"I didn't think Pedro would come out, the way he was throwing and with his pitch count pretty low," [Mike] Mussina said. "It was pretty easy for him. And I was surprised when Wagner came back with a four-run lead, and he just pitched last night.
"But, of course, you don't expect a closer of his caliber to pitch like that. Strange things happen."
Over the years, the Yankees' key to success against Pedro Martinez is to make him throw a lot of pitches, and hope their pitcher can keep the score close. The idea, in theory, is to chase Pedro from the game by the seventh inning--either by scoring off him or just plain tiring him out--to get into the bullpen. The Yankees had to be careful what they wished for yesterday though, as the Mets' bullpen has been one of the strongest in the big leagues so far this season. Add that to the fact that because of injuries Miguel Cairo was the Yankees' starting left fielder yesterday. But strange things do tend to happen when Martinez pitches against the Bombers. And though he didn't figure in the final decision, you have to wonder if was days like these that once prompted him to call the Yankees his daddy.
Martinez out-pitched Mike Mussina over seven innings yesterday at Shea and left with a seemingly comfortable 4-0 lead. Neither team was crisp in the field--there were seven errors in the game--but the Yankees' mistakes were costly. Alex Rodriguez rushed a throw on a slow ground ball by Mets lead-off hitter Jose Reyes to start the bottom of the first. Reyes stole second and took third on a throwing error by Kelly Stinnett, bringing back the instant offense of Rickey Henderson. By the time the inning was over the Mets had two runs, and the Yanks were fortunate that was all they had.
The home team would add two more runs on solo shots by Carlos Delgado and old man Cliff "Bernie Mac" Floyd. Delgado's led-off the fourth inning and was particularly impressive. Mussina made a decent pitch, one was on the outside part of the plate and tailing away. Delgado flicked his arms out and swatted at the ball--it was a late but swift and compact swing. The ball looked like an easy pop-up for the left fielder, but it just kept sailing. The announcers said that the wind was blowing out, but Delgado looked like he tapped that ball. Talk about a display of strength. Man.
Meanwhile, the Yankees couldn't get to Martinez. I thought they'd start to make him work after the third inning. Martinez recorded two quick outs, but though he whiffed Mussina for the second one, the count had gone full and Mussina had even fouled off a few. Then Johnny Damon walked and stole second while Pedro fell behind Jeter 3-0. After a called strike, Martinez zipped one up and in to Jeter--out of the zone, but too tempting for the aggresive Jeter to lay off. Swing and a miss, strike two. The next pitch was another fastball, this one centered over the plate more, but still out of the zone--swing and miss , strike three. A beautiful job of pitching.
Pedro then sailed through the middle innings, allowing just two singles to Alex Rodriguez and a base hit to Melky Cabrera. By the time Floyd's solo shot put the Mets up 4-0 in the bottom of the seventh, all looked well for the Mets.
That's how things stood in the bottom of the ninth. Billy Wagner struck out all three men that he faced on Friday night and though this was not a save situation, here he was again, trying to shut the Yankees down. Jason Giambi led off with a single to center and after getting ahead of Alex Rodriguez, Wagner lost the strike zone and walked him. Robinson Cano followed and smacked a single to center. Wagner almost got a glove on it, as did a diving Reyes whose vision was perhaps momentarily blocked by Giambi, the base-runner. Regardless, Bam-Bam rumbled home and the Yanks were on the scoreboard.
Miguel Cairo flew out to center field for the first out. Still a long way to go for both Met and Yankee fans. Shea Stadium was tense and if you know any Mets fans, you know they were thinking the worst. And the worst was just about to come when Wagner could not put Melky Cabrera away. Down 0-2, Cabrera fouled off several pitches and then took three straight fastballs on the inside corner. The 2-2 offering looked close, but it was off the plate. I couldn't believe how much discipline Cabrera was showing and I couldn't believe that Wagner wasn't just rearing back and throwing it by him. The at bat seemed to last forever and Cabrera finally took ball four to load the bases. It was the critical at bat of the afternoon.
Kelly Stinnett followed and was walked on four pitches, forcing in a run. 4-2. Tim McCarver, who was calling the game for FOX said that Willie Randolph needed to take Wagner out of the game right then and there. "You can combat wildness day-to-day, but not batter-to-batter." Sure enough, Wagner plunked pinch-hitter Bernie Williams on the leg with the next pitch, foricing in another run. 4-3. With that, Wagner's day was over as he was greeted by a chorus of boos--no doubt, mixed in with some Bronx cheer--as he left the mound.
The southpaw Pedro Feliciano came on to pitch to Johnny Damon and got him to tap weakly to short. Reyes started the 6-4-3 but the ball was hit too softly and Damon beat the relay throw by half-a-step. Instead of a game-ended double play, the score was tied. Damon was clearly safe, but man oh man, was the play ever close.
Extra innings. Scott Proctor worked a perfect ninth, striking out two, and Mariano Rivera worked around a one out single in the tenth. Miguel Cairo led off the eleventh with a walk. He proceeded to swipe second and then third as both Cabrera and Stinnett went down hacking. But then pinch-hitter Andy Phillips lined a single to center and Cairo scored the go-ahead run.
To top off the what-a-difference-a-day-makes scenerio, Mariano struck out the side (Wright, Floyd, Nady) to end the game. After the game, Joe Torre told reporters:
"I don't think there's anybody better at rebounding from something that gets perceived as negative, getting beat or giving up a base hit," Torre said. "He just totally took this game over."
An improbable 5-4 win for the Yankees puts them in a position to actually take the weekend series. And even should they fall tonight, yesterday will be one of their more memorable comebacks of the year. As for the Mets, even if they win tonight--and I expect that they will, behind another good performance from Tom Glavine--you have to figure they'll be thinking, "What if?" Saturday was a game they virtually handed to the Yankees.
It's not often that we find the Yankees in the role of underdogs, but with their injury-depleted line-up, it was the reserves--Cairo, Cabrera and Phillips--who were the heroes. Hey, every dog has his day, right?