Pedro Martinez was one pitch away from duplicating Cliff Lee’s Game 1 feat, striking out the three best Yankees in order, and making it look easy. Lee struck out Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada in the fourth inning last night, and it was the defining moment of the evening: No one was gonna touch Lee. Tonight, Pedro – who, no matter your cheering persuasion, is an electric, mesmerizing performer – almost one-upped Lee. In the sixth inning, with the score tied 1-1, Pedro K’d Teixiera and A-Rod, making them look downright silly. He had Hideki Matsui down 1-2 and that Pedro feet-just-a-couple-of-inches-off-the-ground vibe we’ve seen him have for so many years. He threw a Bugs Bunny curveball toward Matsui’s feet, a waste pitch to see if he’d chase it. Matsui did: He chased it 320 feet just over the right field wall. It was right there, one ridiculous swing on one ridiculous pitch, that Lee and Pedro diverged. Tonight, it was enough.
Sure, Charlie Manuel might have pulled a – all together now – Grady Little by bringing Pedro back out for the seventh inning (where he gave up a run without recording an out), but that sixth inning was all the cushion the Yankees needed. Because they had A.J. Burnett on the mound.
Strange statement to make, right? Burnett, who even when he’s pitching well seems perilously on the precipice of implosion, threw arguably the best game of the Yankees’ postseason, striking out nine batters, giving up just four hits and setting down the last eight batters he faced. You kept waiting for his breakdown – it was pretty hairy there in the third – but he kept growing stronger. In the fifth and sixth innings, he looked as dominant as he has all season. No better time for it than a vital Game Two of the World Series. Burnett was so sharp that even Jorge Posada must have smiled.
The Yankees ended up winning Game 2 3-1 tonight, and it’s a good thing, because if Mariano Rivera had given up a three-run homer to Chase Utley in the top of the eighth, rather than forced him into a double play, the Kill The Umpires movement of this postseason might have megamorphed into a full-blown revolution.
In that bottom of the seventh, the one that Manuel kept in Pedro for, the Yankees had runners on first and second, one out, with Johnny Damon at the plate. Damon hit a soft line drive to first baseman Ryan Howard, who appeared to scoop the ball on a short hop. He seemed to think so too, because he threw to second base (wild) to get the lead runner. But the umps – much to the fury of Joe Girardi – ruled the ball a line-drive out (replays, which will Slow Down The Game As Well As Destroying Its Delicate Fabric, clearly showed the ball hitting the ground) and thus a double play. It cost the Yankees at least one run, and possibly more. And if Rivera had given up the homer to Utley, it might have cost them the game. The umps might not have made it out alive.
So, you know, good thing he’s Mariano Rivera, and Utley hit into a double play. If you ask us, though, Derek Jeter’s inexplicable failed bunt with two on and nobody out in that seventh set the Yankees up for doom anyway. (Ken Tremendous/Mose Schrute from Fire Joe Morgan called it “quite literally the stupidest play I have ever seen in a baseball game,” and we are loathe to disagree.) So yet another disaster escaped.
Thus, here we are, heading to Philadelphia for Saturday evening, with a split. This is the exact World Series scenario the Phillies were in last year, right before they swept the Rays in Philadelphia to clinch the title at home. (Many parallels here: It might even rain this weekend too, just like last year.) No reason to worry about that now, though. The Yankees dodged a serious bullet tonight, and they’ll need only one win in Philly to assure a trip back home. They could be far worse off. It’s time to take a night away – talk to the family! see a movie! pet your dog! – and collect one’s senses. Because this Series has the looks of one that’s going to last a long time. And it has looks of one that’s gonna go a little nuts.
Oh, by the way, nobody bring up that Alex Rodriguez is 0-for-8 with six strikeouts. Shhh! Series is tied. Don’t make trouble.