robinson Cano of a possible run-scoring double with a diving catch in left-center field.

Teixeira led off the fourth with a solo homer to right-center, on an indecisive 84 mph pitch on the outside corner -- too slow to be an effective fastball, too fast to work as a changeup. It effectively served as a batting-practice pitch, Martinez's first mistake of the night, one that Teixeira ably dispatched for the tying blast.

"I think it was just a high changeup, and I wanted to be aggressive off him," Teixeira said. "I mean, if you get down in the count against Pedro with the way that his off-speed pitches were being thrown tonight, he was going to put you away."

A surprisingly tame crowd received a jolt in the top of the fourth when Phillies right fielder Jayson Werth strayed too far off first base and was picked off on a snap throw from catcher Jose Molina.

Though not the series opener, Thursday's Game 2 was accompanied by plenty of pomp and circumstance, including a national anthem flyover from two F-18s and a song from Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, who sang their hit single about New York, "Empire State of Mind." With the artists taking the makeshift stage just on the outfield grass beyond second base less than a half hour before the first pitch made for a strange scene in centerfield, as several of the Phillies continued warming up during the performance. Shane Victorino and Werth ran sprints, and Martinez threw long toss in deep left field.

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