Andy Pettitte against Pedro Martinez, with the Yankees one win from ecstasy.
Now that’s a World Series matchup worth talking about.
Still stalking that elusive 27th championship, New York turns to Pettitte once again in Game 6 on Wednesday night, hoping he can pitch his team past Chase Utley and the Philadelphia Phillies on only three days’ rest.
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“I think everybody knew it was going to be a great Series. I think everybody knew it was going to be a tough Series. And it looks like it’s living up to that,” Pettitte said Tuesday.
His familiar foe is pumped up, too. Martinez and Pettitte have faced each other six times on the mound – but never with the stakes so high.
“Two old goats out there doing the best they can and having fun with it,” Martinez said. “I don’t have enough words to describe how excited I am about being here. This is just a great gift to me.”
After wasting a chance to wrap things up in Game 5 at Philadelphia, the Yankees set their sights on clinching at home. They’d love to christen their $1.5 billion ballpark with a World Series crown in its first season and give a seventh title to 79-year-old owner George Steinbrenner.
They’ve got two chances to do it. Game 7 would be Thursday night in the Bronx, if necessary, with ace CC Sabathia pitching for New York – also on short rest.
“People expect us to be great all the time. We just need to be great tomorrow night,” Johnny Damon said.
Coming off an 8-6 victory Monday night that trimmed their Series deficit to 3-2, the defending champion Phillies took the train to New York on Tuesday afternoon, a ride that takes a little more than an hour. They chose not to work out at Yankee Stadium, but their opponents did.
Martinez and Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel showed up at the ballpark for news conferences. Manuel was uncertain whether All-Star center fielder Shane Victorino would be able to play in Game 6 after getting hit in the right hand with A.J. Burnett‘s 95 mph fastball Monday night.
If Victorino can’t go, Ben Francisco would likely start in center.
Riding Utley’s homers, the Phillies are trying to become the first team to rally from a 3-1 World Series deficit since the 1985 Kansas City Royals – and the first NL club to win consecutive championships since the 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds.
To do it, Philadelphia might need Ryan Howard to break out of his untimely slump. The big slugger is batting .158 (3 for 19) with 12 strikeouts, tying the Series record set by Kansas City’s Willie Wilson in 1980.
Utley, however, is doing more than his share. His five home runs matched the mark set by Yankees Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson in 1977.
“We have left a lot of pitches in the middle of the plate,” New York catcher Jorge Posada said. “We probably need to make him feel a little bit more uncomfortable.”
If the Yankees have a late lead, look for Mariano Rivera earlier than usual.
Second-year manager Joe Girardi confirmed that he won’t hesitate to use his well-rested closer for multiple innings Wednesday.
“I’m not worried about my legacy,” said Girardi, trying to guide New York to its first title in nine years.
Pettitte and Martinez first squared off 11 years ago, but they’ve never done so in the postseason. Both pitchers are 3-3 in six matchups, all games between the Yankees and Red Sox from 1998-2003. The visitor has won each time and Martinez has a 3.86 ERA to Pettitte’s 5.88, according to STATS LLC.
With so much on the line this time, it’s a delicious matchup of gritty pros in their late 30s, long past their primes. The forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-40s at game time, with no rain.
“It’s going to be a great game to watch,” Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher said. “It’s a great place to close it out.”
The 38-year-old Martinez pitched well in a Game 2 loss at Yankee Stadium and now gets the ball on regular rest for the first time since mid-September. He’s had several long layoffs since.
“I’ve got no choice but to expect that it will help me. I feel really good,” he said.
The 37-year-old Pettitte, on the other hand, will have only three days between starts for the first time since Sept. 30, 2006, with Houston. According to STATS, the savvy left-hander is 5-7 with a 4.18 ERA in 18 such outings during his career, including the postseason.
“I really don’t think there’s that big of a difference,” Pettitte insisted. “I think just mentally people make such a big deal about it because it’s just not done very often anymore.”
Pettitte has worked on extra rest in his past eight starts dating to Sept. 11, but he has a knack for closing this time of year. He owns 17 postseason wins and five that ended series – both big league records. Two of those clinchers came in the AL playoffs this year.
Pettitte is 3-0 with a 3.24 ERA in four starts this postseason, including a Game 3 win at Philadelphia. No wonder the Yankees have plenty of confidence in him when it comes to big games.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who have been through this before,” Sabathia said. “Hopefully, that experience will carry us through.”
Martinez, who sat out the first half of the season and signed with the Phillies in mid-July, will be trying to push the Series to a seventh game for the first time since 2002.
“I think he’s ready. I think he’s kind of peaking at the right time,” Manuel said. “Yeah, he’s capable of throwing a real good game.”