Designated Hero

Andy PettitteBronx, N.Y., November 4, 2009 — You had to hand it to the sports prognosticators following the Yankees’ Game Six World Series victory Wednesday. To a man, they all knew it was about pitching, and how rested the pitchers starting for each team would be. The astounding thing is that so many knew that that was the key, but so few realized for which pitcher that would be the bigger problem

The veteran Pettitte would be facing the seemingly ageless Pedro Martinez, who despite losing due to two singleton home runs six days before, seemed primed to take Pettitte on in Game 6. Pedro had not pitched since, while Pettitte had pitched — and won — just four days before. What the experts did not realize was that while going on three days rest was a full day shorter for Andy, pitching with five days rest was at least two days shorter than Pedro had done since mid-September.

So Pettitte was in fine shape through two innings even though he allowed a walk and an infield single during that time. Pedro, trying to match that performance, retired three straight in his first frame, but he walked Alex Rodriguez leading off the second. He seemed set to pitch carefully to lefty-hitting designated hitter Hideki Matsui; that may have been his plan, but it did not work. He stayed away for seven throws, but it wasn’t enough, and the power-hitting Yankee lofted a home run to right, for a 2-0 Yankee lead.

The next inning Petey was extended due to a Derek Jeter single, Johnny Damon walk, and the third hit by pitch of Mark Teixeira of the Series. He snuck a fastball past Alex Rodriguez on the outside corner for a strike out, but Matsui still lurked, and he drilled an 0-2 single for two runs that in effect ended Pedro’s night. Matsui scored those two runs on Martinez’s 58th throw, while Pettitte had thrown just 37 pitches. Andy gave up a run because what should have been a Carlos Ruiz double in the top of the third caromed strangely off the left center field wall. Jimmy Rollins delivered Rollins with a sac fly. But more importantly, the veteran Yankee lefty had plenty in the tank, while Pedro was done.

It was a good thing for the Yanks and their fans too, because although Pettitte was putting up a gutsy start, he was missing the zone way too often. Aside from a bad-luck Shane Victorino swinging bunt base hit in the first, Andy did not allow a hit aside from Ruiz’s triple through five innings. But the Phils had their chances, because Pettitte walked two in the fourth inning, and four through the first five frames. But the Phillies failed to take advantage, and failed to score one free pass Pettitte allowed until he surrendered his fifth to Chase Utley in the sixth inning. Ryan Howard followed with his first destructive hit of the series, a two-run homer the other way to left. But it did not come until after Matsui had delivered two more runs in both the third and fifth innings, the first with a two-run single up the middle we already described and the latter with a double off the wall in right center. Howard’s homer, which could have been a crippler, did nothing but close a Yankee 7-1 lead to 7-3.

Still, Andy’s night was done two batters later. He struck out Jayson Werth, but Joe Girardi replaced him with Joba Chamberlain once Raul Ibanez doubled deep to center. Andy kept the Phillies off the scoreboard for the most part, and only surrendered four hits, but he threw just 13 first-pitch strikes to 24 hitters, walked five, and the 50/44 strikes/balls ratio barely got him through. He pounded nine ground ball outs, garnered two double plays, and got fine plays from Jeter leading off the game amd Teixeira on a Howard hot shot in the third.

But aside from saying that Pettitte outpitched fellow veteran Martinez, the Yanks won this game because Hideki Matsui had a monster night. The Yankee DH’s two-run fifth-inning double off J.A. Happ and an earlier Teixeira rbi single that inning resulted in three runs scored being on the pitching line of Philly righty Chad Durbin. Otherwise neither bullpen gave up anything. The teams battled back and forth through a scoreless seventh, eighth, and ninth innings, but Philly clearly seemed aware that they were done when Mariano Rivera took the mound in the eighth inning. Damaso Marte continued his fine relief work by striking out both Utley and Howard before handing the ball to Mo, who responded by whiffing Werth swinging too. The Phillies managed a hit and a walk off Rivera once he entered the game, but their fate was set and did not change.

There is a whole lot of history one could evoke when talking about the Yankee victory over Philly November 4. William III of England, satirist Will Rogers, newsman Walter Cronkite and actor Art Carney all share November 4 as a birthday. Howard Carter uncovered the tomb of King Tut on this day in 1922, and Iranian revolutionaries took the U.S. embassy staff hostage on this day in 1979. But the only history that holds any significance for me is baseball-related. There has been a lot of hand wringing this postseason about what befell the Yanks and their fans five years ago in 2004. Having been in the Stadium for all 27 outs of that postseason’s last game, I daresay I can lay claim to pain equal to, if not greater than, anyone’s, though I’m sure those who live in or near the belly of the beast, so to speak, had a worse time in the days that followed.

But a loss is a loss, and a game is a game. A series is a series. Torching our adversaries to the north the first three games and being drubbed ourselves in Game 7, that was hardly the best series ever from any but an emotional standpoint. I’ve seen (in person) the Yanks lose 22-0, 22-4 earlier this year. Ouch. You lose, and you move on.

But for me, just one open wound remains from posts past, one that I have not been able to get out of my mind for almost a decade. The 2001 World Series was a magical time, the most purely perfect series I ever witnessed. And with all the big long balls that burned it into my heart so, to be forced to watch it all drift away on a small TV image of a bad throw on a bunt and a broken bat bloop from almost 3,000 miles away was cruelty I cannot abide.

The Yankees fell to the Diamondbacks in Game 7, 3-2, nine years ago this day.

On November 4, 2009, that scourge is lifted. Tonight I smile the smile of a Champion once again, breathe the heady air of baseball Mount Olympus one more time. Me, and King George, we’ve been waiting too long for this. Thanks to George’s clever signing of a star from the Land of the Rising Sun more than six years ago, the Yankees are Champions yet again.

Who knows? I may even be able to watch the 2001 World Series tape that has been collecting dust since the day I bought it nine years ago.