Thursday, October 29, 2009


The old cliche is true. In baseball, momentum is the next day's starting pitcher.

And for the Phillies coming off last night's gem by Cliff "I now own Philadelphia's heart" Lee, momentum for the Fightin's takes the mound in the form of 37-year old Pedro Martinez.

There's never been a more dramatic figure in baseball. Before he arrived in Philadelphia in July of this season, I admit that I was not a fan. I respected his stuff and granted that he deserves a Hall of Fame induction when his career finally closes, but I'd never understood all of the drama Pedro creates.

There's just something about this guy. Partly, it's his high jinks when not on the mound. Before he joined the local nine, I was swayed by all of the ESPN footage of Pedro being a bit of a goofball in the dugout and before games. Only now do I appreciate that all of that is on his non-throwing days.

When Pedro's on the mound, he's all business; and he knows that business very well.

Which is another aspect of his game that I've only now fully appreciated.

This man used to have some of the nastiest stuff in sports. He could get away with a mistake because his fastball was just too fast, and his curveball just too deadly for hitters to resist.

Now that the fastball has lost a few mph, and the curve and the change-up aren't what they used to be, you can really see just how intelligent a pitcher he is (and probably always has been). Pedro knows how to beat batters with his mind.

That's what he'll have to rely on tonight against an incredibly powerful Yankees line-up, and that's also what makes Charlie Manuel's decision to start Pedro perfect.

After the obvious decision to start Cliff Lee in Game 1, it was a real conundrum of what to do in Game 2. This year (including this postseason) Cole Hamels hasn't been the same guy who won the World Series MVP last year, but he did in fact win that MVP award.

So, shouldn't he, a pitcher in his prime, be the number two starter in the World Series?

Pedro pitched a brilliant game against the Dodgers in the NLCS, but that was the first time he'd gone deep into a game since the middle of September, and it was in 80-degree, sunny Southern California. Tonight, Pedro will be pitching in weather predicted to be in the mid-50s (and dropping).

And that's where his mental advantage comes into play.

Cole Hamels has had several difficulties this year, but the most glaring one in the postseason has been his inability to brush off mistakes (either his or those of the fielders behind him). Instead, he seems to dwell on those errors, and tries to do too much to compensate for them. That leads to another mistake, which then snowballs.

Tonight, with an opposing pitcher (AJ Burnett) known equally well for dominating lineups and having severe meltdowns on the mound (having led the majors in wild pitches this season), the Phillies need a rock on the mound.

Let the Phillies line-up get into Burnett's head and they'll be just fine.

Let this New York crowd get into your own head, and there will be trouble.

So, if Pedro Martinez could avoid a complete meltdown while pitching for the Boston Red Sox with 50,000 fans in old Yankee stadium chanting "Who's your daddy?" in 2004, then I think tonight's crowd and, more importantly, tonight's Yankees' line-up is unlikely to faze him.

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