Oct 29

TALKIN’ BASEBALL: Game #2; Martinez no fool.

GAME 2: Martinez vs. Burnett

GAME 2: Martinez vs. Burnett

Don’t think for a minute Pedro Martinez didn’t know what he was saying the other day at his Yankee Stadium press conference. If the topic of his brawl with former Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer in Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS at Fenway Park wouldn’t have been asked, Martinez, no doubt, would have raised the issue. VIDEO

It has nothing to do with dissing the Yankees, but getting himself motivated. Martinez is one of those athletes who seeks the outside motivator. To be taunted tonight in Game 2 – “who’s your daddy?” – is what he lives for. Martinez relishes being booed. He has a me-against-the-world mentality.

THE BRAWL: One of Pedro's Greatest Hits.

THE BRAWL: One of Pedro's Greatest Hits.

Yesterday was for show, for fueling his competitive juices. Martinez is no longer the dominating figure who could back up the bravado with performance. Martinez is no longer the Cy Young Award winner who, when asked about the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, said: “I’m starting to hate talking about the Yankees. The questions are so stupid. They’re wasting my time. It’s getting kind of old … I don’t believe in damn curses. Wake up the damn Bambino and have me face him. Maybe I’ll drill him in the ass, pardon me the word.”

Just as he gets by more on guile than his fastball on the mound, Martinez isn’t in position to boast anymore, so he played the misunderstood, scorned role. It’s how he built his competitive fire for Game 2 tonight when he starts against A.J. Burnett with the objective of giving the Phillies a 2-0 games lead and a grip on the World Series when it heads to Philadelphia Saturday.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel tabbed the mercenary Martinez because of his ability to handle the pressure of Yankee Stadium. Martinez played his relationship with Yankees fans for all it was worth.

“I don’t know if you realize this, but because of you guys in some ways, I might be at times the most influential player that ever stepped in Yankee Stadium. I can honestly say that,” Martinez said. “I have all the respect in the world for the way they enjoy being fans. Sometimes they might be giving you the middle finger, just like they will be cursing you and telling you what color underwear you’re wearing.”

Martinez also used the Zimmer brawl to his advantage. He said regrets the brawl and deflected blame by saying it wasn’t his fault, conveniently forgetting the fastball that hit Karim Garcia. That game also featured the snapshot of Martinez jawing with Jorge Posada while pointing his finger to his head. Martinez’s version was he was telling Posada to think, that he wasn’t throwing intentionally at the Yankees.

The Yankees’ version is different, saying he was warning Posada of what might happen next.

“It was an ugly scene,” Martinez said. “Zim charged me and I think he’s going to say something, but his reaction was totally the opposite, (he) was trying to punch my mouth and told me a couple of bad words about my mom. I just had to react and defend myself.

“It was something that we have to let go kind of, and forget about it, because it was a disgrace for baseball. Even though it wasn’t my fault, I was involved in it, and it’s one of the moments that I don’t like to see. I don’t like to see it because I’m not a violent man.”

Zimmer told reporters “Pedro is full of crap.”

MARTINEZ: Renewing acquaintances

MARTINEZ: Renewing acquaintances


To get the crowd fired up against Martinez, as if motivation was needed, it would have been interesting if Zimmer was on hand to throw out the first pitch. That’s my theatric side, but I know it wouldn’t happen.

Then, in an orchestrated gesture to avoid bad mouthing the Yankees, Martinez laid it all on the media, saying the New York press used and abused him. He spoke of how none of the media ever broke bread with him and got to know him a man, as if that were ever a possibility.

Scorned in the Bronx, Queens loved Martinez during his four-year, injury-plagued tenure with the Mets. Martinez was disappointed in not being offered the kind of contract he wanted with the Mets, but in the end walked away with $53 million. Martinez went 15-8 in 31 starts his first year with the Mets in 2005, but won only 17 games and made just 48 starts over the next three seasons.

Of course, beating the Yankees tonight also acts as a reminder to the Mets they made a mistake – in Martinez’s mind – for letting him go. The Yankees, the Mets, the press, Zimmer, the crowd, yes, Martinez will use them all to prepare himself psychologically and emotionally for tonight.

“I’m excited,” Martinez said. “I’m going to prepare, yeah, maybe, as another game, but deep down I know what it’s about. I know how real it is, and I don’t want to change it.”

Oct 29

Phillies take early control ….

When you’re only playing seven games at best, every game is important, with tonight’s Game 2 falling into the critical category for the Yankees. I don’t see them climbing out of two-game hole.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel tabbed Pedro Martinez over Cole Hamels for tonight, citing the former’s big-game presence and experience in New York and the later’s numbers pitching in Philly. In a duel of aces, Cliff Lee out-dealt CC Sabathia, and with the support of two Chase Utley homers, the Phillies gained early control of the series.

LEE: Accepts congratulations after whipping Yankees.

LEE: Accepts congratulations after whipping Yankees.


The victory put the Phillies, win or lose tonight, in position of not having to return to New York if they run the table at home. That’s doable.

Lee was magnificent last night while Sabathia was good enough to win, but also a bit rusty. Sabathia had his rest. Now, Yankees manager Joe Girardi must decide whether to pitch him in Game 5 on normal rest or Game 4 on short rest. Sabathia pitched well on short rest before, but how long before he’s gassed?

Meanwhile, the Phillies, who have a fourth starter, have the luxury of using Lee any manner they desire, and if they go short it would be for Game 7. Regarding starting pitching, the Phillies are deeper.

The Yankees’ vulnerability in the bullpen surfaced last night to the tune of four runs. Phil Hughes is not the answer. When given the opportunity, the Phillies went for the throat last night. The game could have been an even greater blowout had they taken advantage of several early chances against Sabathia.

The Yankees are dangerous when down, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them get to Martinez tonight. However, it also wouldn’t be a shock for Philadelphia to rough up AJ Burnett.

Yes, the Yankees can still win, but it means doing so on the road. They’ve won at Minnesota and Anaheim so far in the playoffs, but the Phillies are a clearly better team.

Oct 28

TALKIN’ BASEBALL: World Series, Game #1, CC vs. Lee.

Match-up of aces.

Match-up of aces.

Following tradition, the Yankees and Phillies will play their aces in Game 1 of the World Series tonight at Yankee Stadium with Cliff Lee going against CC Sabathia in a match-up of former Cleveland teammates and the last two AL Cy Young Award winners.

Game 1 sets the tone for the World Series, which is why both managers are going with their best tonight. You always throw your ace first because holding him back for Game 2 is a tacit admission their ace is better. You also throw your ace first because that gives you a chance to use him three times, with the last time on three days rest.

LEE: Phillies' Game 1 starter.

LEE: Phillies' Game 1 starter.


For example, should Charlie Manuel have held Lee back in anticipation of Sabathia winning Game 1, and then have him get lit up in Game 2, then the Phillies would have been in a huge hole even with the Series heading back to Philadelphia.

“This matchup couldn’t have been better,” said Manuel. “This is a big, premier game. I’m looking forward to it.”

This could be a special World Series featuring the two aces – a combined 5-0 this postseason by Lee and Sabathia – and two potent offenses.

“We’re going to see a lot of runs,” said Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte.

In Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez, the Phillies have four players with at least 30 homers. Meanwhile, the Yankees had seven players with at least 20.

There are so many players from either team who could find themselves on fate’s doorstep as possible heroes. Derek Jeter, for example, owns this time of year. With the game on the line, I’d want him at the plate as much as anybody when all I need is a single or sacrifice fly.

Would anybody be surprised if this went seven?

Oct 28

World Series Keys ….

I suppose it was going to come down to this all along, the Phillies against the Yankees in the World Series.

The Yankees, with the home field advantage because of the ridiculous All-Star Game gimmick, are considered the favorites. Would they be if the Phillies had the home field? I’m not so sure.

Looking at the match-ups, both teams are riding a hot ace and scorching bat, with the Phillies’ Cliff Lee and Ryan Howard against the Yankees’ CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez.

KEYS TO THE WORLD SERIES

KEYS TO THE WORLD SERIES


In looking at the match-ups, I’ll give the edge to the Yankees at catcher (only when Jorge Posada plays), shortstop (Derek Jeter lives for these moments and third base (Rodriguez seems to have shaken the October blues).

I’ll give the edge to the Phillies at first (I recognize the year Mark Teixeira had, but Howard is a monster), second (Chase Utley, for my money is one of the best players in the game), and all three outfield positions.

The starting rotations and bullpens are relatively even. Mariano Rivera is better than Brad Lidge, but Rivera can be negated because the bridge to him is tenuous. The Phillies’ offense is superior to that of Minnesota and the Angels, and once in the Yankees’ bullpen there’s no guarantee we’ll see Rivera.

Here are some of the more notable keys to this World Series:

1. KEY: Is Brad Lidge back from the dark side?
BREAKDOWN: Lidge blew 11 save opportunities this summer, but has been perfect in the postseason. If he’s regained his touch this is a huge factor to the Phillies.

2. KEY: Which superstar will have the bigger series?
BREAKDOWN: Both Ryan Howard and Alex Rodriguez tied Lou Gehrig’s record with RBI in eight straight postseason games. Rodriguez appears to have shaken his October blues, but there is one more round. Both have the ability to carry a team.

3. KEY: Will the Phillies be able to run on the Yankees’ catching?
BREAKDOWN: Philadelphia led the majors with an 81 percent success rate in stole bases. Once Chase Utley gets on, if he wants second it is his (23-for-23). The Phillies also like to run with Shane Victorino and Jimmy Rollins. Surprisingly, the Yankees were second. The Phillies can run on anybody, but they haven’t seen a move as good as Andy Pettitte’s.

4. KEY: Will the Phillies limit Mariano Rivera’s appearances?
BREAKDOWN: If Rivera gets four save opportunities, it’s a good bet the Yankees will win their 27th World Series title. However, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, the bridge to Rivera, has been rickety. Therefore, it is essential the Yankees will get innings from their starters to limit the bullpen exposure.

5. KEY: Will Cole Hamels return to prominence?
BREAKDOWN: Hamels, last year’s World Series MVP, had a miserable season. He’s pitched well in spots, but too often is vulnerable to the big inning.

6. KEY: Does Pedro Martinez have an encore in him?
BREAKDOWN: Assume for a moment CC Sabathia continues his roll in Game 1 and beats Cliff Lee. The Phillies would then need Martinez big time in Game 2 as falling down by two games would make defending their title difficult.

7. KEY: Will CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee continue to roll?
BREAKDOWN: Both have been virtually untouchable in the postseason and rightfully assume their roles as a No. 1. The Series could turn on who stumbles first.

8. KEY: Is there a rebound series for Mark Teixeira?
BREAKDOWN: Teixeira carried the Yankees for much of the season and had a hot ALDS against Minnesota. The Angels handcuffed him, but gave away that edge with their faulty defense. A hot Teixeira gives the Yankees another superstar bat.

9. KEY: Whose second level stars perform best?
BREAKDOWN: Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez vs. Johnny Damon, Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher. Both teams are loaded and both have the marquee names, but those on the undercard are also vitally important.

10. KEY: What happens in the AJ Burnett and Joe Blanton games?
BREAKDOWN: Both starters have the capacity to pitch big and small. To win a series, a team needs a solid start from its No. 3 and No. 4 starters.

Oct 27

World Series notebook ….

Expect to see the Phillies use Raul Ibanez as the DH for at least Game 1 of the World Series against lefty CC Sabathia.

GIRARDI: Has some decisions to make.

GIRARDI: Has some decisions to make.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi is undecided about going with a three-game rotation. Chad Gaudin could get a start in Game 4. No doubt, Girardi might be thinking he’s pressing his luck by going with Sabathia on three days rest again.

Girardi also said the Eric Hinske could be activated for the Series. The Yankees may also opt to add a reliever. To accommodate, the Yankees would likely go back to carrying two catchers instead of three.

POSADA: Still wants to catch Burnett.

POSADA: Still wants to catch Burnett.

Jose Molina is still on for starting behind the plate to catch AJ Burnett. Don’t expect the Yankees to use Jorge Posada as the DH when Molina catches because if he has to replace him behind the plate the Yankees would lose the DH.

After a horrendous regular season in which he blew 11 save opportunities, Brad Lidge returned to form in the playoffs with three saves and a victory without giving up a run. A strong Lidge gives the Phillies a similar presence to what the Yankees enjoy with Mariano Rivera. Of course, nobody matches Rivera, but if Lidge is on his game and the Phillies lead late, the odds are against a blown save that would bring Rivera into the game.