It's fitting that A.J. Burnett was starting this pre-Halloween Game 2 for the Yankees. All season long he's been either a trick or a treat for the Bombers with the answer remaining hidden until you rang the doorbell. On Thursday night, it was all treat as Burnett struck out nine over seven innings of one-run ball to carry the Yankees to a 3-1 victory.
Burnett avoided the sudden meltdowns that have marked so many of his starts as he carved up the Phillies lineup. Time and again, his curveballs plopped into Jose Molina's glove like miniature candies into a child's bag of candy while hitters watched helplessly. The Yankees needed nothing less than what they got from Burnett because their vaunted lineup struggled to find its way against Pedro Martinez.
The wily veteran used every single thing in his arsenal to shut down the Yankees for most of the evening but lost two crucial battles along the way. He left a changeup in the middle of the strike zone to Mark Teixeira in the fourth, and the first baseman connected for his first career World Series homer. Martinez then made a good pitch to Hideki Matsui, a breaking ball inches off the ground, but Matsui golfed it into the right field seats all the same. Martinez doesn't have much more than guile, but it served him awfully well upon his return to the Bronx.
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We'll miss that guile when he finally hangs up his curls, and his reaction to the cascade of boos that greeted his departure was a reminder of something else we'll miss when he's off the stage. Pedro vs. the Yankees has been one of the most enjoyable rivalries in the last decade of baseball. Watching Martinez grin at the 50,000-plus taunting him made it very hard not to like him, regardless of whether or not you were throwing in a few boos of your own.
Either way, the real pitching story of the night was Burnett. The enigmatic, erratic righty was on the top of his game when his team needed him to be nothing less. The offensive struggles subsided a bit as the game went on, but the Yankees spent most of the night stuck in the same rut that sent them hurtling to the ground against Cliff Lee in Game 1.
The struggling slugger who will catch the most notice is, as always, Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod is now 0 for 8 with six strikeouts over the first two games, and you're likely to see or hear someone wondering if he's up to his old tricks during the long wait for Game 3.
Of course, there may have been an offensive breakout looming in the bottom of the seventh but two of the running subplots of the playoffs conspired to nip it in the bud. Jerry Hairston and Melky Cabrera hit singles to start the frame and then Jorge Posada pinch hit and singled home the third run of the game. Derek Jeter, with runners on first and second, tried to bunt but failed on all three attempts and struck out. It's long been said that Jeter makes such decisions on his own, but allowing your players to make insanely stupid decisions in moments of great consequence is hardly a vote in favor of Joe Girardi's much-maligned managerial style.
The Yankees should have been trying to break the game open since being up 4-1 isn't much better than 3-1. Jeter may be obsessed with pretending he's a light hitting shortstop, but it is up to Girardi to let him know that he's actually quite a good offensive player who could have put the game out of reach if he just played it.
The other running thread of these playoffs has been miserable umpiring. After Jeter's butchered bunt, Johnny Damon hit a line drive that short-hopped Ryan Howard at first base. Howard threw wildly to second in an attempt to start a double play, but first base umpire Brian Gorman, somehow making the call while standing behind the hulking first baseman, said he caught it on the fly and gave the Phillies their double play anyway. Gorman blew a call in the top of the eighth as well, calling Chase Utley out on the tail end of a double play, so things evened out -- but it's really getting a bit ridiculous to keep watching games altered because umps can't do their jobs.
All of that is window dressing for the big stories of the night, though. The first would be Burnett, who defied every bad prediction about him with the kind of sharp, efficient start that few thought he was capable of making.
And the second is that the World Series is tied at one and headed to Philadelphia for what should be a very interesting three days of baseball.