World Series Game Two: All Eyes on the Mound

↵It's cheap to call Game Two of any series a must-win. Yet, with the way the World Series is scheduled – two games in Yankee Stadium, three in Citizens Bank Park, then two back in the Bronx – there is a lot more pressure on the Yankees to even the series at one game apiece than there would be, say, if the Phillies had lost Game One and were trying to tie things up. In other words, it will be very difficult for the Yankees to win two games in Philly, let alone two games while carrying the added weight of an 0-2 series deficit. ↵

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↵So, in a way, Game Two is a must win for the Yankees. And who better to start the game for the Yankees in this situation than ... A.J. Burnett. Wait, that's not good. ↵

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↵When the game begins tonight – after hearing that Jay-Z "Empire State of Mind" song for literally the 10,000th time in the last three days – Burnett will be facing a Phillies team that has fared quite well against him. In his career, the Phils have the highest batting average (.263) and OPS (.784) of any team he's faced more than seven times (fourth highest overall). And according to baseball-reference.com his tOPS+ – used, in this case, to measure how good a player performed against one team when compared to his average (100) – is 128, the fourth-worst of any team he's faced and, again, the worst of any team he's faced more than seven times. ↵

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↵Maybe Burnett should tip his hat to the Phillies and call them his daddy. ↵

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↵Oh, that's right, how Burnett pitches in Game Two may not even matter, because the Phillies are throwing Pedro Martinez against the Yankees. If there are not at least two 'Men Who Stare At Goats' references for Pedro tonight, Joe Buck is not doing his job. All week, people on sports talk radio and internet scribes have been debating the decision to pitch Pedro in Game Two, in the cold, on the road, against the Yankees. Charlie does remember 2004, right? Pedro, then pitching for Boston and clearly not as dominant as he once was, lost a September game against his team's arch rival and gave one of the most memorable quotes in the history of the sport. ↵

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↵⇥"What can I say? I tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddy." ↵
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↵Pedro then fared poorly in the ALCS against New York that year as well. And we all remember the Zim incident. But it's interesting, because overall in his career, Pedro has been decent against the Yankees. His career record is mediocre (11-11) but he does have a 4.14K/BB and his tOPS+ is 98, meaning he's fared slightly better than average against Yankees hitters. Clearly not "my daddy" status for normal pitchers, but Pedro Martinez has never been a normal pitcher. He's got this lore about him – almost a mystique – that makes every big game he pitches seem bigger. ↵

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↵'Daddy' aside, Manuel doesn't have any other options, really. Pitching J.A. Happ would mean three straight lefties against a righty-heavy Yankee lineup and Joe Blanton has not fared well against the Bombers in his career as a starter. Besides, it's New York and it's the World Series – this is why you signed Pedro. ↵

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↵Martinez, who just turned 38 years old this week, can still play the New York media anytime he wants. Take this epic quote from his press conference in advance of Game Two ( listen to the entire clip if you have the time, really): ↵

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↵⇥"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." ↵
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↵Pedro basically told the New York media that the way they covered him during his career, including constant attacks in the papers – he referenced a graphic of him with devil horns and a tail – helped make him, in a way, bigger than Babe Ruth. Bigger than Jeter. It's brilliant, really. If the media in New York attack him for the comment, they're just fulfilling the prophecy. If they ignore it, they aren't really doing their jobs, are they? ↵

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↵And that's Pedro Martinez. He always seems to be in control of the situation, even when he's relegated to throwing the Hall-of-Fame equivalent of slop as a midseason pickup for the defending World Champions. If he can handcuff the Yankee hitters like he handcuffs the Yankee media, it's going to be tough for New York to bounce back. ↵

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↵As for the game itself, Pedro has habitually struggled in the early innings, having far poorer numbers in his first 25 pitches than later in the game. Burnett is the opposite, pitching better in the early innings and having much worse numbers facing batters for the second or third time in a game. The Yankees will need to get to Pedro early, because the longer the Phillies can stay in Game Two, the better chance they have of getting to Burnett. For those who picked the Phillies in five or six games, this is the game they expect to lose – nobody could anticipate going to Yankee Stadium and coming out with anything better than a split. If Pedro can show flashes of his old self and exorcise some 'daddy demons,' it could be a very short series. That said, if Burnett can figure out a way to keep men off base and hold this Phillies lineup to minimal damage, the Yankees could be in great shape heading into a Cole Hamels-Andy Pettitte matchup in Game Three. ↵

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↵So cheap or not, maybe this is a must-win for both teams. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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