Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Master Craftsman

  • Pedro Martinez's masterpiece goes to waste:

Having believed that not only would Pedro Martinez lose in his game 2 start vs the Dodgers, but that he'd get pounded mercilessly like a shot fighter until someone pulled the plug, I was put in my place by Pedro's masterful performance of changing speeds, throwing strikes, and keeping the Dodgers hitters off balance. With little more than guile and an occasional ability to reach back for legit fastball here and there, Pedro worked around the plate; gently lulled the hitters to sleep with a vast array of junk; and made the hitters----and his naysayers----look foolish.

That said, Pedro did not experience a renaissance as I implied was the Phillies one hope in his start. In the sports sense, such a renaissance could only be described as a player who has once known greatness regaining that for a brief spurt in the exact same way as he'd known it in his first incarnation. The people I mentioned----Orel Hershiser, Evander Holyfield and Wayne Gretzky----were all able to regain that greatness if only for a moment.

Hershiser, whose arm surgery had robbed him of the power sinker that created the shutout machine he was in 1988, regained his velocity for the Indians in the 1990s during their playoff runs. Instead of gutting his way through with a sinker, curve and his brain, the adrenaline of the moment pumped his fastball back into the mid-90s, something the scouting reports never would've expected or anticipated.

Gretzky, as an ancillary player in the final stages of his career for the Rangers in 1997, picked and chose his spots during the regular season to show what it was that gained him the nickname "The Great One"; it was only in the playoffs during a surprising run for the team to the Eastern Conference Finals that Gretzky showed he could regain the greatness in the big moments.

Holyfield's heroic demolition of a heavily favored Mike Tyson inspired memories of the fighter he was in his early-20s; it was a brutal beating that owed more to a warrior rising and refusing to be afraid of his intimidating opponent. It was a simple, yet perfectly executed strategy of belief in oneself and emotional control.

As great as Pedro was yesterday, he was not the Pedro Martinez of 1999. Having not shown his power fastball since early 2006 with the Mets, it was foolish to expect even the gravity of the moment (possibly one of the last of a great career) to translate into a rediscovery of the pure force of nature he was with the Red Sox. What Pedro did was take advantage of every last weapon in his arsenal and use the Dodgers anxiousness to his advantage in deploying his innate knowledge of the craft of pitching to complete seven beautiful innings of 2-hit, shutout ball. He struck out three and kept the Dodgers off balance for the entire duration of his outing.

Anyone who watched the game with an analytical eye of "stuff" would tell you that Pedro's result was out-of-line with the sum of the parts. His fastball was nothing save for a couple of instances of reaching back; and his breaking stuff was mediocre. What carried him through was the way he varied his pitches and used artistry over blunt force. The Phillies very nearly pulled off a magic trick worthy of Pedro by taking the second game in Dodger Stadium; and with Cliff Lee ready to go for the jugular in game 3 in Philadelphia, the series could've been close to being over. Instead, once Pedro was out, the Phillies bullpen imploded and ruined what could've been a fitting final chapter in Pedro's storied career.

The most important instrument Pedro has remaining in his toolbox is his brain and it was that which carried him through rather than a reversion to what he once was. That Pedro is gone, never to return regardless of the moment.

  • Dodgers 2-Phillies 1:

During game 1, I kiddingly wondered on Twitter if Chase Utley had somehow contracted a long-dormant strain of Steve Sax disease still lurking around Dodger Stadium, thus making him unable to make a clean throw to first base. His throws were horribly out-of-whack even as they didn't cost the Phillies. Yesterday though, the wild throw on Russell Martin's double play grounder allowed the Dodgers to tie the score----then the bullpen parade began.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was questioned (rightfully) for starting Pedro; but the idea that he should've left Pedro in was nonsense. What cost the Phillies was the Utley error and the absence of J.C. Romero.

I'd be very concerned about Utley's throwing; he looks like there's something physically wrong with him that hasn't been disclosed; and the Phillies had better hope it's something physical, because if it's mental, they've got a big problem that's not likely to go away with a snap of the fingers.

As for the phalanx of relievers that entered and exited the game, Romero's injury created a chain reaction that has sent J.A. Happ and Joe Blanton to the bullpen and forced the club to use Pedro as a starter. They got away with using Pedro, but Happ literally looked petrified out on the mound and ready to cry in the dugout after he walked in the lead run. Romero was imperative to the Phillies success in 2007 and 2008 and they need him. But he's not there.

I've been waiting for the Phillies bullpen to implode and it finally happened in game 2. They had the Dodgers down and could've plunged the knife into their bellies with a win; instead, they let them off the deck. It's going to cost them.

Pedro will be needed for another start if the series goes on for an extended period and it would be asking a lot for him to again hold the Dodgers down to the degree he did yesterday. The series is tied, but there are many questions hovering around the Phillies and they may not have an answer for them. They have issues to address. Lee must be as dominant against the Dodgers as he was against the Rockies,because if they lose game 3, the Phillies are in trouble. Big trouble.

  • Yankees 4-Angels 1:

C.C. Sabathia was dominating over the Angels in game 1, but this game was the first salvo in what promises to be a long, drawn out war.

While the Angels played shabby defense and didn't hit, they accomplished one goal of making Sabathia work to the tune of 113 pitches. Keeping the game close enough that Yankees manager Joe Girardi couldn't yank Sabathia to get him some extra rest before his presumed game 4 start.

Forcing Sabathia to exert himself could pay similar dividends to working the body in a boxing match. The punishment isn't as prominent as a cut of swollen eye, but in a way, it's worse. It doesn't seem like much at first as the ribs and kidneys are worked endlessly, but as the stress of withstanding the assault takes its toll on the legs, the rest of the body goes shortly thereafter. It may not be visible now; it might not even manifest itself in game 4; but if this series gets to game 7, the Angels strategy of working the Yankees short starting rotation----along with their own depth----could turn things in their favor late in the series.

The Yankees basically held serve in the opening game. Historically, A.J. Burnett has been mediocre----at best----against the Angels and despite his excellence in the ALDS against the Twins, he's so flighty that no one can know what they're going to get from him until they're in the midst of getting it. That could be a no-hitter, eight walks or three homers. No one knows.

I wouldn't be surprised, nor all that concerned if I were the Angels and they lost tonight as well. If they head back to Anaheim down 0-2, I'd still like their chances of winning two games out there and getting the series back to New York. If that happens, the Yankees pitching could be sufficiently weakened to turn the tide for the Angels to take the series. The longer it goes, the greater the advantage to the Angels.

This series is going the distance.


  • Viewer Mail 10.17.2009:

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes:

"There's reason to be afraid and it's justified because the Yankees are going to lose."

Believe that. I do.

As for Papelbon... he would fit right in on the Northside with the large faction of loudmouth whiny a-holes who permeate the not-so-friendly confines. Do it, Theo. Do it.

I find it fascinating how one game turned the Yankee fans into such a bastion of confidence that the crowing is so loud as it is. These are the Angels, not the Twins. They're resilient and completely unflappable in the grand scheme of things. You'll start hearing talk of a sweep as the day wears on. They're in for a rude awakening.

With Jonathan Papelbon, the Cubs don't have much to trade to get him; Theo Epstein isn't going to give the guy away. Two interesting landing spots I hadn't mentioned (and both are clubs that have the prospects and more to get him) are the Marlins and Braves. Both could use an established closer of Papelbon's quality. The Braves seem intent on moving forward with Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano, which is a mistake. The Marlins on the other hand, are in on everything and with Papelbon arbitration eligible and a free agent after 2011, he'd fit right into the way they do business. If they'd had a money closer this year, they'd have made the playoffs.

Kyle Johnson writes:

I like your prediction of Angels in seven. However, I disagree in regards to Sabathia being a horse in this series. I believe that he (along with a Vladimir Guerrero revival) will be the main reason of the Yankess fall this October. With a bunch of slap hitting right handed bats in the Angel offense, Sabathia's numbers against this team, and his career post season numbers I honestly don't believe he is the 3 game horse everyone is portraying him to be.
Love your blog and will continue reading it.

Sabathia looked great last night, but this is going to be a war of attrition and, as strange as it sounds given their resources, the Yankees left themselves horribly short in the starting rotation and put themselves in this position. Would any and every Yankee fan feel better if they'd made an expensive but necessary move for the likes of Bronson Arroyo for a potential game 4 start? I would if I were them. As the series drags on, Sabathia's going to run out of gas in game 7. Thanks for the support.

  • These men shop at the same store----and the store should be condemned:

Dunno how many people remember WKRP in Cincinnati or sales manager Herb Tarlek and his clownish polyester suits, but I wrote a note to TBS sideline reporter Craig Sager on Twitter yesterday that said the following:

Hey Craig Sager, Herb Tarlek called: he wants his polyester suits back.

Judge for yourself. Go to fullsize image

This, my friends, is a fashion don't in any venue. Even with Halloween rapidly approaching.

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