Thursday, October 29, 2009


The old cliche is true. In baseball, momentum is the next day's starting pitcher.

And for the Phillies coming off last night's gem by Cliff "I now own Philadelphia's heart" Lee, momentum for the Fightin's takes the mound in the form of 37-year old Pedro Martinez.

There's never been a more dramatic figure in baseball. Before he arrived in Philadelphia in July of this season, I admit that I was not a fan. I respected his stuff and granted that he deserves a Hall of Fame induction when his career finally closes, but I'd never understood all of the drama Pedro creates.

There's just something about this guy. Partly, it's his high jinks when not on the mound. Before he joined the local nine, I was swayed by all of the ESPN footage of Pedro being a bit of a goofball in the dugout and before games. Only now do I appreciate that all of that is on his non-throwing days.

When Pedro's on the mound, he's all business; and he knows that business very well.

Which is another aspect of his game that I've only now fully appreciated.

This man used to have some of the nastiest stuff in sports. He could get away with a mistake because his fastball was just too fast, and his curveball just too deadly for hitters to resist.

Now that the fastball has lost a few mph, and the curve and the change-up aren't what they used to be, you can really see just how intelligent a pitcher he is (and probably always has been). Pedro knows how to beat batters with his mind.

That's what he'll have to rely on tonight against an incredibly powerful Yankees line-up, and that's also what makes Charlie Manuel's decision to start Pedro perfect.

After the obvious decision to start Cliff Lee in Game 1, it was a real conundrum of what to do in Game 2. This year (including this postseason) Cole Hamels hasn't been the same guy who won the World Series MVP last year, but he did in fact win that MVP award.

So, shouldn't he, a pitcher in his prime, be the number two starter in the World Series?

Pedro pitched a brilliant game against the Dodgers in the NLCS, but that was the first time he'd gone deep into a game since the middle of September, and it was in 80-degree, sunny Southern California. Tonight, Pedro will be pitching in weather predicted to be in the mid-50s (and dropping).

And that's where his mental advantage comes into play.

Cole Hamels has had several difficulties this year, but the most glaring one in the postseason has been his inability to brush off mistakes (either his or those of the fielders behind him). Instead, he seems to dwell on those errors, and tries to do too much to compensate for them. That leads to another mistake, which then snowballs.

Tonight, with an opposing pitcher (AJ Burnett) known equally well for dominating lineups and having severe meltdowns on the mound (having led the majors in wild pitches this season), the Phillies need a rock on the mound.

Let the Phillies line-up get into Burnett's head and they'll be just fine.

Let this New York crowd get into your own head, and there will be trouble.

So, if Pedro Martinez could avoid a complete meltdown while pitching for the Boston Red Sox with 50,000 fans in old Yankee stadium chanting "Who's your daddy?" in 2004, then I think tonight's crowd and, more importantly, tonight's Yankees' line-up is unlikely to faze him.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Great Start

What can you say about Cliff Lee?

A complete game, 1-run performance. Through most of the night, he simply made the Yankees look silly.

The image that best captures tonight was the Lee nonchalantly catching the baby popup from Johnny Damon. Lee was completely in control.

And, by the way, the best way to deal with a shaky bullpen is to get a complete game from your starter.

This performance will definitely go down in Phillies history.

Fortunately, the Phillies lineup also came through. Chase Utely's two homeruns should put to rest the rumors of his alleged injury, at least for the duration of this series.

Of course, this is October, and even more so than during the regular season, the cliche holds true. Momentum is defined by the next starting pitcher. Tomorrow night that means Pedro.

Pedro Martinez returning to the stadium where the fans will remember their "Who's your daddy?" chant from the 2004 ALCS.

Worth A Thousand Words

From Tony Auth at The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

4 More Wins

That's the challenge, and this Phillies team is relishing it.

For the first time in more than 125 years, the Philadelphia Phillies are returning to the World Series for the second consecutive year.

The task before them is significant. The Yankees appear to be the Bronx Bombers of old, the team that uses two words ("so far") to show their attitude toward baseball's biggest prize. Those two words, used in the phrase "26 World Series Championships so far" express an expectation.

While Philadelphia fans spent the larger part of the past 25 years wondering whether their teams would ever win another championship, and Phillies fans in particular have suffered through the most ignominious history of all sports teams (10,000 losses!), Yankees fans have become gradually more agitated that they were stuck on 26 titles.

The difference between franchises could not be greater, but this Phillies team is determined to erase that difference. Their goal was not, has never been, to get to their second consecutive World Series. Their goal is and has always been to win the World Series.

That gave last night's celebration a familiar feel. The party on the field wasn't reminiscent of the 2008 NLCS victory, and not simply because this time it was celebrated at home. No, the celebration last night reminded me much more of the Division clinching victory just a few weeks ago.

This team was happy to have crossed off another item on its To-Do list, but this wasn't a culmination of anything. There's still more work to do.

It's not given that the formidable Yankees will be their World Series opponents. Though the Angels are in a tight spot, they're not to be taken lightly, and certainly this Yankees team won't do so. And if they do manage to come back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Yankees and take on the Phillies in the Series, the Angels will be riding high on a wave of their own expectations.

Regardless of the opponent, this Phillies team is ready, because they know their job.

Four more wins.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What a game!

Monday night's ninth inning comeback against the Dodgers will go down in Phillies lore. Overshadowed in the hoopla surrounding J-Roll's RBI double to win the game was the incredible performance by the Phils' bullpen.

By now, everyone has realized that Brad Lidge has shaken off a miserable season and regained some of his dominant 2008 form. And while that might be true, that's not the entire story.

Last night, Chan Ho Park, Ryan Madson, Scott Eyre, and Lidge gave the Phillies 3 scoreless innings of relief. After Joe Blanton's shaky start, those three shutdown innings made J-Roll's heroics possible.

Lidge's story is well documented, including a long feature by The New York Times about this closer's journey from the depths during his final two seasons in Houston to his resurrection last season with a perfect 48 saves in 48 attempts and then a return this year to being completely unreliable.

Look also, though, at Park, who returned from the disabled list for this series. Madson, who can't get out of his own head long enough to become a dominant closer, despite possessing a 98-mph fastball, and Eyre.

Of the group, Eyre's story is perhaps the most amazing of the group.

Eyre has several loose bodies (probably bone spurs) in his pitching elbow and is going to undergo surgery as soon as the season ends, not to prepare for spring training. No, the surgery is just so he can lead a normal life without pain because Eyre announced earlier this year that this would be his last season.

Of course, he declared the same thing following last year's World Series victory. Yet the Phillies managed to convince him to stick around for one more season.

Acquired after the Cubs gave up on him last year, Eyre has become such a valuable member of the bullpen that he's a virtual co-closer. Part of Charlie Manuel's genius has been limiting Lidge's work in the ninth inning, and most often it's been Eyre taking the ball for the first one or two outs in the final frame.

And just to add another wrinkle to the story, Eyre is nearly broke (or at least he was in spring training). He had invested almost all of his money in the Allen Sanford Ponzi scheme, and during spring training claimed at one point to be unable to pay his bills.

So, yeah, this might be the journeyman lefty's swan song, but if so, he's putting together quite an ending.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Things to Watch

As the playoffs kick off today, here are some of the key things to watch.

1. Jimmy Rollins' defense. Rollins was a gold-glove shortstop most of the season, but when the Phillies became dull and lifeless in September, he started making errors. Even more than his bat, his play in the field is a reflection of the team's attitude.

2. Lee's start. Cliff Lee was phenomenal in his first five starts, then not so much in the rest. When there were problems, the first inning was particularly problematic.

3. Utley's start. Chase hit a home run in his first at bat of the World Series last year. The Phillies' offense was fine. He's in a slump as the playoffs begin. If he pulls out of it, the offense will follow.

4. The bullpen. Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ, and Pedro Martinez are all in the bullpen today. Charlie Manuel hasn't committed to any of them being the Game 3 starter. Will any (or all) of these three be used to shore up a shaky 'pen? If called on in Game 1, we're likely to see that repeated as long as the Phillies stick around.

5. The closer. Even more than innings 5-8, the 9th inning's importance is magnified in the playoffs. I'm assuming Ryan Madson gets the call in a 1-run save situation today, but Charlie's kept mum on his plans. Maybe Happ? Maybe Lidge?

Oh, and Go Phils!