Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Pedro Martinez has lost the velocity of his fastball as his Hall of Fame career has progressed, but nothing else.He still has arguably the best changeup in the game, and locates it, a 89 mile-per-hour fastball, and a snail-slow curve effectively. He has a whip-like delivery, which adds deception and puzzles the opposition as to what pitch is coming their way.By mixing his pitches, with the ability to throw any pitch in any count, he keeps hitters guessing. Throughout his Hall of Fame career, opponents have often guessed wrong.
In Game Two of the World Series, the New York Yankees guessed wrong early. Many of their hitters have experience against Martinez, but not this Martinez.
When he pitched with the Boston Red Sox from 1998 through 2004, they faced him with regularity. But that was the Martinez who worked his off-speed pitches off his fastball.
This Martinez, who was seeking revenge against a once-bitter rival, has pitched in the National League ever since he left Boston, and as he reached his late 30’s, he became more of a control pitcher, working his fastball off his devastating off-speed pitches.
To begin his outing against Derek Jeter, the Yankee captain with whom he had many duels during the rivalry years, he threw a first-pitch changeup for a ball, and then three more. He worked in a curveball, and then another changeup to bring the count full.
It wasn’t until the seventh pitch of the at-bat that a fastball was thrown. And it was a dandy, as Jeter swung right through the deception and movement.
He didn’t even feature a fastball to the next hitter, Johnny Damon, managing to strike him out with four changeups and a slider. He worked both sides of the plate to both hitters, and when he did challenge them, as he did Jeter with the last offering, the fastball had so much movement and pep to it that it was nearly impossible to make good contact, or even to make contact at all.
Matt “The Professional Hitter” Stairs , 41 years old and in his 17th year, broke a scoreless tie in the second with a two-out, sharply-hit single that snuck under Alex Rodriguez’s glove at third base.
It was a play Rodriguez probably should have made, and maybe he took that error officially scored a hit with him to the batters box. Or maybe it was just Martinez that stumped him.
The slugger who struck out three times in Game One against an unbelievable Cliff Lee fouled off two changeups to begin the bottom of the second, aggressively attempting to make up for Stairs' grounder with one swing.
Martinez missed with a fastball, evidently just low, and then Rodriguez continued to take his hacks, fouling off four straight fastballs.
Martinez knew who to challenge, and when to stop challenging them over the course of an at-bat. The fastball wasn’t fooling Rodriguez, and if he threw it many more times consecutively, odds were Rodriguez would have connected and launched a shot deep.
So, he mixed up his repertoire, throwing a slider that Rodriguez tapped foul, and then a fastball purposefully located high.
He offset the heater with something Rodriguez didn’t expect, the first curveball of the battle. It began in Rodriguez’s kitchen, which made up his mind: swing. Then, the ball dropped off, landing in Rodriguez’s basement. Rodriguez missed it by a mile; strike three, one out.
Aside from benefiting from a great diving catch by left-fielder Raul Ibanez to thwart what could have led to a big second inning for New York, Martinez was in control for the next three innings.
His only mistake over those three, and the first five altogether for that matter, was costly. He missed with a changeup barely off the plate inside against Teixeira to begin the fourth inning, and then tried the same pitch. The second changeup, unlike the first, rolled into the strike zone.
It was located well, tailing to the outer portion of the plate, but the offering hung ever so slightly. That was enough for Teixeira, who turned on it, whacking it into the left-field bullpen for the tying run and just his fourth RBI of this postseason.
Martinez stared blankly at the black-clad fans, pondering the small yet damaging mistake in location, but recollected himself and became the Martinez who tossed three scoreless frames.
Rodriguez got under an inside fastball, flying out to left field, and after a walk to Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano flied out to center field. And Jerry Hairston, who was thrown sliders and changeups in the second inning, saw all fastballs and struck out as Martinez’s fifth victim.
Martinez threw Melky Cabrera all changeups to begin the sixth, and sent him down swinging. His 12-to-6 curveball resulted in a weakly hit groundout by A.J. Burnett’s personal catcher Jose Molina.
Then, after a double by Jeter, with the crowd on its feet, Damon skied a curveball to Howard at first, ending the frame and the threat.
To start the sixth, Martinez struck out Teixeira, throwing four changeups and a curveball, then struck out Rodriguez with an entirely different approach—three fastballs in succession and a changeup.
He allowed nine home runs during the regular season and all were solo shots. He allowed one to Teixeira in the fourth, and another to Matsui in this sixth. He threw a good pitch, a curveball, but Matsui somehow managed to connect solidly with the pitch at his ankles and muscle it into the left field seats.
At the 99-pitch mark after six innings, he talked to manager Charlie Manuel in the dugout and told him he felt fine and could pitch the seventh. He thought he had something left, just like in Game Seven of the 2003 American League Championship Series against the Yankees, but really didn’t.
His over-confidence certainly didn’t work in the ALCS then, and not in Game Two of the 2009 World Series, as he uncharacteristically left his pitches up, even his offspeed junk, which resulted in two singles by the Yankees to begin the seventh. These two hitters, Hairston and Cabrera were his final two.
He walked off the mound, pointed to the Gods, then as boos reigned throughout his favorite place to pitch, he looked into the hecklers' eyes and cracked a wry smile upon entering the dugout.
He pitched brilliantly . Teixeira and Matsui just put together a pair of good swings, and fatigue set in in the seventh.
Pedro didn’t collect the win, nor did his Phillies, but though he would have loved to shut up the 60,000-plus and duplicate Lee’s complete game, he managed to make a majority of the Yankees lineup look ridiculous, and quiet the jeers from his favorite fans.