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Posted: Friday October 30, 2009 2:46AM; Updated: Saturday October 31, 2009 1:39AM
Tom Verducci Tom Verducci >
INSIDE BASEBALL

Five Cuts: Phils make Rivera work, Manuel's key decisions blew up

Story Highlights

The Phillies made Mariano Rivera throw 39 pitches for those final six outs

Sticking with Pedro was one of two moves that backfired on Charlie Manuel

A-Rod made World Series history with consecutive three-strikeout games

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Guess again: Game 2 of World Series will not go into the Charlie Manuel highlight reel.
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1. Unless you were Jimmy Rollins, you had to believe that this World Series was going to be a long one, as closely matched as are the Yankees and Phillies. So while Philadelphia lost Game 2, 3-1, to a stellar pitching effort by Yankees starter A.J. Burnett, they scored a small triumph that may pay dividends as the series is extended: they chipped away at the seemingly indestructible nature of Mariano Rivera.

New York manager Joe Girardi made the wise move to put a 3-1 lead into the hands of Rivera for the final six outs. As Rivera said after Game 2, "You can't expect after [the loss] yesterday just to wait to throw just one inning."

But the Phillies made Rivera labor like almost never happens. He threw 39 pitches for those six outs. It was the most pitches he has thrown in a game in two years. Of the 74 times Rivera has pitched in the postseason since he became a closer, he has thrown more than 39 pitches only two times, and both were in potential clinchers: the epic 48-pitch outing in 2003 ALCS Game 7, and the 40 pitches in the Yankees' ill-fated 2004 ALCS Game 4.

Remember, Rivera, who turns 40 next month, threw 34 pitches his last time out, four days prior, against the Angels. He does have an off today, but, barring rain, the next three games are scheduled to be played on consecutive days.

What made the outing so laborious for Rivera was that he could not put away hitters. The Phillies swung 20 times at his cutter and missed only twice. There were 13 foul balls. Raul Ibanez scorched a double. Good grief, Rivera actually walked one guy, too. That's four walks for him this postseason -- the most for him in any postseason since he started closing. He could not blow up bats on the inside corner of the left-handed hitters.

"He threw more outside cutters to left-handers than he ever does," Philadelphia DH Matt Stairs said.

Rivera is so good that it has come to this: he throws two shutout innings and the opponent can find hope in his pitch counts and their swings against him. Asked how he felt, standing in front of his locker with an ice pack on his shoulder, Rivera said, "A save is a save, period. My arm feels great."

2. Game 2 will not go into the Charlie Manuel highlight reel. It's not that he made poor decisions, but that his key decisions blew up, especially two of them.

The first move was leaving Pedro Martinez in the game in the seventh inning, down 2-1. You know you're seeing Rivera the next inning, so keeping the deficit at one is paramount. Manuel sent Martinez back for the seventh with 99 pitches. It wasn't a terrible move, but Martinez should have been batter-to-batter at that point, especially because he revealed after the game that he has been weakened by flu-like symptoms recently, losing sleep and his appetite.

Martinez jumped ahead of Jerry Hairston 0-and-2, but could not put him away with any of his next four pitches. Hairston dropped a single into right field.

Now was the time to get Martinez. To ask him to work through an entire inning without a run scoring -- with a runner at first and no outs and at 105 pitches -- was hopeful more than smart. He hung a changeup that Melky Cabrera rapped to right field for a single. It was then that Manuel pulled Martinez, and then the Yankees, of course, given two runners and no outs, added a huge tack-on run.

3. The second key move that didn't work for Manuel was not starting his runners with a full count on Chase Utley in the eighth inning. Rollins was at second and Shane Victorino was at first. Rivera was pitching with one out.

If Manuel started his runners, he ran the risk of a strikeout-caught stealing double play, though to be honest, the Yankees were not holding Rollins especially close. It's more important in that situation, up 3-1, for the infielders not to concede ground and give the hitter a hole than it is to shadow a runner at second who is not even the tying run.

If Manuel didn't start his runners, he ran the risk of Utley grounding into a double play to kill the inning.

"Utley don't hit into a lot of groundball double plays," Manuel said.

Utley grounded into five double plays this year, none this postseason. Of course, he promptly grounded into a double play.

It's funny how managers play very conservatively when Rivera is pitching. Runners are so rare against him that it fries the circuits of managers; they don't dare even risk losing an out on the bases when they get so few runners. He's not especially great at holding runners, either; he never uses the slide step. Since Rivera became a closer in 1997, runners have attempted only five stolen bases against him in the postseason. They have been successful in three of their past four tries, including a rather large one in 2004 by that Dave Roberts fellow in Boston.

Manuel's next big move will be what to do about Cliff Lee, his ace. The Phillies will have to figure out in the next 36 hours, based on his side work, whether to pitch Lee on short rest for the first time in his career in Game 4 Sunday. The result of Game 3 should not matter; either Lee is physically capable of taking the ball Sunday or he is not.

Right now Manuel has the hottest pitcher on the planet. He should think long and hard about putting the ball in Lee's hands as often as he can.

4. The Phillies have some major trouble at the bottom of their batting order. Pedro Feliz and, to a lesser extent, Carlos Ruiz are providing Yankee pitchers with automatic bailout innings, like National League baseball circa 1968, because of the poor quality of their at-bats. Feliz has made eight outs in seven plate appearances on just 19 pitches. Ruiz, though he does have two doubles, has made five outs while seeing only 21 pitches in his seven trips to the plate. For those of you scoring at home, that's 13 outs in 14 plate appearances while seeing just 40 pitches. It's the equivalent of a coffee break for pitchers.

With Feliz and Ruiz going out too quickly in back-to-back spots in the lineup, that's too much of a built-in breather for the pitcher. Just wait for the games in Philadelphia this weekend: the pitcher's spot will follow Feliz and Ruiz.

5. Those were some funky swings Alex Rodriguez took in Games 1 and 2 in the World Series, looking nothing like the compact, balanced strokes he took in the ALDS and ALCS. His swing was at times lengthened and at times became very defensive, more of swatting for the ball or feeling for it than taking a quick path to it. It's almost as if he's a shooter in basketball whose stroke gets tighter with each miss; he needs something to go down to restore confidence.

In two games Rodriguez has swung at 23 pitches and put two balls in play: a grounder to third and a flyball to left field. He punched out three times in Game 1 and three times again in Game 2. Only one other player ever had back-to-back three-strikeout games in World Series history: Jim Lonborg. A pitcher. In 1967. It's not the kind of World Series history Rodriguez had in mind. He waited his whole career to get to the World Series, and when he got here, he immediately became the first hitter, other than a pitcher with a .136 career average, to whiff three times in two straight World Series games.

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