It had all the makings of high drama.
Andy Pettitte, a homegrown pitcher, a man perennially on the verge of retirement, throwing on three days rest.
Pedro Martinez, a relic from another era when the Yankees seemed like they could do no wrong.
It felt like a game straight out of 1999, when the Yankees and Red Sox began to renew their century long rivalry atop the American League East.
Pedro’s socks were red, but the “B” on his cap had been replaced with a “P.”
It didn’t matter to the Yankee Stadium crowd. When Pedro joined the Phillies over the summer, he brought more than seventeen seasons of major league experience. He brought a reputation, an outspoken bravado, an ability to stir emotions in his opponents and their faithful that few could muster.
When Pedro took the mound against the Yankees in game six of the World Series last night, he brought more than the hopes of the Phanatics on his shoulders. He brought the memories of playoffs past, of Grady Little and Roger Clemens, Don Zimmer, Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter riding to hospital by his hand. The arrogant smirk, the ridiculous comments, the inability to dominate his old division rival despite being one of the greatest pitchers of the last thirty years.
Pedro brought it all with him last night. He had no choice. The crowd would never let him forget. Even within the confines of the new, quieter Yankee Stadium, the chants and howls from the last great Yankee dynasty returned, if only for four innings.
It was exhilarating and sad to see Pedro fail in such a big spot. If you love the Yankees, you hate Pedro. But at the very least, you respect him and what he has accomplished on the mound and you relish in the idea that, no matter how effective he was with the Red Sox, the Yankees could usually find a way to beat him. That’s what made it fun.
Pedro had none of his old fire last night. He struck out five which was considerable given that he allowed four runs. His counterpart, Andy Pettitte, similarly struggled, but battled through until he ran out of gas.
It was a marquee match-up of old timers that was somehow overshadowed by yet another.
Hideki Matsui put up an offensive performance last night that can only be described as historical. He tied a World Series record with six runs batted in, while placing himself behind only Lou Gehrig for second highest slugging percentage in a World Series.
The aging slugger, banished from the outfield by manager Joe Girardi because of his balky knees, took advantage of every opportunity, hitting a two run home run in the second, a two run single in the third, and a two run double in fifth. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel brought in JA Happ, a lefty, to face Matsui in that fifth inning, blissfully unaware that Matsui has been destroying left-handed pitching this year. Matsui mashed the ball off the right-centerfield wall, putting the Yankees up 7-1 and all but icing their 27th World Series title.
Andy Pettitte left during the sixth after a two run home run to the previously sleeping Ryan Howard made it 7-3. Joba Chamberlain came in, throwing hard heat that was wild within the strike zone, eventually giving way to Damaso Marte, who struck out Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.
And then Mariano Rivera did what Mariano Rivera does. Ballgame over. World Series over. Yankees win.
It’s been a funny season.
I’ve found my self enjoying this team more than I have in recent years. Winning makes that easier, for sure, but the Yankees haven’t exactly been bad since their last World Series title in 2000.
No, this comes more from the players on this team. There really isn’t a guy on the roster who I can look at with any dislike.
That used to be Alex Rodriguez. I have always wanted ARod to do well because, well, he is a Yankee. But there was always something about him that I didn’t like. A lot of people picked up on it and felt the same way. Some think it’s arrogance, others greed or awkwardness. Something wasn’t right, wasn’t natural about ARod as a person and as a hitter. He made this all the more confusing by alternating MVP seasons with an inability to perform in big situations.
Ironically, all of that seemed to change when Alex admitted his use of steroids at the start of spring training. Suddenly, the player that always seemed so consumed with his image, about how people would perceive him and his place in baseball history, was left with nothing. There was no saving his accomplishments as a player. They were forever tainted under the suspicion of what was the truth and what we weren’t being told.
In many ways, it may have saved him as a person. The pressure to live up to this image of who Alex Rodriguez should be was gone, ruined by Rodriguez himself. There was nothing left to live up to. All ARod could do was focus on what was in front of him: baseball.
He went a bit further, though. ARod used his notoriety, his high profile mistakes, and he made an example of himself to children. Alex went to numerous speaking engagements where he spoke with kids about steroids and the negative impact it can have on their bodies. He did this without fanfare, without cameras, without the spotlight that he hunted down for so much of his career. He did it because it was the right thing to do.
That may not be enough to make some people forgive ARod or even like him. That’s understandable. But give him credit, if not for putting the Yankees on his back for most of the playoffs, then for turning what was a terrible mistake into a reason to reevaluate himself both as a person and as a player. We all make mistakes. Not everyone has to face a press conference when they make one. Even less come out better for it.
I’ve given Joe Girardi a lot of guff this season about some of his decisions and I stand by it.
The easy thing to say right now is that Girardi’s decisions must have been right because the Yankees won the World Series.
I don’t think that’s the case.
Instead, I think Girardi’s 2009 season serves as a lesson into exactly how much impact a manager has on a team both on the field and off. I don’t doubt that Girardi contributed to the atmosphere in the Yankees clubhouse. Numerous people on the Yankees have commented that his efforts to bring this team together on a personal level during spring training set the groundwork for a tight knit groups of guys. I can understand that and I think it’s important. Nobody likes to go to work everyday in a place they’re not happy in. Many will tell you that was Joe Torre’s strongest trait while manager of the Yankees.
But let’s be realistic about the team the Yankees put on the field before we start christening Girardi a tactical genius: there is little management that is needed with this Yankee lineup and rotation. The lineup card can fill itself out.
Girardi’s biggest responsibility is the bullpen and that was a mishmash of AAA relievers for a good part of the season. If Phil Hughes had opted to return to Scranton to get more starts rather than fill out the bullpen, Girardi would have had an even tougher time over the summer cobbling together his late innings.
It all comes down to performance and the Yankees have the talent and the depth to perform despite many of their manager’s mistakes. I can only hope that Girardi is open-minded about the criticism he has received this year and takes a long hard look at his performance this season.