As expected, Pedro Martinez pitched his heart out at Yankee Stadium last night. After struggling with his control early, he displayed his trademark toughness, setting the Yankees down with a mid-90s fastball, and a devastating change up. But Jon Lieber, the quiet man on the Yankees starting staff, was even better, shutting the Red Sox out through seven innings. He allowed a base runner to start the eighth (who would eventually score) but otherwise both bullpens were perfect. It was a lean, tense game, which the Yankees won 3-1. The series now moves north to Boston for three games this weekend.
Martinez’s stuff looked good in the first inning, but it took a few batters before he could harness it. With his stringy hair hanging out of his cap like a raggy mop or month-old Christmas tinsel, Martinez walked Derek Jeter on four pitches, all fastballs, to start the game. Jeter took off for second on Pedro’s first pitch to Alex Rodriguez. It was a breaking ball and Jason Varitek made a perfect throw to the second base side of the bag. Mark Bellhorn reached back for it as Jeter slid into the tag, and the ball popped out of his glove. Jeter would have been out easily; instead he was standing on second. Rodriguez worked the count to 2-2 and then was grazed on the wrist by an inside fastball. Gary Sheffield swung at the first pitch and lofted a liner to center. The ball hung in the air long enough for Jeter to pause several times. But when it fell in safely, Jeter still had plenty of time to score. (The only person on either team with a worse throwing arm than Johnny Damon is Bernie Williams.)
Runners on first and second and nobody out. The class acts at the Stadium started to roar, “Who’s Your Daddy?” This wasn’t a small chant by a group of yahoos; it a pronouced Stadium-wide effort, which came across loud and crystal clear over the TV. Martinez gathered himself and struck Hideki Matsui out looking with a fastball over the inside corner. Next, he got Bernie Williams looking on a 2-2 breaking ball over the outside corner. Both strike out pitches were just nasty. Jorge Posada grounded out weakly to second to end the inning, and Martinez escaped relatively unscathed. Again, his pitches were good, but he didn’t have any rhythm. Jason Varitek visited the mound four times. The Fox announcers were all over the Red Sox, but they figured the reasoning behind it was that Boston suspected that once a base runner was on second, the Yankees were tipping the hitters off as to the location of Martinez’s pitches.
Meanwhile, Jon Lieber breezed through the Red Sox in the first two innings. With two out in the first, Lieber got ahead of Manny Ramirez, 0-2. He threw a pitch way up and in and Ramirez dropped his bat with disdain. But Lieber had set him up perfectly, and got Manny to wave at the next pitch, a slider dipping low and out of the strike zone. David Ortiz walked to start the second but Lieber needed only six pitches to retire Kevin Millar, Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek.
The Yankees continued to make Martinez work in the second. John Olerud ground out sharply to Mark Bellhorn before Miguel Cairo worked a walk. Kenny Lofton swung at a fat, first ball fastball, and lined a single into center field. Martinez fell behind Jeter 2-0 but got him to fly out to Damon for the second out; Cairo moved to third. With Alex Rodriguez at the plate, Kenny Lofton took off on the first pitch, which was fouled off. After a ball, Martinez pulled the old fake-to-third, look-to-first move, which came dangerously close to being a balk. He pulled the move again during the at-bat and threw to first once too. Rodriguez worked the count full and the Stadium stood and roared. But Martinez buckled Rodriguez’s knees with a back-door breaking ball for strike three. Who’s Your Daddy, indeed. Sit down New York.
The next two innings moved along quickly. Orlando Cabrera singled off of Lieber to start the third but and moved to third on two ground outs but was left stranded when Bellhorn lined to center to end the inning. David Ortiz just got under a pitch with one out in the fourth; instead of a game-tying dinger, he launched a sky-high pop out to Cairo in shallow right field. Martinez worked a perfect third, now starting the hitters off with his off-speed pitch, and after a walk to Posada to start the fourth, retired Olerud, Cairo and Lofton easily. He blew Lofton away and the two players glared at each other.
Boston went down in order in the fifth. After five innings, Lieber had thrown just 45 pitches. After Jeter grounded out, Alex Rodriguez tapped a change up on the outside part of the plate toward third and beat it out for an infield hit. Martinez, using a slide-step delivery, left a breaking ball over the heart of the plate on his first pitch to Gary Sheffield, who fouled it back. It was a pitch to crush and he missed it. The count went to 2-2 and Sheffield fouled off a good change up, low and away, barely staying alive. Martinez then blew a fastball past him for the strike out. Oh, baby. It was right in Sheff’s kitchen too. Beautiful stuff. Matsui put forth a tough at bat and worked the count full but was frozen by another back-door breaking ball, called strike three.
Both pitchers were in fine form, but the biggest difference in the game was that the Yankee hitters were making Martinez work much harder. That changed with one out in the fifth when Johnny Damon finally made Lieber sweat a little bit. Damon had a terrible night against Mussina and hadn’t looked much better early on against Lieber. He fell behind quickly but then started fouling pitches off like crazy. The count went full and on the fifteenth pitch of the at-bat, Damon hit a low line drive to center field. It appeared as if Bernie Williams temporarily lost sight of the ball in the lights but he stood his ground and made the catch. Was this the moment Boston had been waiting for? Would Lieber be spent? Mark Bellhorn worked the count full and whiffed on a slider in the dirt that would have been ball four.
Pedro Martinez reached the 100-pitch mark with one out in the bottom of the sixth. It was a ball to Jorge Posada, who would eventually walk. Pedro got ahead of John Olerud with a change up and then a fastball on the outside corner. Jason Varitek set up outside again, but Martinez’s fastball tailed back inside and Olerud, with his short, level swing, lined a home run over the short, right field porch in right to make the score 3-0 Yankees. It was the 106th pitch of night for Martinez. Miguel Cairo put together a pesky at-bat before striking out and Lofton popped out to Bill Mueller to end the inning. Exit Martinez.
The heart of Boston’s order came to bat in the seventh. Manny Ramirez grounded out to Jeter and then David Ortiz smacked a single to right. Lieber got ahead of Kevin Millar 1-2, and escaped any trouble by inducing the bearded-one to hit into a 5-4-3 double play. Mike Timlin and Alan Embree each allowed a hit in the bottom of the inning but the Yankees did not score. Lieber came back in the eighth and promptly served up a single to Trot Nixon. And that was it for him. Flash Gordon replaced Lieber and looked far from crisp against Jason Varitek who worked the count full. Gordon threw a tits-high fastball that the Boston catcher ripped into right center field for a double. But Nixon, who suffered with leg injuries this year, was not running on the pitch and was only able to reach third. For the second straight night the Yankee starters held Boston down for the first part of the game and now the Red Sox were threatening again. Cabrera grounded out to Jeter and Nixon scored. Mueller grounded out to Cairo and Varitek moved to third. That was all for Gordon. Joe Torre brought in Mariano Rivera to pitch to Damon. Rivera’s first three pitches to Damon were cut fastballs in on the hands. The first went for a ball, and Damon fouled the next two off. He fouled off a fastball that was out over the plate on the fourth pitch and then Rivera missed high with another heater. Posada slunk outside for the next pitch and Rivera hit his mitt, getting Damon looking on a fastball right over the outside corner of the plate. Unfair.
The Yankees threatened in the ninth but Keith Foulke got Alex Rodriguez to fly out to right field with the bases loaded to end the inning. Mark Bellhorn bounced a soft grounder to John Olerud for the first out in the bottom of the ninth and then Rivera quickly got ahead of Manny 0-2. The next two pitches were ball and then Rivera left a cutter up too high that Ramirez crushed into left field for a double. Ortiz, 7-13 lifetime vs. Rivera, followed and struck out on three pitches. Millar saw four pitches. He waved at the last one, a fastball, high and out of the zone, for strike three. Rivera had himself another save, and the Bombers had a 2-0 series lead.
This is a long way from over, especially with Brown, and the combination of Hernanez and Vazquez looming as big unknowns. Bronson Arroyo and Tim Wakefield have faired well against the Yanks too. Things can change in a hurry. After all, this isn't a 3-0 lead, it's 2-0. Still, the Yankees have to be extremely pleased taking these two games. So long as they don't get swept in Boston, they should be okay.