Lack of pitching depth cost Phillies
Trying to win the World Series with one reliable starter is a treacherous task
Beyond Cliff Lee, the Phillies didn't have the arms to slow down the Yankees
Pedro Martinez had his moments, but he's no longer the ace he used to be
NEW YORK -- Most of his teammates were not even in the showers and Pedro Martinez was already out the clubhouse door, hustled by a handler through the basement of Yankee Stadium, stopped only when he had to wait for an elevator up to the parking lot. As Martinez spoke -- "I'm extremely proud," he said. "I had fun and enjoyed it. I don't regret anything" -- a Yankee fan chanted softly in the background, "Who's your daddy? Who's your daddy?" No matter what he did, or where he went, Martinez could not escape it.
If this was our final glimpse of Martinez, if he was riding that elevator into retirement, it was an awkward exit. Despite his famously unpredictable behavior, Martinez almost always sticks around after starts, to deconstruct what went right and wrong. After so much went wrong Wednesday night, even he could not bear to stay.
Martinez spiced this postseason, but the fact that he emerged as the Phillies second-best starting pitcher, and was on the mound for Game 6 of the World Series, underscored why the Phillies ultimately lost. Their lack of reliable starters, compared to the relative depth of the Yankees rotation, is the reason they did not repeat. The Yankees won games started by three pitchers. The Phillies only won games started by one.
Wednesday night was a manifestation of the mismatch. Martinez looked his 38 years, bothered by chest pains and struggling to breathe in the cold weather. He failed to reach 90 miles per hour until the third inning, never figured out how to attack Hideki Matsui, and left after giving up four runs in four innings. Martinez had already provided playoff gems in Los Angeles and New York. Given that the Phillies only signed him in July, and that he only joined them in mid-August, they were clearly asking too much.
Andy Pettitte was not brilliant either, a 37-year-old left-hander who is as close to retirement as Martinez, but he did what his counterpart could not, keeping the Yankees in the game so their offense could win it. In his 40th career postseason start, Pettitte showed a side that Yankees fans have rarely seen before, barking at plate umpire Joe West on a walk to the dugout and forcing manager Joe Girardi to pull him back. When Pettitte left after 5 2/3 innings, having given up three runs, he was given a wild standing ovation, a referendum more on his entire career than this single outing. In that moment, en route to a series-clinching 7-3 victory, the new Yankee Stadium sounded a lot like the old one.
"You couldn't draw up a script better than that," Pettitte said. "Opening up this ballpark, and being able to bring another championship here -- it's a storybook ending."
More than an hour after the game, the Phillies were still asking themselves the question that has haunted scores of American League hitters over the past decade-and-a-half: How in the world did we not hit that guy? "It was really nothing special," said Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. "But he makes one good pitch every at-bat. That's what Andy does. And we walk away shaking our heads like, 'How didn't we get to him.'"
The Phillies were relatively upbeat for a team that just lost the World Series and missed out on a chance to become the National League's first repeat champion since the Big Red Machine. They return their entire core -- Martinez is their only free agent of real significance -- and they have convinced themselves they will be right back in the same position next year. Manager Charlie Manuel practically predicted it: "They got the trophy," Manuel said. "We gave it up. But we're going to get it right back." Manuel even invoked the words of a former general: "As MacArthur said, I guess we'll be back."
In order to do so, they will have to find a couple more starting pitchers, or rehabilitate those they have. Trying to win the World Series with one starter is a treacherous task, especially when that starter does not work on short rest. Cliff Lee was untouchable throughout the playoffs, but he required full rest, and on days he did not pitch the Phillies were vulnerable. Looking back, it is remarkable that they won the World Series last year, when Lee was still in Cleveland. They beat Tampa Bay with Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton and Brett Myers; in this postseason, Blanton was a spot starter, Myers was relegated to the bullpen and Hamels did not have an ERA under 6.00 in any series.
Martinez saved the Phillies, prompting speculation that he will return for an encore. But even if he does, the Phillies cannot expect a repeat performance over an entire season. They saw the real Pedro on Wednesday night, with diminished health and velocity. At this stage of his career, he must be a complementary part, not a centerpiece of a World Series rotation. He is not to blame for Game 6 as much as the other Phillies pitchers who were either unable to take the ball or win their starts earlier in the series.
As Martinez ducked into the elevator late Wednesday night, he was already missed, even by those who cheer against him. The Yankee fan who seconds earlier had taunted Martinez with that tired chant suddenly patted him on the shoulder. "You're a Hall of Famer," he said. "You really are. You're a classy guy." It could have been a sweet moment, but this being Pedro Martinez and Yankee Stadium, it couldn't last. Before the elevator doors could close, the fan lobbed a parting shot: "But we're still your papi!"
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