Tonight is The Big One. Brandon Webb vs. Pedro Martinez in Shea Stadium. Webb returns to the scene of his first major-league start, where he burst onto the world in 2003. On April 27th, five days after his debut (pitching the ninth against the Expos at BOB), he faced Tom Glavine - and gave the future Hall of Famer a lesson. Webb pitched seven shutout innings, allowed three hits and fanned ten Mets, on his way to victory.
No question, Webb likes pitching in Shea. His second outing was almost as successful - seven innings, one earned run, giving him this career line in the Big Apple:
Webb: 14 IP, 10 H, 3 BB, 16 K, 1 ER
Webb has yet to taste defeat this season, and his ERA of 2.18 leads the National League. But his opponent is, arguably, the greatest pitcher of the modern era, with a career record of 202-85 - that's over a .700 winning percentage, third-best all-time among pitchers with 100+ decisions. This is his 16th season, and he's yet to post an ERA+ below 117 - it hasn't been below 125 since 1996. So, we duly give Martinez the respect he deserves: it will not be easy for our hitters this afternoon.
And yet, Webb has been magnificent in 2006. Over at Sports Illustrated, Albert Chen drools over Webb, calling his sinker, "arguably the filthiest pitch in baseball." He does point to the improved defense as helping, but also credits Webb with a much-improved curveball. Says Webb, "I've been able to throw it for strikes. To come out with a first-pitch curveball for a strike is huge for me because people know that the sinker is coming." There's no doubt that Webb, already a good pitcher, is a genuine ace thus far.
Yes, folks: this one promises to be a doozie, matching up two pitchers with a combined winning percentage this year of .929 - this is, basically, your irresistible force meeting your immovable object. I'm clearing the decks of all superfluous activities, so that I can sit down and appreciate this one fully. I'm sure you're eagerly anticipating it as well, and I look forward to a top-notch pitching duel. It wouldn't surprise me if the game is over in about 2:10 - don't blink or you might miss an inning.