What's so great about Pedro vs. Rocket?
In terms of the stakes and the stars, it really doesn't get any better than this.
I checked every winner-take-all game in postseason history, and noted the games in which both starting pitchers finished their careers with at least 150 victories.
I found 15 of these games.
Next, for each starting pitcher I figured how many games he'd won before the winner-take-all game. This gave me two numbers for each match-up: the number of games won by the pitchers before the game, and the number of games eventually won by the pitchers in their careers.
Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez have won 476 games: 310 for Clemens, 166 for Martinez. That's a lot of games, but it's not at the top of the list:
Still, that's a lot of wins. And while Clemens has threatened to retire after this season, Martinez doesn't have any imminent plans in that direction. So if he can win 70 more games before he quits -- granted, that's no sure thing -- Clemens/Martinez will move to the top of this particular list.
Here's another list, the match-ups ranked in order of wins at the time:
Clemens/Martinez wins this one, and it's not even close. Of course, you've probably already realized that Clemens has a big advantages: he just happens to be ending his brilliant career when Major League Baseball is sponsoring ever-increasing numbers of postseason games.
Everything you've read so far is the sort of thing that might be enjoyed only by figure filberts and my dear mother who thinks everything I write is gold. But here's something for everybody, even if you're not impressed by silly numbers ....
If you'll assume, for the sake of argument, that Martinez will one day be elected to the Hall of Fame (but Schilling and Jim Kaat will not), then Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS marks only the second time that two Hall of Fame pitchers have faced off in a winner-take-all postseason game.
And the first time comes with an asterisk.
In Game 7 of the 1926 World Series, Jesse Haines started for the Cardinals, Waite Hoyt for the Yankees. Both are in the Hall of Fame today ... but both are pretty marginal Hall of Famers. Both drew very little support from on the BBWAA ballot, and both were elected by the Veterans Committee when the members of that august body were limited not by their good sense or the voting rules, but by the size of their ballots. Haines and Hoyt certainly were fine pitchers, but if the evidence of their greatness exists somewhere, it remains as yet undiscovered.
Which leaves Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens atop the pile. Sure, there have been some other great match-ups. In addition to those listed above, there was Sandy Koufax and Jim Kaat in 1965, Mickey Lolich and Bob Gibson in 1968, John Smoltz and Jack Morris in 1991 . . . but for sheer marquee value, this one takes the cake. Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens, for all the American League marbles.
The guys on TV are right: it doesn't get any better than this.
What should we expect from Clemens and Martinez?
It's fashionable to suggest that great match-ups rarely live up to their advance billing, but I would argue they do live up to their billing more often than not. In those 15 aforementioned match-ups, the starters combined for a 2.36 ERA. And with Haines' and Hoyt's 1926 battle the first of them, that means that all 15 came after the Dead Ball Era, so the composite ERA is artificially deflated by just one pitcher-friendly era (the 1960s). Six of the 15 games resulted in shutouts, and only twice did one of the starters get seriously knocked around.
We know that both Clemens and Martinez are outstanding pitchers, and we know that both the Red Sox and Yankees feature outstanding lineups. If you don't mind a bit of idle speculation, I'll theorize that Game 7 will hinge on emotion.
Clemens is notoriously emotional in big games. Sometimes it's hurt him and sometimes it hasn't. If he's in his happy place, he'll be very tough to beat.
Martinez pitched like a busher in Game 4 . . . until the rhubarb, after which he retired 11 straight batters. If he begins the game with the same intensity he showed after throwing at Karim Garcia and oh-so-gently guiding Don Zimmer to the Fenway turf, he'll be very tough to beat.
The odds are good that one of these hotheads will lose his composure, and get driven to ground before the sixth inning. But we could see one hell of a duel tonight, huh?
Trader Jack's excellent adventure
How old is Jack McKeon? Well, consider this ... Felipe Alou is considered old, as managers go. In Alou's last full season as a player, McKeon was in his first year as a manager. This was 1973, when Alou played (mostly) for the Yankees and McKeon managed the Royals.
How old is Jack McKeon? Apparently he thinks nothing of using not one, not two, but three of his "starters" in the first eight innings of a nine-inning ballgame. I'm not ready to call him a genius -- the Cubs hit a lot of balls awfully hard in Game 7 -- but I will call him refreshing.
Whether they face the Yankees or the Red Sox in the World Series, the Marlins will be big underdogs. But even if you like the Red Sox (as I do) or the Yankees (as I'm told others do), some part of you has to enjoy what McKeon and his team have done in 2003, 30 years after he got his start in the business.
Dusty Baker's not-so-excellent nightmare
And then there's Dusty Baker.
I'm not personally going to engage in any second-guessing, because I didn't perform the requisite first-guessing. However, there are certain people still wondering why Baker allowed Mark Prior to throw 116 pitches in Game 2 when the Cubs had an 11-run lead. If Prior had been pulled after the fifth -- remember, this isn't me talking -- perhaps he wouldn't have blown up in the eighth inning of Game 6, and perhaps the Cubs would, at this moment, be preparing for their first World Series since World War II. Or perhaps the Cubs would have won if Baker had been a little quicker with the hook in Game 6 when it looked like Prior was losing it.
You know, I can't help but wonder -- hey, now this is me talking! -- if maybe Dusty Baker's like Bobby Cox: one of the world's greatest managers from April through September, but just a bit out of his element when the calendar turns to October.
Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information about the book, visit Rob's Web site.