<
>

Game 3 ... start spreading the news

NEW YORK -- With a series-tying Game 2 victory well in hand, the Yankees fans felt so full of themselves by the ninth inning that they were actually chanting, "WE WANT PEDRO! WE WANT PEDRO!''

This chant, by the way, was not cleared by New York's batters. To chant "WE WANT PEDRO!'' before a game against Martinez is like chanting, "I WANT TO BE AUDITED'' before filing your tax return.

Then again, after the Evil Empire lost Game 1 and saw the Red Sox put seven runners on base the first two innings of Game 2, Yankees fans had good reason to feel giddy with their eventual 6-2 victory. Boston had a chance to blow the game open early against starter Andy Pettitte but turned three singles and a walk into exactly no runs in the first inning and turned three hits into only one run in the second.

Seven baserunners in the first two innings of a playoff game against the Yankees and you only score one run? That's like hanging up when Kate Beckinsale asks you out on a date and then registering her number on the Do Not Call list.

While The Red Sox were spitting in the face of opportunity, the Yankees took the lead with two runs on only one hit off Boston starter Derek Lowe -- Nick Johnson's blast into the right-field seats in the second inning. Pettitte, who has been doing this his entire career, settled down after his early struggles, maintained the lead the rest of the way and pretty soon it was "New York, New York'' time.

(A quick aside. The Yankees generally play Sinatra's version of "New York, New York'' after victories and Liza Minnelli's version after losses. Does this make Liza feel bad? My prediction: Probably not as bad as when she woke up after her wedding night last year and got a good look at the goofy face of her groom.)

Anyway, the Yankees did what they absolutely had to do in New York, win one game to avoid facing Pedro down 2-0 in the series. "With Pedro going Saturday, we had to go out there and get that win tonight,'' New York's Jason Giambi said. "That was big.''

Despite the loss, the Red Sox left New York knowing they accomplished what they had to as well. They won one of the two games and can send Pedro to the mound in Game 3 with a chance to take the series lead. "We feel great. We came here and we got our split,'' first baseman Kevin Millar said. "Now we go home for three games and we're ready to roll.''

So, we're set. The series is tied and Pedro faces Roger Clemens in Game 3 in the late afternoon at Fenway Park. The current great Boston right-hander against the great former Boston right-hander. The Yankees and the Red Sox. Pedro vs. Clemens. This is about as big, dramatic and emotional as it gets in baseball without having someone walking in from an Iowa cornfield.

"Whenever we play them in the regular season it's always like a playoff game there,'' Giambi said. "I can't imagine what it will be like Saturday.''

Then again, we had the exact same matchup for Game 3 of the 1999 playoffs and that game left a little something to be desired. Pedro was awesome as usual; Clemens was knocked out of the game early and the Red Sox won 13-1.

And then the Yankees won every other game of the series.

Which once again is New York's key to this series. If the Yankees win enough games quickly enough, there won't be a seventh game and they won't face Pedro twice.

This will definitely be the last time Clemens pitches in Fenway and perhaps the last time he pitches in the majors. He faces the "Last Possible Start'' scenario every time he pitches this postseason, just like a Stones fan faces whenever Mick and the boys come to town. "Eventually there will be a last one,'' Clemens said, "but I don't want it to be on my dime.''

In other words, if it is his last start, he wants to be sure it wasn't because he lost a game.

Win or lose, last career start or not, all we know for sure is that he and Pedro will pitch Saturday and you'll have a better chance finding a headline that reads "Big Dig Finally Completed'' than an offer for a ticket at face value.

"I don't think we'll really be able to appreciate it until 10 years from now when we're retired and looking back on our careers,'' Boston's Game 4 starter John Burkett said. "We'll be able to watch the highlight video and I'll be able to tell my kids, 'I was at that game. That's when Pedro struck out 17 and Clemens struck out 16.'

"And hopefully, I'll be able to say that the Red Sox won.''

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.