Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Starting Cole?

Cole Hamels said something stupid.

"I can't wait for (the season) to end," he said following his latest debacle on Saturday night in Game 3.

Boy, was that dumb. Players aren't supposed to want the the season to just end. They're supposed to want to keep playing, to want to win. Giving up is not part of the game and shouldn't be part of any competitor's vocabulary.

Lots of people (including me when I first read the comments) were pissed off by these remarks. Hamels should have been apologizing for his performance and trying to figure out ways to do better if the need arises, not wishing for the whole thing to be over.

And many people concluded, based on these comments, that Hamels should not start Game 7, should the need arise.

Now, of course, every Phillies fan (myself included) hopes desperately that Charlie Manuel has to make the decision of who to start in Game 7. If only we have to make that hard decision, we'll all be happy.

But should Manuel in fact start Hamels?

Well, let's assume, just for the sake of discussion, that the Phillies win Game 6 without having to use absolutely everyone on their staff. Martinez pitches six innings, Chan Ho Park pitches the seventh, Scott Eyre and Brett Myers combine for the eighth, and Ryan Madson gets the save in the ninth.

That would probably be the best scenario for the Phillies since they wouldn't have to use Hamels, JA Happ, Joe Blanton, or Cliff Lee, all of whom are available because if the Phillies don't win Game 6, there's nothing else to talk about.

In that situation, whom should Charlie start?

Well, look at the options.

Joe Blanton pitched six innings and gave up 4 runs. Not bad, but no one's begging to put him back out there; and especially not on short rest.

JA Happ hasn't had a start since Game 4 against the Rockies, when he gave up three runs in three innings. He's rested because he hasn't seen much action out of the bullpen, but in that limited action he hasn't been impressive, twice walking the first batter he faced.

Cliff Lee would be working on 2 days of rest, so you couldn't expect to get more than three or four innings out of him. And since he probably hasn't pitched under those conditions in a very long time (if ever), you have no idea what to expect from him.

And then there's Hamels, who hasn't pitched well this postseason, and who said something really dumb. But who also won the World Series MVP last year and who has frequently risen to the occasion.

Maybe I'm too simple a mind, but I take Charlie Manuel at his word when he says that the only thing running through his mind when he makes decisions about what to do is winning the game.

So, what's the right move in this hypothetical situation?

Start Cole Hamels in Game 7.

Put him on a short leash. Have Happ warming up before the game and in the bottom of the first inning.... And have Lee warming up in the second, and Blanton in the third. Hell, have Matt Stairs warm up if it'll make you feel any better.

But there's no doubt in my mind that under those circumstances, Manuel should pitch Hamels, stupid comment and all.

Of course, the real hope is that Charlie is forced to make this tough decision in the first place.

And that's the far bigger issue. Starting pitching has absolutely been the deciding factor in every game this series, except for Brad Lidge's meltdown in Game 4.

So, what do you look for in Game 6? One word: Pedro.

One more

As a Phillies fan, of course, I'm happy.

We won.

Now, we have to do it again.

This is not easy, but this is the task before the Phillies.

Cliff Lee again did a good job, and Chase Utley again reminded Brian Cashman why he's going to write a very big check to acquire him as a free agent in a few seasons.

For now, though, he's a Phillie.

And so, we move to NYC.

What should the discerning fan have noticed tonight?

First, the Phillies offense came alive, but Ryan Howard remained silent. At his best, Howard can carry a team for weeks on his offense. His continued struggles are not good, but they also give hope because when he comes alive, it will matter.

Second, the top of the order came alive. Chooch is amazing. Pedro Feliz can hit a fastball as far as almost anyone (except Howard) in baseball, but it's the top of the order that makes this offense run, and tonight for the first time, the top of the order came alive.

Third, Lidge is out. This had to happen, but it's not easy or obvious. Charlie Manuel is a great manager, and a huge part of what makes him great is his ability to put people in positions they are used to where they can succeed. That's what Charlie does. He doesn't ask people to do things they aren't comfortable with.

He decided to remove Lidge from the closer role, and he's not coming back.

Fourth, Utley's refusal to accept a curtain call. As depressed as I was this morning (and the entire city felt the same way), I was never concerned about how the people in the Phillies clubhouse felt. I knew that they'd come out ready to play. And when Chase Utley tied Reggie Jackson's record for home runs in a World Series but refused to take a curtain call, he sent a message to the rest of team. Depression is for pussies. He wants to win, and the rest of the team agrees.

This ain't over. No need to take a bow.

So, on to New York.

Monday, November 2, 2009

It Had to Happen

During this amazing season, two factors marred the Phillies' success, lingering in the background of every discussion of how good this team was: the inconsistency of Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge.

No matter how large a lead in the division standings, people would end every conversation about this club with a "Yeah, but if Lidge..." followed quickly by a "And who knows what you'll get out of Cole..."

For the first two rounds of the playoffs, against the Dodgers and Rockies, the Phillies were able to keep those doubts at bay. It even appeared to some that Charlie Manuel's handling of Lidge down the stretch had revived this imperfect closer, perhaps given him just enough mental rest to reset the clock.

This weekend, we saw those doubts brought to the forefront. Hamels' forgettable 4 1/3 inning performance on Saturday followed by his inexplicable comments that he just wished the season would end was compounded by Lidge's meltdown that turned what would have been one of this city's most memorable come from behind victories into one of its most indellible moments of pain.

Sunday, November 1 will live alongside Black Friday as a memory no one in Philadelphia is able to forget.

Going to the mound tonight is the seemingly unbeatable Cliff Lee, and Phillies fans are hoping that Cole doesn't get his wish just yet. At the very least, we want to be spared the indignation of watching the hated Yankees celebrate on our home field.

Tonight we root for Lee and hold our collective breath if he isn't able to pitch a complete game and we're forced to turn to the bullpen.