Friday, October 30, 2009

Another Pitching Duel

Twice this postseason Pedro Martinez has pitched very good, and twice this postseason, the Phillies have lost, squandering excellent starts by the old goat. You gotta feel bad for the guy, what with having the best offense in the National League behind him failing to put up any runs.

Of course, the reason the Phils were silent at the plate was A.J. Burnett. The guy was just filthy last night, the best I've ever seen him. A pitcher who has been notoriously wild in his career had pinpoint control last night, and his sharp curveball was giving the Phillies fits last night. Hats off to A.J. last night. He put forth an incredible outing. Now go fuck yourself, A.J.

Prior to last night's gem, Burnett had struggled in the playoffs, posting an ERA somewhere around 5. And with 37-year-old Pedro starting in cooler weather, most people expected a game full of runs. Game 1 was supposed to be the pitchers duel, which of course it was, while game 2 was supposed showcase the two potent lineups, with fireworks galore. Funny how things work out, isn't it?

It was evident from the first inning that both pitchers had brought their A stuff. Burnett set down the Phils 1-2-3 and was pounding the strike zone. There was nothing wild about his performance. Pedro simply starting things off by striking out Derek Jeter, then Johnny Damon and finally getting Mark Teixeira to pop out. I had a good feeling the old goat was going to dig down deep and come up with a big performance. And in the second inning, when Raul Ibanez dropped in a two-out ground rule double by poking another nasty Burnett pitch into left and Matt Stairs followed with a single to drive him home, I thought the Phils had gotten to Burnett, that the big righty was ready to unravel, lose his command and let the Phils break things wide open. He did not.

Instead, Burnett didn't let a bloop hit off the end of the bat by Raul or the single by Stairs that went right under Alex Rodriguez's glove slow him down. Not one bit. Nope. Burnett went out there and showed why the Yankees paid so much money for him, showed that nasty stuff that is as good as anyone's. He was on last night. The Yankees needed a big performance from Burnett, and they got it.

The fact that a guy who reminds me of Kid Rock pitched so damn well against the Phillies angers me, but such is life. A.J. showed up big time. A big key for his success came in the 3rd inning. Already trailing 1-0, Burnett walked Jimmy Rollins with one out. Then Shane Victorino grounded out for out number 2, but Burnett followed that up by walking Chase Utley. Perhaps the wildness was finally getting to him. Up stepped Howard with two on and two out. This is the spot the big man has been relishing this postseason, the spot where he has come through time and time again. But not this time. Burnett, with his filth, got Howard on strikes, a familiar occurrence last night. Howard finished with the golden sombrero, and it couldn't have come at a worse time.

Still, things were going reasonably well. No one really thought one run would hold up against the Yankees, but Pedro was dealing. Through three innings, he had shut down the Yanks, striking out 4 and commanding the strike zone. Pedro looked like the Pedro of old again. But he wasn't getting any help from his offense. Burnett was keeping the Phils at bay, and he was killing them by getting strike one to just about every hitter. Finally in the 4th, however, the Phils got their leadoff man on via a Jayson Werth single. That rally was killed quickly when Werth inexplicably wandered too far off first base and got picked off by Jose Molina on a snap throw to first. It was pathetic and inexcusable. At least once every few series, Werth does something stupid like that. The World Series is no time for such brain cramps. And for fuck's sake, Jayson, why didn't you slide? It probably doesn't matter anyway, because Molina had you dead to rights, but damn. That was awful.

To make matters worse, the Yanks tied it in the bottom of the inning on a home run by Teixeira. Looking for a changeup, Teixeira launched one that was down and outside into the center field bullpen. Honestly, it wasn't even a bad pitch by Pedro. It was on the outer half of the plate and down. Teixeira just got the better of him on that one. That's not good. Tex has been struggling at the plate in his normal October fashion. Hopefully that's not the swing that wakes him up. We could use more slumping out of him. And did I mention that I hate Teixeira's douchey face? No? Well mark this down, I hate Mark Teixeira's douchey face.

The thing about this Phillies team is that whenever the other team pushes, the Phils seem to push back. And in the 5th, it looked like they were about to do that. Carlos Ruiz got things going with a one-out double, bringing the top of the lineup to the plate. This was Jimmy's chance to get the Phils back on top and put the pressure back on the Yankees. Instead, Jimmy struck out swinging on a low, inside curveball, the same pitch he had been swinging at and missing all night. It was a good at-bat until that point, working Burnett to a full count, but Jimmy couldn't lay off a pitch that everyone in my house knew was coming. And that's bad baseball. All night long, Burnett had been putting Phillies away with two strikes by throwing that nasty curve. Against Jimmy specifically, he kept throwing it down and in, almost on his toes, and Jimmy kept chasing. Instead of adjusting like a good hitter is supposed to do, Jimmy flailed at it again, this time in a huge spot. That at-bat is the killer at-bat playing over and over in my head. Shane failed to pick Jimmy up, popping out, and unfortunately, it looks as though Shane's big loop is back in his swing. That's never a good thing.

From there, it was Pedro and Burnett matching each other pitch for pitch. The question was, who would make the first mistake? Unfortunately for Phils, it was Pedro. Martinez was cruising along, striking out Teixeira and A-Rod to lead off the 6th, and then getting ahead of Hideki Matsui 0-2. Could he strike out the side this deep into the game? Yes, please. Well, no, he couldn't. Pedro threw an offspeed pitch down at the toes, and Matsui dropped the head, sending it deep into the right field bleachers. 2-1 Yanks. It's hard to kill Pedro, who pitched an excellent game, but there's no question he missed his spot there. My roommates and Tim McCarver were saying how he golfed it out off the ground, hard to blame Pedro. Bullshit. Matsui, and a lot of lefthanded hitters, love the ball down and in so they can drop the head right on it. The pitch was supposed to be away. That's where Ruiz was set up. But Pedro yanked it and it went inside. Then it went out of the park. It was a mistake pitch, and it was costly. Still, one run wasn't going to cut it anyway.

When Ibanez and Stairs both went down looking to begin the 7th, I was getting pissed. Burnett had been going to the curveball all night with two strikes. How the fuck could both of them get frozen on it? Seriously, had they not paid attention to what A.J. was doing all game? What the fuck? Get your head out of your asses, guys. If I know what pitch is coming, you definitely should. It's kind of your job. I'm not saying you would have done anything with it, not the way Burnett was tossing and how nasty that thing was, but damn, don't just stand there and watch it. Pathetic.

As far as Charlie's decision to send Pedro out there for the 7th, I was in 100 percent agreement. I really was. Pedro was dealing. He got hurt on two pitches, the same way CC had in game 1, but was otherwise motoring along. Of course, Pedro gave up two hits and then came out, and that extra run came across, making the game almost out of reach against Mariano Rivera, but Charlie had to send Pedro back out there. He just had to.

The real move that will be second-guessed to the end of time is his decision not to start the runners on a 3-2 count with one out in the 8th. Let's face the facts, you aren't going to get many opportunities to get to Mariano Rivera. Just not happening. The guy is the greatest closer to ever roam the earth and as close to unbeatable as they come. But last night, the Phils had their chance in the 8th inning, when Rivera came in with a 3-1 lead for the two-inning save.

After Chooch grounded out, Rollins worked an awesome at-bat, getting Rivera, the man who never walks anyone, to walk him. Then Shane followed with a single through the hole on the right side. The tying run was on first with one out. When you get the chance to get to Rivera, you have to take it, because you never know when your next chance will come. Chase worked himself to a 3-2 count, and Tim McCarver said the Phils had to start the runners. Everyone seemed to agree. Charlie did not, and Chase, who never grounds into double plays, grounded into an inning-ending double play. Replays showed Utley actually had beaten it out and should have been safe, but the Phils also got a call go their way earlier, on the double play Howard caught but didn't actually catch. Doesn't excuse the umpiring, but it certainly brings to light that the Phils should have been running on the play.

With the fastest guys on the team, Rollins and Victorino, on the base paths, you just had to start them. Had to. In his postgame press conference, Charlie said he didn't start them because a) Chase doesn't ground into double plays, b) he didn't want Jimmy to get thrown out at third because Posada had a clear shot to third with the lefthanded Utley at the plate, c) he didn't want Chase to line into a double play and d) he wanted Howard to hit. Here's the problem with those things. For starters, Chase doesn't swing and miss often, so getting Jimmy at third would be tough, especially since Posada throws like a girl. As far as Howard hitting, I get that, but I'd take Jayson Werth with the bases loaded as well. And the line drive thing, well, you have to take some risks, and Buck Showalter said it best: the Phils were already up 1 game to none, so why not be aggressive and go all out? I agree with all those sentiments. Though to be fair, Chase was safe at first, which means he really didn't ground into a double play. And Charlie let the reporters know it, telling them that Chase was safe.

Either way, if he had started the runners, there would have been no chance at a double play. The umpires wouldn't have even come into play. Such is life, I guess. From there, Rivera shut the door and the series is all tied up at one apiece. A successful split, coming back to Citizens Bank needing just three wins, but another wasted good outing by Pedro leaves a bitter taste. A 2-0 lead would be looking mighty nice.

Really, the highlight of the night for the Phils, besides Pedro, was this catch by Raul in the 2nd. Other than that, the bats were silent and the Yanks simply refused to go down 0-2. A.J. earned this one. And I hate him for it.

The good news is the Phils have stolen home field advantage, and coming back to Philly tomorrow just three wins away from another parade sounds good to me. I think they got three more in them.

LET'S GO PHILS!!!!!!!!!!!

BallHype: hype it up!


  1. Cant complain about too much. But our were making andy reid-like adjustments on AJs curve.

    Sending the runners is really really borderline, obviously. With the speed on the bases it really skews towards going, but in most situations you dont go there. If it was a RH hitter it would completely lean towards sending them. But thats a big deal. And even though Chase doesnt swing and miss much, he could always get the backwards k(also unlikely but whatever).

    Chollys history is pretty much never sending anyone if it has the potential to prevent Howard from batting with runners on. Its not a necessity to get Shane over to 2nd for him either. If Chase flew out or struckout, a decent amount of Howards hits would score him anyway (read: HR, double,... triple?).

    I likely would have sent them if it was me. But adding all of that up, along with Jeter actually holding Rollins on somewhat, it's hard to pull the trigger. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but we werent likely to win that one either way.

  2. How do you see this thing pickin' back up over the weekend? I was at a concert last night, and missed the whole damn thing.

  3. I gotta give credit to AJ Burnett, his game on Thursday was truly on point. That's the reason why folks invest all that money in him, to see him put it together on the biggest stage. Don't think he'll ever put it together start by start, but that's a HAYOOGE win for the Yankees.

    I think game 4 will be the biggest game, because both pitchers will be mediocre at best. See how much firepower each lineup and bullpen truly has.