Five Cuts: In bad week for closers, Phillies' Lidge regains confidence
Why are so many batters smelling their bats after fouling a pitch straight back?
Why are the Division Series so one-sided over the past four years?
It's really unnecessary to add two extra umpires for the playoffs
1. When the Phillies attempt to close out Colorado tonight and put in place a rematch of the 2008 NLCS against Los Angeles, they might feel a little better about the last three outs than they did when the regular season ended. Well, a little better, anyway.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, in his first real test of how he would handle his endgame, gave a one-run lead to Brad Lidge in part because he had no options, not after he had to dip into his bullpen early and often and because an ankle injury to Scott Eyre forced Ryan Madson into the game early. In a turbulent week for closers, in which Ryan Franklin of St. Louis, Joe Nathan of Minnesota and Jonathan Papelbon of Boston all were undone by a lack of command, Lidge, the shakiest proposition when the week began, somehow survived and at least gave Philadelphia some hope that it's beginning to look like 2008 again.
Lidge did preserve the 6-5 victory, though there were signs that he still is rough around the edges. Lidge threw more balls (11) than strikes (9). He faced five batters and fell behind with a first-pitch ball on every one of them. He walked two batters, didn't get a single swinging strike and still had problems commanding his fastball. (He threw only five of his 12 fastballs for strikes.)
Of course, keep in mind that the frigid conditions made for slick baseballs. The Rockies and Phillies combined for 12 walks and 337 pitches.
The save, no matter how it was obtained, was important for the confidence of Lidge and his manager. That said, with workhorse Cliff Lee getting the start for Philadelphia in Game 4 tonight, I wouldn't be surprised if Manuel pushed Lee beyond 120 pitches to do what he did in Game 1: keep the bullpen door closed while taking care of nine innings himself.
2. Have you noticed this postseason how hitters such as Orlando Cabrera, Nick Swisher and Troy Glaus smell their bats after fouling a pitch straight back? They're smelling for smoke. Hitters believe that if they catch the seams of the baseball just right with the wood that they create enough friction to generate a small puff of smoke, leaving a slight burning smell behind on the bat.
"It's a good thing," Glaus said. "It means you've generated enough bat speed on a ball coming in fast enough to generate enough friction. You can't do it in batting practice. The bats with the natural grain, no finish on them, are the best ones [for smoke] because it's just wood on the seams."
When baseball honored Ted Williams at the 1999 All-Star Game, as the players gathered around Williams near the mound, the Splendid Splinter had a question for Mark McGwire: did he ever smell smoke on his bat after a foul ball? The concept has been around a while, but I can't remember so many occasions of guys smelling their bats like we've seen this postseason.
3. Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez put a beautiful two-strike swing on a pitch Carl Pavano left up in the strike zone in ALDS Game 3 -- on balance, quick swing path, hands inside the ball, almost effortless -- and still mashed it so far to the opposite field that it would be the envy of most left-handers for their pulled home runs. It was just one more sign that Rodriguez is a game-changing hitter right now, and this after he deserves much credit for making good on his promise to rededicate himself to baseball (and less to off-the-field headlines). He is in a good place right now mentally and physically, bouncing back admirably from his steroid quagmire.
Should the Angels take him out of the ALCS the way the Dodgers took Albert Pujols out of the NLDS -- to give him the Bonds treatment? Can't happen. You saw what happened when Minnesota reliever Jon Rauch tiptoed around Rodriguez and walked him in the ninth of Game 3: it helped set up two runs to put the game away. The Yankees have too many other ways to beat a team if it pitches around Rodriguez.
In fact, what the Dodgers did to Pujols wouldn't even work against Ryan Howard if Los Angeles wound up seeing Philadelphia in the NLCS. "You couldn't do that with Howard," Dodgers third base Larry Bowa said, "because they have too many other weapons that can hurt you."
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