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Six for Six

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We have exactly six hours, as I write this, before the scheduled first pitch of World Series Game Six. Below, a half-dozen thoughts, most of which have been bubbling for a few days now, to pass at least a bit of that time:

  • Tonight's pitching matchup, in which future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez (age 38) goes for the Phillies against all-time postseason wins leader Andy Pettitte (37) for the Yankees, is the first time two starters with a combined age of 75 or older have faced off in the Series since Game One of the 2005 Fall Classic between the Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox, when two ex-Yankees, Roger Clemens (then 43) and Jose Contreras (allegedly 33) went at it. Pettitte's on three days' rest, Pedro is facing an augmented lineup compared to the one he saw in Game Two (when weak-hitting Jose Molina, not slugger Jorge Posada, was behind the plate), and it's gonna be cold. The game easily could become a battle of the bullpens, a scary prospect for both managers. 
  • Phils second baseman Chase Utley has tied Reggie Jackson's World Series record with five home runs in the five games thus far. As several pundits have noted, there's a real chance that Utley could be named the Most Valuable Player of the Series even if the Yankees win: no one player has stood out for New York other than perhaps Johnny Damon, who's batting .381 and has scored five runs, including the Game Four winner; and closer Mariano Rivera, who has finished off all three Yankee wins to this point. (Hideki Matsui is batting .556 with two homers, but he was reduced to pinch-hitting for the three games in Philly; he has just nine at-bats.) Meanwhile, Utley hit two homers in each of the Phils' wins, has scored six times, leads all batters with eight RBIs, and is basically the only reason the Phils have generated any offense in light of Ryan Howard's epic slump and overall subpar hitting from Shane Victorino and Raul Ibanez. If Pettitte pitches a great game tonight and gets the win, he'll be MVP with two victories in the Series--but if, say, the Yankees win a high-scoring game in which someone like Mark Teixeira (2 for 19 thus far) or Robinson Cano (3 for 18) is the big hitting star, while Utley goes 4 for 5 with another homer and a bunch of RBI, he'll probably by the MVP. This would be, at best, terribly awkward: for Chase Utley, the one downside of greatness is having to be recognized for his greatness. Imagine Fox's Ken Rosenthal saying, "Congratulations Chase, but your team lost--how do you feel?" You'll get either nothing or a response they'd better have on at least a five-second delay.
  • Neither manager has covered himself in glory this Series. As I've written here many times, I think Charlie Manuel is easily the greatest manager in Phillies history--but his in-game decisions hurt the team in each of the last four games. He went with Martinez too long in Game Two, made an inexplicable decision to pinch-hit helpless Eric Bruntlett in a big spot in Game Three and then left reliever Chad Durbin in too long when he obviously had no command, did the same with Brad Lidge in the nightmarish Game Four, and then futzed around with the outfield defensive alignment late in Game Five to near-disastrous effect. Maybe worse, he has a dead spot on his roster in the person of rookie lefty reliever Antonio Bastardo, who hasn't yet pitched in the Series and almost certainly won't unless the Phils are getting blown out; meanwhile, with Victorino hurting after getting hit on the hand early in Game Five, there's a chance he'll have to use Bruntlett, among the worst hitters in baseball, as his DH or left fielder in a win-or-die game tonight. I'd seriously rather see Cliff Lee or Hamels--both lefties, mind you--in the lineup against Pettitte. 
  • Meanwhile, Yankee manager Joe Girardi failed to leverage the advantage he earned by his team winning three of the first four games, starting talented but erratic righty A.J. Burnett on short rest for the house-money Game Five, watching him get pummeled, and now having to sweat out the 37 year-old Pettitte doing the same tonight. If he falls short, Game Seven would go to ace CC Sabathia, on double-short rest--a situation in which the Phillies knocked him around in the 2008 National League Division Series. Girardi's bullpen management has been questionable as well: heading toward the end of the Series, he really only can trust Rivera (who, distressingly for the Phils, probably is good for two innings tonight) and perhaps veteran lefty Damaso Marte and rookie righty David Robertson.
  • It hurts to admit this, but if the Yankees go on to win, the big turning point in the Series will have been the role reversals of Cole Hamels and Pettite in Game Three. Hamels took a 3-0 lead into the fourth inning, got a tough call on a full-count pitch to Teixiera that went for a walk, and then fell to pieces, allowing a controversial home run to Rodriguez that made it 3-2 and surrendering three more runs before getting pulled the next inning. It was Hamels' whole season writ small: bad luck or bad karma followed by bad pitching and a downward spiral he couldn't escape. (To be clear: I'm not slagging Hamels here. The guy was the single biggest reason we won it all last year; for that, from me, he has a lifetime pass.) Pettitte, by contrast, escaped near-disaster early on: he'd thrown 51 pitches and allowed three runs through two innings, but held the Phillies to one run over the next four on a night when, as he reportedly later told teammates, he had "nothing." I kind of hate the guy, as I do most ostentatiously religious athletes, but I can't deny that he pitched like a champion Saturday night.
  • There's a lot about the Yankees that baseball fans find irritating, from the eternal sense of entitlement among their fan base to the whining about balls and strikes and the innumerable, interminable mound conferences and other delaying tactics they've used in this Series.  But what really turns my stomach about their push for a 27th world championship is the notion that they need to "win it for the Boss," ailing owner/tyrant George Steinbrenner. To put it mildly, this isn't a sympathetic guy: he's a convicted felon (for illegal campaign contributions to kindred spirit Richard Nixon) and a confirmed sexist--and this is even before you think about his depredations among team employees or his contributions to worsening baseball's competitive imbalance. As even Yankee great Don Mattingly acknowledged, he's less likable than Monty Burns. The Yankees, and their fans, should have enough reasons to crave victory beyond wanting to provide still more ego validation to a world-class asshole like Steinbrenner, who's probably too unwell to enjoy it anyway.

Meanwhile, the clock continues to wind toward 7:57pm and at least one more baseball game for the highest stakes.