p1_1013_pedro_apI’ve left it a little late, huh? The season could be over tonight, around 11pm. That’s Eastern Standard Time, Bronx Time, the time at Yankee Stadium, where the World Series returns this evening after a brief and inconclusive middle eight in Philadelphia. But now we come back to the chorus, the refrain heard so often in early autumn: the Yankees are about to win the World Series.

It’s enough to set your teeth on edge. The privileged golden boys of baseball – Derek Jeter, Andy Pettite, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and his mentor Joe Girardi – all of these guys first won the World Series way back in 1997, when owner George Steinbrenner was still giving great quote to reporters, when the World Trade Center was still standing, when the Yankees were still on WPIX every day through the summer and the “YES Network” (“Yankees Entertainment Sports”) was still just an agitprop gleam in Steinbrenner’s crinkly eye.

People talk about the World Series “coming home to Yankee Stadium” as if that’s the natural habitat of professional baseball’s most prestigious championship.

But the ridiculously wealthy Yankees haven’t sniffed a Series since 2003, when they lost to some team called the Florida Marlins and then you all know what happened the year after that. They were 3-0 in a best-of-seven series against the Red Sox, for a chance to go to the World Series. At the end of Game 4 they had both the lead and their best pitcher pitching – but somehow the Sox squeaked out of it, squeaked out of all of it, coming back to win the game, and then the next game, and the next one, and the one after that – the most epic choke in all of Yankee history, maybe in all of baseball.

The ace of that 2004 Boston team was a diminutive Dominican named Pedro Martinez. There is something about players like Martinez – their confidence, their fire, their unworldly ability – that makes games they play seem of outsized importance, makes the ballpark feel electric. When a player like that lands in the middle of a rivalry as hot as Yankees/Red Sox, the hype-ometer goes through the roof.

But Pedro rarely failed to deliver even on these expectations.

A year removed from this current Yankee dynasty’s best season (after which the team received rings that were, in a modesty typical of Steinbrenner’s Yankees, emblazoned with the legend “Best Team Ever”), Pedro pitched a game his manager called “the best pitching effort I have ever seen” against them, an effort that had Yankee manager Joe Torre reaching for comparisons with Sandy Koufax.

That was back in 1999, when congenital coke-head Darryl Strawberry was somehow still playing baseball, and playing for the Yankees (his first swing at a major-league pitch was as a New York Met, when Let’s Dance was at the top of the charts). But as time went by, the Yankees seemed to catch up with Pedro. At one point he said, “I just tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddy.” Bad move. Baseball fans have a jackal’s instinct for pouncing on weakness and can hold grudges into the afterlife.

Yankee fans have certainly never forgotten him, and his reappearance at Yankee Stadium is a thrilling throwback, a suggestion that sometimes life does have a kind of continuity after all.

Now Pedro is 38 years old and playing for the Philadelphia Phillies. He’s still tender from a major injury – he missed most of this season – but he’s still absurdly confident, telling reporters that he’s “probably the most influential player to ever step into Yankee Stadium.” He acquitted himself brilliantly in his first start of the Series, holding the Yankees to a run in five innings, but he finally gave up a two-run homer when his manager left him in the game too long. Yankee Stadium went nuts.

Tonight he goes again, against all the New York firepower that money can buy: Mark Texeira, Hideki Matsui (aka “Godzilla”, my personal favorite Yankee, who will probably be departing New York after this season), Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano, former Red Sock Johnny Damon, A-Rod – who’s still looking for his first World Series ring – and all the holdovers from the winning years of the last millenium, facing a Phillies team that’s strong on starting pitching, very weak at the end of the game, and with some surprising pop in their bats. Chase Utley currently has hit as many home runs in this World Series as the greatest World Series home run hitter of all time: Mr October himself, “the straw that stirs the drink”, Yankee slugger Reggie Jackson.

Tonight the Yankees can win it all, again.

All they have to do is beat Pedro.