NEW YORK - Andy Pettitte leaned forward in his chair and recounted a chat he had with Derek Jeter as soon as they realized what was next in this World Series.
Pettitte vs. old foe Pedro Martinez, with the Yankees one win from ecstasy.
Still chasing that elusive 27th championship, New York turns to Pettitte once again tonight in Game 6, hoping he can pitch his team past the Philadelphia Phillies on only three days’ rest.
“Me and Derek were talking about it in the clubhouse last night. Just, how strange is this?” Pettitte said Tuesday. “I think everybody knew it was going to be a great Series. I think everybody knew it was going to be a tough Series. And it looks like it’s living up to that.”
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After wasting a chance to wrap things up in Game 5 at Philadelphia on Monday, the Yankees set their sights on clinching at home. They’d love to christen their $1.5 billion ballpark with a World Series crown in its first season and give a seventh title to 79-year-old owner George Steinbrenner.
They’ve got two chances to do it. Game 7 would be Thursday night in the Bronx if necessary, with ace CC Sabathia pitching for New York — also on short rest.
“People expect us to be great all the time. We just need to be great tomorrow night,” Johnny Damon said.
Coming off an 8-6 victory Monday night that trimmed their Series deficit to 3-2, the defending champion Phillies took the train to New York on Tuesday afternoon, a ride that takes a little more than an hour. They chose not to work out at Yankee Stadium, but the home team did.
Martinez and manager Charlie Manuel showed up at the ballpark for news conferences. Manuel was uncertain whether All-Star center fielder Shane Victorino would be able to play in Game 6 after getting hit on the right hand with A.J. Burnett’s 95 mph fastball Monday night.
If Victorino can’t go, Ben Francisco would likely start in center.
Riding Chase Utley’s homers, the Phillies are trying to become the first team to rally to win the World Series from a 3-1 deficit since the 1985 Kansas City Royals — and the first Naional League club to win consecutive championships since the 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds.
To do it, Philadelphia might need Ryan Howard to break out of his untimely slump. The big slugger is batting .158 (3-for-19) with 12 strikeouts, tying the Series record set by Kansas City’s Willie Wilson in 1980.
Utley, however, is doing more than his share. His five home runs matched the mark set by Yankees Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson in 1977.
On the other side, second-year New York manager Joe Girardi confirmed that he won’t hesitate to use a well-rested Mariano Rivera for multiple innings to try to close it out.
“The only thing I focus on is Game 6. I don’t focus on legacy, because I’m not worried about my legacy,” said Girardi, trying to guide New York to its first title since 2000. “People are always going to have perceptions of you, and some of them are going to be true, and probably most of them are going to be false.”
Pettitte and Martinez first squared off on the mound 11 years ago, but they’ve never done so in the postseason. Both pitchers are 3-3 in six matchups, all games between the Yankees and Red Sox between 1998 and 2003. The visitor has won each time and Martinez has a 3.86 ERA to Pettitte’s 5.88, according to STATS LLC.
In their first meeting, Girardi hit a three-run homer off Martinez, but Boston chased Pettitte during an 11-run third inning in a 13-7 victory.
With so much on the line this time, it’s a delicious matchup of gritty pros long past their primes.
“Two old goats out there doing the best they can and having fun with it,” Martinez said. “I don’t have enough words to describe how excited I am about being here. This is just a great gift to me.”
The forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-40s at game time, with rain unlikely.
The 38-year-old Martinez pitched well in a Game 2 loss at Yankee Stadium and now gets the ball on regular rest for the first time since mid-September. He’s had several long layoffs since.
On the other hand, Pettitte, 37, will have only three days between starts for the first time since Sept. 30, 2006, with Houston. According to STATS, the savvy left-hander is 5-7 with a 4.18 ERA in 18 such outings during his career, including the postseason.
This one marks a major change, though. Pettitte has been on extra rest in his past eight starts dating to Sept. 11.
“I would think that he’s rested,” Girardi said, laughing.