Five Cuts: Pedro primed for what could be his finale on the big stage

Publish date:

1. Why are the Phillies starting Pedro Martinez in Game 2 rather than Cole Hamels? Officially, they relied on two very good reasons, according to pitching coach Rich Dubee: They didn't want left-handers Cliff Lee and Hamels pitching back-to-back games, and they trust Martinez on the big stage, believing the hostility and energy of Yankee Stadium will bring out the best in him.

Over the past two postseasons, Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel has alternated left- and right-handed starters every chance he could with one exception: when he used left-handers in four straight games against the Rockies in the NLDS this month.

"We didn't want to use left-handers back to back," Dubee said. "We [also] wanted Pedro in this atmosphere. Pedro handles the visiting crowd better than anybody. He controls the tempo of the game. He controls the atmosphere."

Martinez threw seven shutout innings against the Dodgers in the NLCS -- on 15 days of rest. Three days before that game, Martinez threw a simulated game in Philadelphia.

"He wasn't very sharp, and he was a little concerned about it," Dubee said. "I told him, 'You're going to L.A. When the lights come on and the adrenaline kicks in, you'll be fine.' Some guys are better the bigger the game."

It is the only game in which Martinez has pitched in the past 28 days. Martinez will have 12 days of rest this time, entering Game 2.

"I don't expect my stuff to be as sharp as I would like it to be," Martinez said. "If it is, it will be great."

Asked about his transition from a power pitcher to magician, Martinez said, "Nobody makes adjustments like I do. I invent some things in the middle of the game if I have to. If it's legal, I will try to do it."

This World Series is, upon introduction, the most dramatic and best matchup of heavyweights since the 103-win Braves challenged the 98-win defending champion Yankees in 1999. The first two games alone offer three Cy Young winners, only the second time that has happened in World Series history. (The only other time: 1995, with Orel Hershiser, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.) Good friends, former teammates and texting buddies CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee oppose one another in Game 1.

Then you get Pedro in the Bronx in a World Series game, which is the biggest kind of theatre you could ask for in the sport. It's bigger than Favre at Lambeau, Reggie Miller at the Garden, Clemens at Shea or Fenway, or Bonds at Dodger Stadium, if only because this is the World Series.

Fox already must have the video backstory cued up: the one-hitter in 1999 with 17 strikeouts, the most ever at Yankee Stadium against the Yankees; the 1999 ALCS beating of Clemens, when the Fenway folk chanted "Where is Roger?" when he was out of the game early; the day in 2003 he sent both Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano to the hospital by nailing them with pitches; the 2003 ALCS Game 3 brawl in which he made matador to Don Zimmer's bull, and the Grady Little Game four games later; the "Who's Your Daddy?" chants at Yankee Stadium in the 2004 ALCS after Martinez, weary of getting beaten by the Yanks, admitted he had to call them "my daddy."

The Pedro-Yankee War is nearly a stalemate. Including the postseason, Martinez has started 37 times against New York. The result: 12 wins, 13 losses and 12 no-decisions, not to mention 21 hit batters. Here we go again, and this time, if the event needed any more drama, it may be the finale. Martinez, 38, said he might retire if the Phillies win the World Series.

"Who knows?" he said. "This may be my very last game on the big stage."

In the Bronx, he plays the villain well. What's so interesting about it is that his manager would not have it any other way.

2. There is one more reason why Martinez is getting the ball in Game 2, but it's better left unspoken by the Phillies: Hamels is not throwing the ball well. Had he been the same lockdown guy he was last postseason, of course you would want to make sure he and Lee start four of the first six games, no matter that Manuel would have lefties pitching back to back.

It's been a long time since Hamels has been good. It's been 30 days since he made it through the sixth inning. He is 1-2 with a 7.13 ERA in four starts in that time. Left-handed batters have pounded him this postseason, batting .600 with three home runs in 15 at-bats. They are especially hammering his inside fastball. What gives?

"Last year I was able to finish hitters off," he said. "This year they've been battling me, fouling off pitches. The one thing I need to do is finish off hitters with two strikes. It's a matter of bearing down against hitters in those spots."

3. Scratch Joba Chamberlain as an option to start a game for the Yankees in the World Series -- unless they want take a piecemeal bullpen approach to the game. New York pitching coach Dave Eiland said Chamberlain is not stretched out enough to throw five innings. "He's a multi-inning guy, probably two or three at most, but not five or six right now," Eiland said.

The irony, of course, is that the Yankees took Chamberlain from the bullpen to make 31 starts this year, but by converting him back to a reliever in the postseason they don't have him for much length for the Fall Classic. Because of injuries to Chien-Ming Wang and Ian Kennedy and Chamberlain going through another transition, New York is left with right-hander Chad Gaudin as its best fourth starter option.

Gaudin has faced a total of three batters in the past 25 days. And his 2009 splits -- a .673 OPS against right-handed hitters and .823 against lefties -- could be problematic against Philadelphia's left-leaning lineup. Gaudin threw a simulated game on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium "to get stretched out," Eiland said, with a goal of throwing between 75 and 80 pitches.

New York manager Joe Girardi announced his rotation only through Game 3: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte. He could drop Gaudin into the rotation for Game 5 after Sabathia (on three days' rest) in Game 4, especially if Pettitte gets pushed in his Game 3 start. Pettitte would seem like Girardi's biggest concern about bouncing back on short rest. Girardi had pulled a rested Pettitte three times this postseason one out into the seventh inning with pitch counts less than 100. Pettitte is 37 years old and has not made a start on short rest for 102 consecutive appearances.

4. Much has been made about Charlie Manuel nursing the confidence of Brad Lidge this month to salvage his closer. But Lidge revealed on Tuesday that the key for him was physical. Lidge said it wasn't until "the last week of the season" that he felt recovered from a knee injury. He had been diagnosed with fluid behind his right knee, which created soreness that was bad enough to force him to alter his mechanics -- specifically, he had to compensate for less power from his legs as he drove off the rubber -- but not bad enough to affect his velocity or force him to stop pitching.

"I could still throw as hard," he said, "but I was figuring out ways to compensate. The number one thing for me is fastball command. The slider works off of that."

Lidge said his fastball command is back because with a strengthened knee he can return to his normal mechanics. And whom did Lidge credit with getting him back on track with his fastball mechanics? Martinez.

5. Alex Rodriguez is a huge baseball fan. Unlike Derek Jeter, who has no interest in World Series games in which he is not playing, Rodriguez has watched the World Series his whole life, especially as a boy who grew up rooting for the Mets. "The happiest moment of my life was when I saw Jesse Orosco throw his glove in the air," he said, recalling the last out of the 1986 World Series.

There was, however, one exception to his World Series viewing: "In '04 I didn't watch one pitch," he said, referring to the year the Yankees blew a three-games-to-none lead to Boston in the ALCS.

Now he finally gets to see the World Series from inside the velvet ropes. And considering the way he's swinging the bat, the Phillies will work around him every chance they get.

"He's playing like there's no pressure on him," Angels center fielder Torii Hunter said after ALCS Game 6. "You can see he has a shorter swing. It's quicker to the ball. He doesn't try to do too much, like he did in the past. Alex is the real deal. Don't play with him. Let the other guys in the lineup do it. And they did it against us."

Hunter made a great point about Rodriguez's swing path. He is keeping his hands inside the ball at all times, not just on two-strike counts and not just on inside pitches. A shorter swing has allowed him to wait longer, which improves his pitch recognition, which is why you don't see him flailing while out on his front foot with that helicopter finish the way you did in past postseasons, when his swing was much bigger. To put it bluntly, his swing right now is slump-proof. The Phillies won't test him, but if they have to pitch to him in a key spot in the middle innings, they may use right-hander Chad Durbin. Rodriguez is 1 for 7 against Durbin in his career.