Instant classic

pedroIf the gunslingers from the Wild, Wild West had been baseball players instead of plying their trades at the OK Corral, it might have looked a lot like the first seven innings of Thursday night’s game at the Bank.

With Cy Old, Pedro Martinez dueling against Cy Young, Tim Lincecum, the OK Corral imagery worked in the most austere sense, however. In fact, after Pedro struck out the side in the third inning to register his seventh strikeout against the first 10 hitters he faced, he strutted off the mound as if he were going up against the Yankees at Fenway 10 years ago.

So when he strutted off the mound at the end of the third with his eyes narrowed and right arm dangling at his side as if it were some sort of weapon, it was as if he were saying to Lincecum, “There you go, kid. Your turn.”

And Lincecum, a pitcher in whom Pedro saw a lot of similarities with, answered.

Both pitchers lasted seven innings and combined for 20 strikeouts and one walk. Pedro got nine whiffs and no walks while Lincecum got the other 11 and the walk. Perhaps the only real mar on the game was that because it was so close, both pitchers had to come out after seven innings for pinch hitters.

What a drag.

Nevertheless, Pedro vs. Lincecum was pure artistry. Call it the old master dialing it up to show the next big thing how it works. And yet though Pedro might go down as the right-handed version of Sandy Koufax, he looked at Lincecum as an heir of sorts. There they were, two narrow shouldered righties throwing heat and breaking off knee-buckling changeups in the middle of a tense September pennant race.

Yes, there were plenty of subtle fist pumps from the pitchers after big outs to go around.

“Kind of flashes back from the good old times,” said Pedro, flashing a smile after the game. “As you know, I don’t have the same power I used to have, but I’ve always said it’s not about power. It’s about hitting the spots and knowing what to do with it.”

Ah yes, the good old days. That was back when Pedro won three Cy Young Awards and should have had a fourth had it not been for some suspect voting. Regardless, Pedro also acknowledged that facing Lincecum fired him up a bit like those old days when he faced Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson in big-time games. That was especially the case after Eugenio Velez smashed the first pitch of the game into the right-field seats.

“That isn’t going to help you against a guy like Lincecum,” Pedro said. “That game could easily have finished 1-0 with the stuff he had.”

Instead, Lincecum made two, maybe three, mistakes. He hung one to Jayson Werth who knocked it into the second deck in left field for his 30th homer of the season. It was also the fourth different ballpark he nailed one into the second deck in left (CBP, Toronto and both New York City parks).

Then, with two outs in the sixth, Linecum plunked Chase Utley high on the right shoulder which set the table for Ryan Howard’s game-winning RBI double.

Still, Pedro was impressed with his mini-me.

“He’s amazing,” Pedro said about Lincecum. “He reminds me a lot of me, only twice as better at the same time in the big leagues. This is his second or third year, right? Yeah, he already has a Cy Young.”

The feeling was mutual for Lincecum toward his fellow 5-foot-11 right-handed Cy Young Award winner and two All-Star Game starter. Pedro had always been a model for the Giants 25-year-old stud, who is only in his second full big league season. That even goes for Thursday night’s classic where Lincecum watched just as intently as the 45,000-plus in the seats. Watching, the Giants’ ace knew that the first pitcher that blinked was going to lose.

“I used him as an example of guys who had great careers and put up pretty phenomenal numbers considering their lack of size,” Lincecum said.

Tim Lincecum“Just to get to see what kind of stuff he has and it’s just ridiculous how nasty it still is today. You can see that he knows what he’s doing and he’s not just winging it up there hoping that he’s getting outs. He’s pitching with a purpose. He knows how to get guys out and that was apparent in the first three innings.”

That’s exactly how manager Charlie Manuel saw it, too. Though they traveled in similar circles during the Indians’ glory years where Manuel was the hitting coach and manager and Pedro was putting together his seven-year epic streak for the Red Sox, the manager and pitcher didn’t really know each other.

Truth is, Manuel doesn’t much like talking about the days Pedro stuck it to him and the Indians, especially that deciding game of the 1999 ALDS where Pedro came on in relief and threw six no-hit innings. Pedro on the mound never did much to help Manuel’s Indians.

But now that they are getting to know one another, the feeling has changed… a bit.

“Pedro has a lot of determination. Actually, Pedro is a little bit different person than I thought he was. He’s a mentally tough guy, a gamer, and he’s cocky, but in a good way,” Manuel said. “He definitely knows baseball and he knows how to pitch. He has a tremendous feel for pitching.”

Meanwhile, it’s not farfetched to think that the mid-season acquisition who has pitched in just six games for a 3-0 record with a 3.52 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 23 innings, can elbow his way onto the playoff rotation. Cliff Lee is a given, so too is Cole Hamels. But the other two spots are up for grabs between Pedro, Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ.

Though he hasn’t been stretched out to Manuel’s liking, Pedro has several things going for him aside from guile, reputation and experience. So far this season 71 percent of his pitches have resulted in a swinging strike. Nearly 20 percent of his pitches have resulted in a swing and miss.

The 20 percent swing-and-miss ratio is by far the best on the Phillies’ starting rotation, and only Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson have higher rates amongst all pitchers for the team this season.

So there is a little bit left of the old Pedro in the old Pedro.

“As far as me, individually, I wanted this kind of game,” he said. “I want to help this team, not only today, but in the future. This is September already. I really need to get it all together if I want to help this team, and [Thursday] was a big step forward.”

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