EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 25, 2009

Enigmatic pitchers on the hot seat

Bill Burt

It might be once a decade when winning and losing doesn't matter when the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees play.

Well, that "Halley's Comet" weekend has arrived.

Unless something of the "Boston Massacre" variety occurs in Yankee Stadium beginning tonight — as in one team romps in all three games — nobody will be jumping off the Tobin or George Washington bridges this weekend.

Other than some insignificant bragging, these games don't count.

But that doesn't take away from an interesting storyline.

While Daisuke Matsuzaka and Joba Chamberlain won't be pitching against each other — initially both were supposed to pitch Saturday, but Chamberlain's start was moved to tonight — they might as well be.

Why focus on two underachieving "star'' pitchers in a nothing series?

Because Dice-K and Chamberlain could be pitching in Game 4 of the ALCS at Fenway Park.

And the difference in the ALCS might be "The Enigma Bowl" participants.

We are, of course, assuming the Sox and Yankees are the best two teams in the AL, and will dismantle the competition in the opening round.

Because that's what we do.

Dice-K and Chamberlain, are very lucky. In another city, they would be labeled "aces gone bad."

Both have shown the ability to be great. But only on occasion.

In 2008, Dice-K went 18-3 record with a 2.90 ERA. While there were too many 5-inning outings, it was a huge improvement over his first season here (15-12, 4.20 ERA).

And Chamberlain's first two seasons (2007 and 2008), he bordered on electric, averaging an eyepopping 1.22 strikeouts per inning.

Both were supposed to be stars this season.

But in Boston and N.Y., where aces are sprinkled throughout the respective rotations, they have been collateral damage in their typical 95-plus win seasons.

The Red Sox were lucky that 25-year-old Clay Buchholz (6-3, 3.49 ERA) grew up and the Yankees were lucky 37-year-old Andy Pettitte (13-7, 4.15) didn't repeat his mediocre 2008, in which he was 14-14.

With the playoffs less than two weeks away, Dice-K and Chamberlain, the No. 4 starters, might be the difference between being a playoff team or a World Series champion.

Who's the favorite in The Enigma Bowl?

Well, in Dice-K's first start after a three-month stint in Terry Francona's doghouse, he looked as good as he's ever looked in a Red Sox uniform, allowing only three hits in six innings and throwing only 93 pitches against the Angels.

But his second start last Sunday looked a lot like the infuriating Dice-K we've come to expect: 5 1/3 innings against the Orioles, allowing three runs on whopping 110 pitches.

Chamberlain's recent run has been much more disconcerting. The Mariners rocked him for seven runs in three innings Sunday. And over his last nine starts, Chamberlain is 1-4 with an 8.25 ERA, giving up 50 hits and 21 walks in 36 innings.

There is talk that Chamberlain may be pitching for that No. 4 spot in the postseason.

Which brings us to tonight and tomorrow.

Chamberlain and Dice-K need to show they belong. And if one of them is up to the task, it might mean a World Series for his club.

E-mail Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.

Pitching matchups

Red Sox%Yankees

Today, 7:05 p.m.%Jon Lester (14-7, 3.33 ERA)%Joba Chamberlain (8-6, 4.72 ERA)

Tomorrow, 4:10 p.m.%Daisuke Matsuzaka (3-5, 6.80 ERA)%CC Sabathia (18-7, 3.31 ERA)

Sunday, 1:05 p.m.%Paul Byrd (1-2, 6.04 ERA)%Andy Pettitte (13-7, 4.15 ERA)