NEW YORK — Andy Pettitte leaned forward in his chair and recounted a recent chat he had with Derek Jeter as soon as they realized what was next in this World Series.
Pettitte versus old foe Pedro Martinez, with the Yankees one win from ecstasy.
Still chasing that elusive 27th championship, New York turns to Pettitte once again in Game 6 on Wednesday night, hoping he can pitch his team past the Philadelphia Phillies on only three days’ rest.
“Me and Derek were talking about it in the clubhouse last night. Just, how strange is this?” Pettitte said Tuesday. “I think everybody knew it was going to be a great Series. I think everybody knew it was going to be a tough Series. And it looks like it’s living up to that.”
After wasting a chance to wrap things up in Game 5 at Philadelphia, the Yankees set their sights on clinching at home. They’d love to christen their US$1.5 billion ballpark with a World Series crown in its first season and give a seventh title to 79-year-old owner George Steinbrenner.
They’ve got two chances to do it. Game 7 would be Thursday night in the Bronx if necessary, with ace CC Sabathia pitching for New York — also on short rest.
“People expect us to be great all the time. We just need to be great tomorrow night,” Johnny Damon said.
Coming off an 8-6 victory Monday night that trimmed their Series deficit to 3-2, the defending champion Phillies took the train to New York on Tuesday afternoon, a ride that takes a little more than an hour. They chose not to work out at Yankee Stadium, but their opponents did.
Martinez and Manuel showed up at the ballpark for news conferences. Manuel was uncertain whether all-star centre-fielder Shane Victorino would be able to play in Game 6 after getting hit in the right hand with A.J. Burnett’s 95 mph fastball Monday night.
If Victorino can’t go, Ben Francisco would likely start in centre.
Riding Chase Utley’s homers, the Phillies are trying to become the first team to rally from a 3-1 World Series deficit since the 1985 Kansas City Royals — and the first National League club to win consecutive championships since the 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds.
To do it, Philadelphia might need Ryan Howard to break out of his untimely slump. The big slugger is batting .158 (3-for-19) with 12 strikeouts, tying the Series record set by Kansas City’s Willie Wilson in 1980.
Utley, however, is doing more than his share. His five home runs matched the mark set by Yankees Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson in 1977.
On the other side, second-year Yankees manager Joe Girardi confirmed that he won’t hesitate to use a well-rested Mariano Rivera for multiple innings Wednesday to try and close it out.
“The only thing I focus on is Game 6. I don’t focus on legacy, because I’m not worried about my legacy,” said Girardi, trying to guide New York to its first title in nine years. “People are always going to have perceptions of you, and some of them are going to be true, and probably most of them are going to be false.”
Pettitte and Martinez first squared off on the mound 11 years ago, but they’ve never done so in the post-season. Both pitchers are 3-3 in six matchups, all games between the Yankees and Red Sox from 1998-2003. The visitor has won each time and Martinez has a 3.86 earned-run average to Pettitte’s 5.88, according to STATS LLC.
In their first meeting, Girardi hit a three-run homer off Martinez, but Boston chased Pettitte during an 11-run third inning and won 13-7.
With so much on the line this time, it’s a delicious matchup of gritty pros in their late 30s, long past their primes.
“Two old goats out there doing the best they can and having fun with it,” Martinez said. “I don’t have enough words to describe how excited I am about being here. This is just a great gift to me.”
The 38-year-old Martinez pitched well in a Game 2 loss at Yankee Stadium and now gets the ball on regular rest for the first time since mid-September. He’s had several long layoffs since.
The 37-year-old Pettitte, on the other hand, will have only three days between starts for the first time since Sept. 30, 2006, with Houston. According to STATS, the savvy left-hander is 5-7 with a 4.18 ERA in 18 such outings during his career, including the post-season.
This one marks a major change, though. Pettitte has been on extra rest in his past eight starts dating to Sept. 11.
“I would think that he’s rested,” Girardi said, laughing.
Pettitte has a knack for closing this time of year. He owns 17 post-season wins and five that clinched series — both big league records. Two of those clinchers came in the American League playoffs this year. He is 3-0 with a 3.24 ERA in four starts this post-season, including a shaky Game 3 win at Philadelphia.
No wonder the Yankees have plenty of confidence in him when it comes to big games.
“We are in a good situation,” catcher Jorge Posada said.
A familiar one, too.
In the ALCS, Burnett failed to put away the Los Angeles Angels in Game 5 on the road. Pettitte, however, won the Game 6 clincher at home.
Burnett flopped in Philadelphia on Monday night, and now the task falls again to Pettitte, looking for his fifth World Series ring with the Yankees.
“This is a veteran team. We’ve got a lot of guys who have been through this before,” Sabathia said. “Hopefully, that experience will carry us through.”
Martinez, who sat out the first half of the season and joined the Phillies in mid-July, will be trying to push the Series to a Game 7 for the first time since 2002.
“I think he’s ready. I think he’s kind of peaking at the right time. He didn’t have any spring training, went a half a year, didn’t pitch, and he had to work himself up,” Manuel said. “He’s starting to get stretched out. The more he throws, the better he’s getting. Yeah, he’s capable of throwing a real good game.”