Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pedro Pitches Brilliantly, But Phils Let Game 2 Slip Away

NLCS Game 2: Philadelphia Phillies at Los Angeles Dodgers

The Phillies let Game 2 of the National League Championship series slip away in somewhat improbable fashion. Their 2-1 loss came about due to a variety of occurrences that went against the odds on a day that the Dodgers did not have any hard hits. For most of the game, the Phillies road a sensational performance by Pedro Martinez to maintain a narrow 1-0 lead, but in the end they painfully let it get away.

Few would have predicted the type of performance turned in by Martinez yesterday, as he totally shut down the same Dodgers team that banged out 14 hits the night before, holding them to two weak singles and no runs over 7 innings. This is not to say that Pedro was incapable of such an outing as he proved in some of his other games this year, but it seemed unlikely considering that he was coming off a 16 day break after a mediocre outing in September.

Pedro demonstrated why he is a sure fire first ballot Hall of Famer, though, by dominating the Dodgers from beginning to end. He masterfully mixed all his pitches, moving them in and out, up and down. He changed speeds on all his pitches, at times reaching back to hit 92 on the radar gun, but it was his signature movement that really kept hitters off balance. Martinez was very effective running fastballs in on hands or to the outside part of the plate, while complementing that with diving change-ups and a slow curve.

Another somewhat improbable occurrence was the pitching performance of his Dodgers counterpart. Vicente Padillo was coming off a strong NLDS performance, but the Phillies have historically hit well against their former teammate. He had great velocity often throwing in the mid to high 90's, and like Martinez, mixed in off speed pitches such as a 55 mph curve ball to Shane Victorino. The only blemish on his day's work was a solo home run by Ryan Howard in the 4th inning.

Things unraveled in the 8th inning for the Phillies due to some uncharacteristic shaky fielding. Charlie Manuel elected to replace Martinez with Chan Ho Park to avoid risking overtaxing his arm since he had already thrown 87 pitches. First, LA lumberjack Casey Blake bounced a single to left that, if not for the heavy shadows and protecting the line, Pedro Feliz would have likely grabbed. Ronnie Belliard then hit such a poor sacrifice bunt that it turned into a base hit between Park and Howard. The normally athletic Park appeared to be slightly limited in his lateral movement by his hamstring, but regardless, the Dodgers suddenly had runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs.

Next, Park induced Russell Martin to hit a chopper to Feliz that was a tailor made double play. Unfortunately, for the second consecutive game, Chase Utley had difficulty turning the relay and made a wide throw for an error. Rather than two outs with the runner still on 3rd base, the tying run scored and the go ahead run was on base with only one out. Scott Eyre came on to face pinch hitter Jim Thome, who lofted a single to right, sending Martin to third. Manuel summoned in Ryan Madson, who walked Rafael Furcal, but struck out Matt Kemp with the bases loaded.

With dangerous left-handed hitter Andre Ethier coming to the plate, Manuel made yet another move, bringing in lefty J.A. Happ. After getting ahead in the count, Happ eventually walked Ethier on two fastballs that were just low, forcing home Martin to make it 2-1.

Jonathan Broxton came into the pitch the ninth in hope of getting the save. He primarily fired fastballs in the 97-99 mph range and retired the Phillies 1-2-3 to give the Dodgers a 1-1 split in the series.

It was a difficult loss in many ways, but especially so since Martinez had pitched so brilliantly, the Phillies usually stellar defense faltered and the Dodgers were able to emerge victorious without any hard hits. The Phillies players will rebound and look for another strong performance from their ace while they feed off the energy of the Citizens Bank Park fans in Game 3. Meanwhile, expect Utley, the consummate professional and one of the best all around players in the game, to put his difficulties behind him and be prepared to make some big contributions in Philly. A lesser team might let the frustration of this game linger, but not this mentally tough and resilient Phillies ball club.

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