NLCS Game 2: How Quickly Things Change

And by “quickly”, I of course mean the 8th inning that took about 6 weeks to play. I could watch that 8th inning over, and over, and over again. Intrigue, strategy, failure and pressure – what more could you want from a playoff game?

After 7.5 innings of a very surprising pitching duel – see below – this game just went off the rails in the bottom of that fateful 8th inning. If you were following the brand new MSTI Twitter feed, you’d have noticed that I said this as Pedro Martinez mowed down Dodger hitters:

The only saving grace for the #Dodgers is that Pedro is 140 years old and the #Phillies crappy bullpen has to step up soon.

That is, of course, exactly what happened. But before we even get into that, let’s award a nice slice of the playoff shares to Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, doing his best to match Joe Torre’s Game 1 mistake, just in the exact opposite way. While we all grilled Torre for leaving in Clayton Kershaw too long when the Dodgers have such a great pen, Manuel went to the other extreme. Regardless of what sort of smoke and mirrors he was using, Pedro was killing the Dodgers and the Phillies bullpen is lousy; why in the hell would you pull him after 7? At least let him start the 8th and see what he can do. Just an unspeakably bad decision, turning the game over to the Philly bullpen.

EthierGame2NLCSSo in comes Chan Ho Park, sporting a fancy new beard, and after giving up a single to what used to be Casey Blake, the game quickly turned… into an epic bunt-a-thon. First, Ronnie Belliard displays the worst bunting technique I’ve ever seen, before putting one down far too hard… but perfectly placed in between Park and Ryan Howard for a hit. Then, Russell Martin tries the same, except Park can’t get one over – getting a gift strike on what should have been ball four – and Martin finally puts a perfect double play ball to third base… except Chase Utley airmails his second throw to first in two days to allow the tying run to score.

With Martin on first, Scott Eyre enters to allow pinch-hitter to Jim Thome finally become an actual Dodger, and not just “theoretical big bat off the bench,” with a single to right field, moving Martin to third. After Ryan Madson walks Rafael Furcal and a strikes out Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier comes up against Scott Eyre J.A. Happ – the 4th Phillies pitcher of the inning.

Now, we all know Ethier’s penchant for coming through in the clutch… and a walk isn’t quite “a walkoff dinger”, but as it gives the Dodgers the lead, we’ll happily take it. In comes J.A. Happ Chad Durbin – that’s right, the FIFTH pitcher of the inning, who quickly retires Manny on a pop to third.

Jonathan Broxton comes in to save the 9th, and just like that, a series – and a season – that was all but over is tied, headed back to Philadelphia.

*****

utleyerrorWow. Just wow. Manuel’s going to get a lot of heat, as he should. And the various members of the Phillies bullpen who didn’t get the job done are going to hear it, as they should.  But there’s no bigger goat in this game than Chase Utley. If he turns that double play, that inning plays out entirely differently. Worse, that’s the second one he botched in two days! If I’m a Phillies fan, I’m wondering just what in the hell is going on with him right now – and I’m worried. Very, very, worried.

*****

How bad was that 8th inning for the Phillies? Just look at the FanGraphs win chart:

fangraphs-nlcsgame2

*****

As for the 7.5 innings that preceded that…

Pedro Martinez is 48 years old! His fastball tops out at 89 MPH! His bones might literally be made of dust! Didn’t he kill a midget? He hadn’t pitched in three weeks!

pedrophilliesWas there ever any doubt?

It’s exactly when there’s every reason that something shouldn’t work that it does work, and so it was that the old man made the team he’s been torturing for 15 years look foolish, allowing just two hits over seven innings.

I don’t take anything away from Pedro here (what’s the over/under on articles tomorrow that call him “gutsy” or “wily”? 50? 100?), because he’s one of the best ever and he was clearly outstanding. But come on, guys. 2 hits, and neither hit all that hard? (One was a bloop to center by Russell Martin, one was an infield single that Matt Kemp beat out.) From what was supposed to be one of the most dangerous lineups in the league, that’s just embarrassing. If you can’t make solid contact on Corpsey McPedro, then what the hell is going to happen against Cliff Lee on Sunday?

On the other side, let’s not gloss over what Vicente Padilla did through 7.1 IP, matching Pedro save for one pitch that Ryan Howard deposited into the left-field stands. As he’s pitching for a contract this offseason, you could almost hear the “ka-ching! ka-ching!” sound effects each time he got an out, couldn’t you? With how horrified everyone – yes, us too – was about the fact that he was starting Game 2, he was fantastic, again. It’s almost as though he’s figured out that if you just tone down the whole “being a giant dick” thing slightly, your fantastic stuff can really help you succeed.

*****

Hey, between Pedro and Chan Ho Park, how about seeing (nearly) 8 innings of two elderly former Dodgers? Couldn’t they have brought back Rudy Seanez to finish it off? Or Kevin Gross? Where was Roger McDowell?

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