We were just here, weren’t we? Pedro Martinez taking the mound at Yankee Stadium in the World Series, facing off against the team that became his archenemy in the 2000s, in front of a crowd that hates him as much as it respects him.
It feels different, though, and not just because it’s a bit chillier, a bit more November. It’s not just the difference in the series, although that’s part of the equation. Martinez, who worked Game Two with house money and a chance to give the Phillies a chokehold on a repeat title, now takes the mound in an elimination game against a team that has scored 21 runs since we left them and, despite a loss in Game Five, looks more like the team that scored 915 runs during the regular season than it has in these playoffs.
Maybe we’re just jaded, having seen the act in Game Two and walked away impressed, but not wowed. Martinez got through the Yankees on guile last week, giving up two big solo home runs and two singles after he should have been excused from the premises, and while it was entertaining and skillful, it wasn’t the kind of performance that leaves you breathless. Martinez was effective, not dominant, and the task in front of him tonight is much more difficult. Having hamstrung his lineup in that first game, Joe Girardi tonight runs out the starters, with Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada instead of Jerry Hairston Jr. and Jose Molina, and Brett Gardner playing center field for the injured Melky Cabrera. The Yankees start seven left-handed batters or switch-hitters, and the other two guys can play a little. As mentioned, Martinez’s bag of tricks doesn’t work quite so well against one of those groups; he struck out 30% of the right-handed batters he faced in 2009, and just 11% of the lefties. Lefties did the damage in Game Two, hitting two homers, two singles and drawing a walk in 16 PAs.
Martinez’ success in his starts this season has been somewhat related to the number of left-handed batters he was facing (pitchers excluded, postseason included):
Three: 0 R in 7 IP (one start)
Four: 10 R in 22 2/3 IP (four starts)
Five: 7 R in 14 IP (four starts
Six: 4 R in 14 IP (two starts)
I’m not that excited about the sample sizes here-Martinez had two rain-shortened starts in the “five” bin and both of the two starts in the “six” bin came against whatever passed as the Mets towards the end of the year. Still, Martinez did have most of his success when facing lineups that included a lot of right-handed batters. His dominant start in the NLCS was against a Dodgers team starting just three lefty batters.
I was hoping to find information about teams facing Martinez a second time, but the late start to his season left few data points. The only team he saw twice was the Mets, and the two starts were 20 days apart. My sense is that the deception he relied upon the first time around won’t work as well the second, but I have nothing with which to back that up, and to some extent, Pettitte will be facing the same challenge. It’s probably a wash.
No, the seven lefthanded batters in the Yankees’ lineup, Brett Gardner the worst of the bunch, are the main concern. It’s entirely possible that we’ll see more of J.A. Happ tonight than we will Martinez, given the possibility of short and brutal start. If it becomes a bullpen game-no one here expects Pettitte to work deep into the game-that clearly favors the team with more good arms and one very special one to close out the game.