NEW YORK -- Players make the difference in late October. In the World Series opener, the storyline revolved around Cliff Lee's masterful pitching and Chase Utley's power. In Game 2, A.J. Burnett performed like an $82.5 million guy and Mark Teixeira and Hideki Matsui provided the offense with solo home runs.
But when the stakes are high and time is short, lineup decisions, bullpen machinations and late-inning strategy become magnified out of proportion. Welcome to the trick-or-treat existence of Joe Girardi and Charlie Manuel.
After the Yankees beat the Phillies 3-1 to tie the Series at one game each, the two managers hit the interview room and faced an array of questions. If the inquiries felt like validation to Girardi and like a second-guessing festival to Manuel, that's the nature of the beast.
For six innings, this game poked along at a deliberate pace, with lots of fine pitching and relatively little strategy to dissect. Sure, you had to wonder what the Yankees were thinking when they intentionally walked Utley in front of Ryan Howard in the third inning. But it was generally a case of Burnett pumping first-pitch fastballs for strikes and Pedro Martinez resurrecting the old Cy Young magic for the Phillies.
And then, once the kids went to bed, things got a lot more interesting. A flurry of telling moves came in the late innings, when the slightest twist could have sent the game in a different direction.
• First off, it appeared that Martinez was done after six innings and 99 pitches. He'd thrown a total of 13 innings since Sept. 30, and he'd been superb with the exception of the solo shots by Teixeira and Matsui.
But Manuel remembered Game 2 of the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers, when he pulled Martinez with a lead after 87 pitches and the Phillies lost 2-1. And Martinez, who doesn't lack for persuasiveness, staged an effective lobbying campaign in his behalf.
"He said he felt good,'' Manuel said. "He said that he was fine. He said that he wanted to go back out and pitch. The bottom of the lineup was up, and I thought he hadn't lost anything.''
For what it's worth, Martinez threw 119 and 130 pitches during back-to-back starts in mid-September, so this wasn't his first foray into triple digits this season.
• Jerry Hairston Jr. opened the bottom of the seventh with a single off Martinez and was lifted for pinch runner Brett Gardner, who scored shortly thereafter on a base hit by Jorge Posada. That gave the Yankees a 3-1 lead, on a night when a two-run cushion felt infinitely more comfortable than one.
In hindsight, Girardi looked smart for a lineup call he'd made several hours earlier. With Nick Swisher swinging an ineffectual bat all month, it was time for a change in right field. Girardi decided to go with Hairston, who entered the game with a .370 career batting average (10-for-27) against Martinez.
The catch: Hairston's last at-bat against Martinez came in 2004, when Hairston was with the Orioles and Martinez was with Boston.
Are five-year-old matchup stats even relevant? In Girardi's estimation, they were, and Hairston came through when the Yankees needed it.
"Obviously Pedro is a little different today,'' Hairston said. "He definitely had that electric fastball then, but his command might be even better now. He was spotting pitches on me that I thought were balls when I was at the plate. Then I went back and looked at the film during the game, and they were strikes. They were pitcher's pitches.
"He got me the first two at-bats, and the third at-bat, I was able to fight and claw and do something off him.''
That brought up Utley, who worked the count full against Mariano Rivera. The Fox broadcast team of Tim McCarver and Joe Buck -- and millions of viewers -- wondered if Manuel would start the runners.
There were several reasons to think he would. Utley handles the bat well, the Phillies needed two runs to tie, and Rollins and Victorino are two of the most proficient base stealers around. Rollins has a career 84-percent success rate, and Victorino has 98 steals the past three seasons. This wasn't exactly Pedro Feliz and Carlos Ruiz clogging the bases.
But the two runners stayed put. Manuel's explanation: Utley doesn't ground into many double plays (try five in 687 plate appearances this season), and Manuel didn't want to let the Yankees slip out of the inning without having to face Howard, who cast a big shadow from the on-deck circle.
"I don't want Utley to hit into a line-drive double play and I don't want Jimmy Rollins to get thrown out at third base,'' Manuel said. "I want Howard hitting in the inning.''
So wouldn't you know, Utley grounded into a 4-6-3 double play, and Derek Jeter and Teixeira celebrated the moment by pumping their fists in jubilation.
The Phillies briefly rehashed the sequence in the clubhouse before boarding the train home to Philadelphia.
"I went into Charlie's office and we talked about it,'' Victorino said. "I told him, 'Don't second-guess yourself there.' You have to go with your gut instinct, and unfortunately, it worked out bad for us. But if Chase hits into a line-drive double play, Ryan doesn't get a chance to hit there, either. So I'd take my chances the way we did.''
To compound the Phillies' regret, Utley might have been safe at first base. But that's a whole different story.
[Rivera] has been doing it for a long time. ... [Pitching him two innings] is not something we like to do during the season, because we think it's important to keep him healthy for the long run. But it can be real effective for us.
”-- Yankees manager Joe Girardi
• After Girardi determined that Burnett had done his part by throwing 108 pitches over seven innings, the question was, where would he turn next? With Phil Hughes in a funk, Joba Chamberlain no sure thing and an off-day scheduled for Friday, Girardi didn't hesitate. He summoned Rivera, and the closer's "Enter Sandman'' anthem echoed throughout the park in the top of the eighth.
Six outs and 39 pitches later, Rivera had recorded career postseason save No. 38.
"Mo has been doing it for a long time,'' Girardi said. "Even in 1996 when I caught him and he was a setup guy, he would go more than two innings at a time. It's not something we like to do during the season, because we think it's important to keep him healthy for the long run. But it can be real effective for us.''
For the record, Rivera recorded one two-inning save all season, against Minnesota on May 16. His single-game high for pitches thrown was 32 against the Mets in the infamous Luis Castillo dropped popfly game in June. But Rivera pitched more than an inning four times against the Twins and Angels in the playoffs, and he's a world removed from the pampered, three-outs-and-hit-the-food-spread fraternity.
Some observers think that Rivera has lost a little zip on his cut fastball as the postseason has progressed, but his career postseason ERA is now 0.76. That's not quite as pristine as John Blutarsky's Faber College GPA, but the Yankees will never complain.
"He's special,'' Jeter said of Rivera. "That's the only way you can say it. Nobody does it better, and nobody's done what he's done. I can't answer it. Maybe he might be able to answer it.''
For Jeter, Rivera, Girardi and the rest of the Yankees, the most important answer appeared in fluorescent bulbs on the stadium scoreboard late Thursday night. The final score was enough to give New York's traveling party a feeling of sustenance and hope as the World Series shifts to Philadelphia for the next chapter this weekend.