October 16, 2009
When appropriate, Big League Stew reviews a key decision during the playoffs to see if the right one was made.
The Turning Point: Exactly six years after Grady Little refused to give Pedro Martinez(notes) the hook in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, Charlie Manuel did the opposite and showed the same pitcher the comforts of the dugout in the Phillies' 2-1 loss in Friday's Game 2 of the 2009 NLCS.
With Martinez's batting spot coming up in the top of the eighth inning and the Phillies clinging to a 1-0 lead, Manuel sent in Greg Dobbs(notes) to pinch hit for Pedro. The decision ended what had been a stunning and spectacular start for the 37-year-old pitcher. Over seven innings, Martinez allowed only two hits while surrendering nary a walk nor a run.
The Question: Considering that Philadelphia's bullpen gave up two runs in the bottom of the inning, should Manuel have let Martinez hit for himself so he could pitch the eighth?
Let Pedro pitch: Before his start, the Phillies' plan for Pedro sounded like it called for about 100 pitches before heading to the bullpen. Pedro was only at 87 pitches through seven when he was pulled from the game and he was coming off a 1-2-3 inning that included a strikeout of Manny Ramirez(notes). He was clearly channeling his old self, doing special things off the mound and posting a playoff start to remember. The 100-pitch limit may have been a good idea when Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee didn't know what they were going to get, but they could have been more flexible once they saw how Pedro was pitching.
Plus, it's not as if he was going to turn into a pumpkin if Manuel let him go longer. Back in September, he posted starts of 119 and 130 pitches. Both turned out to be victories with the latter being a 1-0 win over the Mets on Sept. 13.
Go to the bullpen: The Phillies were only leading by one run and Carlos Ruiz(notes) had just coaxed a one-out walk from Dodgers' starter Vicente Padilla(notes) (which ironically may have been a good thing for the Los Angeles, since it may have sealed Pedro's fate). With only a one-run lead, Manuel had to play for an insurance run. Also, Martinez hadn't pitched in a game since Sept. 30 and had only pitched a total of seven innings since that Mets win. Want one more reason? He's nine days away from turning 38.
Hindsight is 20/20: Dobbs didn't even get to the plate and was replaced with Ben Francisco(notes) when Padilla left the game for reliever Hong Chih-Kuo. Francisco then grounded into a double play and ended the inning. Manuel also had no way of knowing that the usually sound Chase Utley(notes) would airmail a throw to first and that the defensive breakdown would help lead to a combination of four Phillies relievers giving up two decisive runs.
"I didn't ask for anything like (staying in). If they asked me to go back, yes, I would have, but they didn't, and that's it." — Martinez
"He was gone. I mean, I think he was spent. We got seven innings out of him. When the game started, I was looking anywhere from 70 to 85 pitches, maybe 90 at the most. ... He did a tremendous job, and he took it actually farther than I anticipated when the game started. To me, Pedro was done." — Manuel
"Pedro went 17 days without pitching. It was a hot day, and I wasn't even thinking about that. He took us to a point in the game where he pitched a real great game, and it was time for him to go." — Manuel
"We all have confidence in our bullpen relievers, me especially. It just didn't work out one time. We're not discouraged. It's not Game 7." — Martinez
Stew Verdict: As tempting as it is to apply hindsight and say that Manuel pulled the trigger a little early, he did the right thing. Martinez's velocity had fallen in the seventh inning and he is no longer the '99 version of himself, capable of going a full nine and then asking for more. Manuel knew there were no guarantees that Martinez would go 1-2-3 in the top of the eighth, but he did seems to know there's always a guarantee you'll end up needing those insurance runs (ask Raul Ibanez(notes) and the Phillies of Game 1). Philadelphia simply couldn't give away an out at that time in the game.
Manuel had faith that his bullpen could get through Casey Blake(notes), Ronnie Belliard(notes) and Russell Martin(notes) — not an unreasonable demand — but they simply didn't come through. It happens. This argument is a different story if Martinez's lineup spot wasn't up and Manuel prevented him from going out to the mound for another inning, but it was time to make the move. It hurts if you're a Philly fan, but that's National League baseball for you.