"Because of you guys in some ways I might be at times the most influential player that ever stepped in Yankee Stadium," Philadelphia's Game 2 starter told members of the media on Wednesday.
It's a well-known fact that Pedro's 1999-00 peak might be the best two-year peak of any righthander in the history of baseball. But when people think of him in the playoffs, they usually think of two games, neither of which saw him at full strength:
• Game Five of the 1999 ALDS, where he was injured and still no-hit the Indians for six innings in relief (back when Charlie Manuel was the Indians' hitting coach)
• Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS, where he gave up three runs to the Yankees in the eighth inning before Grady Little finally came around to the idea of yanking him.
Pedro isn't the same guy he was in 1999, of course. He struck out 313 men in 213 1/3 innings that year and put up a 2.07 ERA in the height of the Steroid Era, more than two and a half runs lower than the major league average of 4.71. His fastball reached the mid-90s, he averaged over seven innings and 10 strikeouts a start and, and his hair still fit inside his baseball cap. By the statistic ERA+ (an adjusted version of ERA), it was the eighth-best season of all time — and Pedro's year in 2000 was the single best.
What can we expect from Pedro tonight, just days after he celebrated his 38th birthday? Well, he had at least one hit batsman in each of his last four starts of September and he's pitched just twice in the past month. On Sept. 30, he gave up two homers and three earned in four innings against the Astros, getting just two strikeouts. Then, on Oct. 16, he rediscovered some of the old magic, holding the Dodgers to just two hits in seven scoreless innings in Game Two of the NLCS. He touched 92 with his fastball and dipped below 70 with his curve. His average fastball velocity was actually the highest it's been since he left the Red Sox — he averaged 88.5 miles per hour on his fastball this year, after averaging between 86.2 and 88 with the Mets over his time in New York.
Much has been made of the decision to go with Pedro over Cole Hamels(notes) and it has been a controversial decision. While the FanGraphs folks dislike it, David Murphy(notes) of the Philly Daily News is agnostic and Big League Stew's David Brown is in favor.
Clearly, the Phillies think that Hamels can't be counted upon like he was last October — but considering that Pedro pitched five innings or less in five of his nine starts this year, allowing a .789 opponents' OPS, it's hard to call him a known quantity. Latter-day Pedro has been particularly bedeviled by the home run: After allowing 0.7 HR per nine innings through 2004, he's allowed 1.5 per nine in 2008 and 2009, including seven homers in just 44 2/3 innings this year. With his diminished fastball, his margin for error is far, far less.
And the margin of error is even lower when you consider that the 38-year old will be facing the best offense in the game with no pitcher's spot in the lineup. Pedro hasn't pitched against an American League team since 2008 — when he gave up six runs in 5 2/3 innings to the Yankees. Manuel will need to monitor him extremely closely. Five or six innings may be the most they can reasonably ask of him, but after Cliff Lee's(notes) complete game on Wednesday night, the Phillies will have the luxury of a rested and ready bullpen.