|Pedro Martinez ended his career with 2009 Phillies|
|Buck Showalter was just 38 years old
managing the 1994 New York Yankees
As the MLB action ended on August 11th, 1994 the defending National League champion Philadelphia Phillies were floundering 7 games below the .500 mark, and already 20.5 games behind the front-running Montreal Expos in the N.L. East Division race. But neither those floundering Fightins or the explosive Expos would win the division that year. No one would win it that year.
The Fightin’ Phils received a magnificent performance from Cliff Lee, who has been superb throughout these 2009 playoffs, and a “you ARE the man” 2-homerun show from Chase Utley to lead the way to a big 6-1 victory and a one game to none lead in last night’s Game One of the World Series.
For the Phillies that means an awful lot. Much has already been written and spoken in other venues this morning relating to the fact that the last 6 teams to win Game One went on to win the World Series.
Some have even pointed out that, even more ominously for that loser of the opener, 11 of the last 12 teams to win that first game have gone on to win the Series.
The one time in the past dozen years that the team winning the opener did not ultimately win was in the epic 2002 all-California World Series between the Barry Bonds-led San Francisco Giants and the Anaheim Angels.
The GMen took the opener that year, lost the next two, then won games four and five to take a 3-2 series lead back to Anaheim.
There they took a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the 8th before the Angels rallied to win, then won the 7th game and the franchise’ only-ever World Series.
But tonight when Pedro Martinez takes the mound at the new Yankee Stadium he will be trying to tie an even tighter knot in the collar around the Yankee necks.
The World Series began in 1903 and has been held every year with the exceptions of 1904 and 1994, making this the 104th Fall Classic. Only 11 times has a team fallen behind by 2 games to none and gone on to rally and win the World Series. Do the math – that’s an 11% success rate.
So if the Phillies can somehow, in any way, fight their way to another victory tonight in the Bronx and take that 2-0 lead in the series, they odds tilt enormously in their favor with an 89% probability that they will win the World Series.
This is the position that the club has put itself in by winning the opener last night. But nothing is guaranteed in tonight’s 2nd game, and their own recent playoff history should remind these Phillies of that fact. In last season’s run to the World Series championship, the Phils took the first game of each of their series’ against Milwaukee, Los Angeles, and Tampa. Only in the Milwaukee series did they win Game Two.
This year they won the openers vs. Colorado in the NLDS and LA in the NLCS, but lost Game Two. That makes them 1-4 over the past two seasons in 2nd games of series. Go back to their sweep at the hands of the Rockies in the 2007 NLDS and the Phils are 1-5 in Game Two of their recent playoff series. There is usually a reason for these things when they happen, and there may be for this club as well.
These Phillies seem to thrive on being the underdogs, and on having their backs against the wall. Like the fictional hometown boxer Rocky Balboa, they relish in rising from the canvas to knock out their seemingly unbeatable opponents, especially with their home crowd roaring them on in support. These Phillies have proven much over the past couple of seasons, now they must prove that they have learned how to step on an opponent’s neck once they have them down.
Perhaps more than at any other time in their recent playoff runs, they may have the right man in the right place at the right time. When Pedro Martinez takes the mound for them tonight there is absolutely no chance that the Yankee Stadium crowd or any of the other distractions of a World Series will shake him up. The future Hall of Famer is unflappable. The only two questions will be whether he has his good stuff, and whether the Phils bring their big bats to the contest.
The Phillies are one more good night, likely one hard-fought night, away from stepping on the Yankees necks and demanding the respect that they deserve as champions but have not yet been given by the national media and the odds-makers. One good night from Pedro, or the Phillies bats, or both, and Citizens Bank Park should again become the scene of a major World Series victory party this weekend.
Pedro Martinez. Cliff Lee. Cole Hamels. One righthander and a pair of lefties. Three different levels of experience. All have filled the role of a true ‘Ace’ for their respective baseball organizations in the past.
And now together, these three aces represent the absolute keys to the Phillies repeating as World Series champions.
There is much being said and written about the two team’s offenses in this matchup. The top offense in the National League featuring Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, and Raul Ibanez. The top offense in the American League featuring Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada, and Hideki Matsui.
There is talk about the importance of the bullpens, especially the Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, possibly the best at his craft in baseball history and the Phillies closer Brad Lidge, last year’s hero turned this year’s goat, but now apparently born again hard. And pitchers such as Phil Hughes and Ryan Madson will certainly play a big role in at least a couple of games.
It says here that no matter who the Yankees run out to their mound, from starters C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Andy Pettitte to Rivera, this Phillies offense will find a way to get to them. The Phils will score enough runs to win four games in this series. The key will be keeping the Yanks’ offense from outscoring them. That will fall largely on the shoulders of Martinez, Lee, and Hamels.
When the Fightin’ Phils charge out on to the field in the bottom of the first inning at new Yankee Stadium for tomorrow night’s Game One of the 2009 World Series against the New York Yankees, it will be Lee who will be taking the hill. As far as age and experience go, Lee is the middle man of the three. But in reality he fills that ‘Ace’ roll on this current team, and his start will set the tone.
Cliff Lee is 31 years old, and this year he pitched in his 6th full season with the Cleveland Indians, his 8th overall in the big leagues, before coming to the Phillies in a trade deadline deal for a package of prospects. He was not the pitcher that Phillies fans wanted. That object of affection was Toronto’s Roy Halladay. But Lee was the pitcher that the Phillies team needed.
Starting for the first time on July 31st, Lee twirled a complete game 4-hitter to beat the San Francisco Giants and their ace Tim Lincecum. It was a statement game for a Phillies team that appeared only to be lacking a true ace to go up against the opposition’s top starter. Lee would not only go 7-4 for the club after being acquired, but would star in the NL playoffs, helping the club to the World Series for the 2nd straight season.
Pedro Martinez is one of the greatest pitchers of his era and a likely Hall of Famer. Martinez starred mostly for the Boston Red Sox earlier this decade, helping that club win two World Series titles. Now apparently in the twilight of that great career, Martinez was signed by the Phils when no one else wanted to take a shot on the now 38-year old. All he did was go 5-1 for the Phils after making his debut on August 12th, then spin a tremendous game in a losing cause in the NLSC vs. the Dodgers.
Manager Charlie Manuel has not yet announced what his starting rotation will be in the series beyond Lee’s first game start. But if it were me, and Charlie and I have been seeing eye to eye on most things this season, it would be Pedro taking the hill for Game Two. The combination of his career experience and the excellence with which he has been pitching make him my logical choice. And there is no way that the crowd and atmosphere in New York will intimidate him.
Cole Hamels has been as much of an enigma as the older veterans have been a revelation. The 25-year old seemed to blossom into a superstar a year ago, winning both the NLCS MVP and World Series MVP Awards while leading the Phils to their first title in 28 years. But he never seemed to get untracked as this season began, first due to a combination of injuries and bad weather, and later possibly to fatigue. In the playoffs, the tall lefty became a dad for the first time, and has continued his inconsistency on the mound.
Slotting Hamels in to the #3 slot behind Lee and Martinez allows him to take the mound in front of the more friendly crowd at Citizens Bank Park. In my opinion the young once and future Phillies ace is more likely to experience success in that atmosphere in his first start of this year’s World Series. He is familiar with the surroundings, and the home crowd is likely to be strongly supportive to Hamels. If he gets it going his track record is that he will feed off their energy.
A key question then becomes whether the Phils should utilize a 4th starter, or opt for a giving three starts to Lee and two apiece to Martinez and Hamels. Personally, I have never been a fan of starting pitchers on short rest. I have seen it fail far more frequently these days than succeed. The Phillies have two good options in Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ to take the ball in a 4th game, depending on their usage out of the bullpen earlier in the series.
I would go with Lee, Martinez, and Hamels in that order, then would likely come back with Blanton in the 4th game, allowing Happ to continue providing a strong lefty relief option for the enirety of the series. I would then like to see the Phils come back with Lee in Game 5, and Martinez in a big Game 6 back at Yankee Stadium. That would leave a deciding Game 7 assignment for Hamels. I see the kid focusing and stepping up in the ultimate game, if necessary.
Together this trio represents the Philadelphia Phillies best chance to repeat as world champions. If the club receives 3-4 strong starts from these three, then it says here that they will beat the Yankees and win the World Series once again. If these three struggle, the Phils will be forced to try to out-slug New York in order to repeat. They have that capability, but strong starting efforts from Cliff, Cole, and Pedro is far more likely to be a recipe for success.