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Pettitte strikes out seven to even the Series

10/20/2003

NEW YORK -- Andy Pettitte had his doubts before Game 2, about whether he could succeed on three days' rest, about whether he'd have enough stuff to maintain his fastball against the Florida Marlins, and he expressed his concerns to Roger Clemens in the Texans' usual pre-game confessional.

"Are you kidding me?" Clemens said. "You're a horse. You're going to be great." And Clemens reminded Pettitte of all the work they did together in December, the weightlifting and the running and the drills to strengthen their legs.

Feeling reassured, Pettitte went out and dominated the Marlins, coming within one out of becoming the first Yankees' pitcher in 41 years to throw a complete-game World Series shutout. Allowing an unearned run with two outs in the ninth, Pettitte surrendered just six hits and one walk in 8 2/3 innings as the Yankees beat Florida, 6-1, in Game 2 of the World Series; the best-of-seven series is tied 1-all.

Hideki Matsui slugged a three-run homer in the first inning, and emboldened by an early lead, Pettitte's long outing stabilized the Yankees' pitching staff that was weary after the Game 7 scrum with Boston on Thursday. When the World Series resumes in Florida on Tuesday, the Yankees' starters will be fully rested, and closer Mariano Rivera -- who threw three innings on Thursday -- will have not pitched in five days. "Andy's been huge for us," said Yankees manager Joe Torre.

Florida manager Jack McKeon said, "He had good stuff tonight, no question about it."

Pettitte started Game 6 of the American League Championship Series against Boston and because he would have to work with one day less than his normal rest, he wondered if his fastball might be compromised against the Marlins; even after his conversation with Clemens, part of Pettitte wondered if the 300-game winner was merely trying to encourage him.

But Clemens was right -- Pettitte had an excellent fastball, his great stuff exacerbated by the conditions. The temperature in Yankee Stadium when Pettitte threw his first pitch was 48 degrees and the players breathed clouds in the frigid air. It was the type of night, Florida right fielder Juan Encarnacion said, when hitters might worry about hitting a ball on the handle, stinging their hands. "It's not normal -- you're going to like the hot weather," said Encarnacion. "It's going to be tough for anybody."

The temperature did not account for the wind that spun around the facades and made the humid air colder; it felt more like standing on the Maine coastline in December than October in New York. It was not a day for pitchers to try to spin breaking balls and try to touch and feel changeups, and from the outset, Pettitte hammered the Marlins with fastballs, four-seamers and some two-seamers, in the range of 90-94 mph.

Pettitte sometimes causes Torre to cringe whenever he tries to power the ball through the strike zone. The forte of the Yankees' left-hander is to throw sinkers and cutters and get groundballs, and whenever he deviates from that formula and goes with hard stuff, Torre frets that Pettitte might get himself in trouble, like a bicyclist steering onto the passing lane of an interstate highway.

But Pettitte was as effective as he was aggressive with the hard stuff. "I had a good four-seamer," said Pettitte.

He appeared to throw 11 fastballs before he tried his signature pitch -- his hard-veering cutter -- and even when Pettitte began mixing in an occasional breaking ball and changeup, when he faced shortstop Alex Gonzalez -- he stayed with the hard stuff.

The conditions seemed to be much less than ideal for Florida starter Mark Redman, a soft-tosser who fell behind in the count against eight of the Yankees' first 10 hitters. Redman walked Yankees second baseman Alfonso Soriano in the bottom of the first -- only the second walk of the postseason for the wild-swinging Soriano -- and after Derek Jeter struck out, Soriano was thrown out attempting to steal second base.

But Redman hit Jason Giambi with an 86-mph fastball, about the hardest Redman can throw, and Bernie Williams singled to center field. Redman fell behind Matsui three balls and no strikes, and Matsui looked down at third base coach Willie Randolph for the sign.

Matsui is a disciplined hitter, and with two outs in a scoreless game, Torre gave Matsui the green light: if Redman's next pitch looked good, Matsui had the option of attacking it.

Redman threw a fastball over the outer half of the plate, and Matsui launched himself into it, turning his hips and whipping his bat through the strike zone, driving the ball to straightaway center field. The Marlins' Juan Pierre raced back, reached the warning track and stopped. The ball kept going, flying over the center field wall for a three-run homer.

He did not overswing, Torre marveled later, or get himself out by being too aggressive. Hitting the ball to center field, Torre thought, is "indicative of a real good hitter who knows his ability. He knows where his strength is."

The Yankees would tack on another run in the second inning, knock out Redman in the third, and in the fourth, Soriano hit his first postseason homer, driving a hanging curve over the left field wall for a two-run homer. Pettitte would wait in the dugout while the Yankees took their turn at-bat, staring down toward his feet, probably seeing the ground but focusing on the hitters he would face in the next inning. And Pettitte kept dominating the Marlins.

He struggled with his control a bit early, but struck out Ivan Rodriguez in the first inning, and after getting three flyballs in the second inning -- the result of high fastballs -- Pettitte whiffed all three Florida batters in the third inning: Jeff Conine, Encarnacion and Gonzalez. Pettitte needed only four pitches to get three outs in the second inning, and through five innings, his pitch count was 53, leaving him in excellent position to throw deep into the game and ease the burden on the rest of the staff.

Pettitte walked Encarnacion to lead off the sixth, but struck out Gonzalez and got out of that inning, and then got a double-play grounder in the seventh. He went out for the eighth and the ninth, closing in on his 13th postseason victory -- a win which ties him with John Smoltz for the all-time record.

But Derrek Lee singled home a run with two outs in the ninth, and Torre stepped from the dugout to summon Jose Contreras for the last out. Pettitte was frustrated with his own inability to finish the game, looking downcast, and catcher Jorge Posada talked to him, telling him he did great. Pettitte had to be reassured, right to the end.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.