A.J. Burnett had a terrific start last night, as if unaware that millions of people were completely freaked out about his ability to do so, and a few of the Yankee hitters recovered from Wednesday’s Cliff Lee-induced trauma, and so New York beat Philly 3-1 to even the series. And yet, naturally, the first thing I want to write about is Pedro.
“I know they really wanna root for me,” said Pedro of Yankees fans, smiling in what appeared to be a zoot suit stolen from the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, shortly after (he claims) lecturing a man in the front row about using foul language in front of his daughter. “It’s just that I don’t play for the Yankees. That’s all. I’ve always been a good competitor, and they love that… You know, I’m a New Yorker as well, so – if I was on the Yankees, I’d be a king over here.”
He’s right, of course. Personally, I always appreciate athletes who understand that they’re also entertainers, and nobody gets that more than Pedro. He gets the fans, he gets the media, he plays his part with flair – he was a great villain; his ego is, to put it politely, healthy, but he’s backed it up often enough. By the end of 2003 I disliked him about as much as I’ve ever disliked a player (at least, a player who hadn’t committed some actual crime), but I’ve long since come around. It was seeing him on the Mets that mostly did it, watching him pitch smarter as he got slower, loved by the fans and his teammates no matter how often he was injured, and of course always good for a quote. And I suppose it was also realizing that he would be retiring soon, if not this year, and you won’t have Pedro to kick around anymore. I can’t wait for his Hall of Fame induction speech.
Pedro was going to be the story tonight no matter what he did, which is probably fine by him, and he pitched very well – but as far as the Yankees are concerned, the bigger news was A.J. Burnett’s excellent start. I think most fans knew he was capable of it, but didn’t dare to expect it. His curveball was a knockout punch, and he was refreshingly free of control issues: seven innings pitched, nine strikeouts, only two walks. There were moments in the game’s first half when he seemed like he might be teetering on the brink of chaos, but he never quite lost control: one second-inning run on a blooped ground-rule double and a single that probably should’ve been an E5 was all the Phillies got.
That was a good thing, too, since for the first chunk of the game, the Yankee bats were becalmed and the Stadium was way too quiet. Pedro and his sneaky stuff deserves the credit, but I wonder if he got any kind of assist from a Cliff Lee hangover. In the fourth inning, though, Mark Teixeira (it’s aliiiiiive!) whacked an 84 mph changeup over the right field fence to tie the game.
Hideki Matsui gave the Yankees the lead with another solo shot in the sixth, and I never call these things, but I have to say: I called that one. The Phillies got five-plus excellent innings and 90 pitches out of 2009 Pedro, against the Yankees no less, and I thought to ask for too much more than that was to push their luck.
Then in the seventh, a funny thing happened: Pedro Martinez stayed in the game. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Even six years ago, everyone watching the ALCS at home knew that after about 100 pitches, give or take, Pedro’s effectiveness took a nosedive – as great as he was then, he didn’t have a ton of stamina. Everyone knew it, and everyone was screaming it at Grady Little’s impassive face on their TV, yet here we are many years and multiple Martinez surgeries later… I don’t mean to make too much of it, probably the Yankees win this one anyway, with that Burnett start and Mariano Rivera. It’s just that if you pulled some random casual baseball fan off the couch and put him or her in a dugout, this is probably the one mistake they would absolutely know not to make.
Anyway, the much-maligned Jerry Hairston Jr. singled, and Brett Gardner ran for him, advancing to third on Melky Cabrera’s single. Jorge Posada came up to pinch-hit, but we were all denied the drama of that matchup when Manuel finally strolled to the mound and summoned Chan Ho Park. Posada singled anyway; 3-1 Yankees. Derek Jeter then struck out on a foul bunt. That’s right, he was bunting with two on and no outs, Yanks up by two in the seventh, and he kept bunting with two strikes, and then he struck out on a foul bunt, and I don’t want to talk about it.
In other Bad-For-Baseball news, the umpires then blew a call when Johnny Damon’s line drive was called an out in the air, though it looked like in fact it had hit the ground before Ryan Howard caught it, and so Posada was called out too, doubled off. I have run out of umpire jokes. The Phillies got screwed the very next inning, when Chase Utley and his hair were called out at first to complete a DP against Mariano Rivera; it looked on replays like he was most likely safe. Ragging on the umps is an ancient and respected part of baseball tradition, but things are getting out of hand.
Mariano Rivera had a choppy eighth inning, but persevered, and the ninth was more like it. The Yankees now head to Philly, and to paraphrase Ol’ Blue Eyes, if you can’t hit a ton of home runs there you can’t hit a ton of home runs anywhere.
Discussion question: if you were picking a baseball-related Halloween costume, what would you pick? And is there any way to go as an umpire without being insensitive to the visually impaired?