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Posted: Sunday November 1, 2009 2:22AM; Updated: Sunday November 1, 2009 3:46AM
Tom Verducci Tom Verducci >
INSIDE BASEBALL

Five Cuts: Hamels' breakdown vs. Pettitte may end up defining Series

Story Highlights

Cliff Lee deserves three Series starts -- whereas Cole Hamels merits just one

Joe Girardi was right to bring Rivera in to close out a non-save situation

The Phillies' left-handed hitters need to solve the Yanks' lefties -- and fast

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Cole Hamels may live to regret throwing a first-pitch breaking ball to Andy Pettitte on the Yankee pitcher's RBI double in the 5th.
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Sports Illustrated baseball writer Tom Verducci breaks down Game 3 from Philadelphia:

1. If Game 3 is the turning point of the World Series -- 68 percent of teams up 2-1 go on to win it -- then a Yankees championship began with one pitch from Cole Hamels that will be remembered as one of the great gaffes in recent Series history. The beginning of the end for Philadelphia was a first-pitch curveball Hamels threw New York pitcher Andy Pettitte with no understanding of basic baseball. When Pettitte stepped in, Hamels was working with a 3-2 lead, a runner at second base and -- here's the key part -- one out. Pettitte is a career .134 hitter who has come to bat a total of 12 times over the past three years. Hamels could dispose of him with fastballs, the way J.A. Happ would do the next inning, and he would be one out away from being out of the inning. Instead, Hamels threw a first-pitch curveball up, and Pettitte slapped a single to tie the game. Why in the world would he throw something slow -- and up, no less -- to an American League pitcher? "I made the right pitch to Pettitte," Hamels explained. "A pitcher doesn't hit an oh-and-oh curve in a bunting situation." I was incredulous. I had to follow up, and asked him, "Just to clarify, you thought Pettitte was bunting, so you threw a breaking ball up to try to get him to pop up a bunt?"

"Yes," Hamels said. "That's what I get my fair share of the time when I'm bunting. He swung and got a hit. Baseball is very, very difficult to understand sometimes." Hamels emphasized his point by way of explaining he missed location only once, on a fastball to Johnny Damon that became a two-run double that inning. Hamels clearly did not regard the pitch to Pettitte as a mistake. I couldn't believe it. There is no way Pettitte is bunting there. There is virtually no advantage to be gained from moving a runner from second to third and be left with two outs. With no outs, it's an obvious bunt situation. One out? The pitcher swings away, because even if he strikes out, you still have a runner in scoring position with two outs, and on all but rare occasions the runner will be sent home from second on a single. So you have nothing to lose by letting the pitcher swing away. It's Baseball 101. Just to sure, I checked with Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. It was obvious by Manuel's reaction that this was the first time he was hearing that Hamels intentionally threw a high curveball to Pettitte to get him to pop up a bunt. "No, that's not a bunting situation," Manuel said. "No way. Not with one out. Runner on first? We bunt there. Runner at second? No, we don't bunt. Cole said that?" To be fair, the catcher, Carlos Ruiz, has to bear responsibility for that pitch, as well. His job was to call for a fastball and if Hamels shook him off, to insist on the fastball, even if it meant going to the mound to explain it was not a bunting situation. This is how quickly the entire World Series changed with that mental mistake: Within four pitches, the Phillies went from winning 3-2 to losing 5-3 and were, for all intents and purposes, done for the night. With Joe Blanton getting the ball in Game 4, we'll see if that gaffe has even more repercussions. Hamels was right about one thing: Baseball is very, very difficult to understand sometimes.

2. It's a mystery what has happened to Hamels this year, but it's not a stretch to think that he no longer has the confidence or the stuff to be a trustworthy Game 7 starter, if the series gets that far. His postgame analysis was interesting because of how beaten he sounded. Asked if he was surprised at how quickly the game got away from him, he said, "No. That's the story of my whole season. I can believe that happened because when I hit a speed bump I don't hit a small speed bump, I hit a big one." And asked about a 3-and-2 pitch to Mark Teixeira that was called a ball, which cost him a run when Alex Rodriguez followed with a home run, Hamels said, "It was a strike. Story of my season." Manuel liked his World Series rotation because he had Cliff Lee and Hamels lined up to pitch four of the seven games. But that plan assumed an effective Hamels, which we have not seen for a long time. The plan looks problematic after three games. Lee has looked so good he should be pitching three times, not twice, and Hamels has looked so bad he should be pitching only once.

3. When the Phillies clubhouse opened 10 or 15 minutes after the game, it was a strange sight to see Ryan Howard already showered and fully dressed. When reporters approached him, he snapped, "I'm going to get something to eat." And when someone asked him if he was coming back to his locker, he said, "I may. I may not." Then he threw up his hands and said, "Get away from my locker." Howard did eventually return in a better mood. But his initial reaction smacked of the kind of frustration a star athlete and leader should not be expected to show in times of crisis. Clearly, the Yankees have gotten inside his head with the antidote to his power that he still hasn't overcome: Breaking balls from lefthanded pitchers. He would be excused if he went to bed seeing sliders breaking away from him. The Yankees have exposed the biggest hole in the Phillies: Good lefthanded pitching can shut down their 3, 4 and 6 hitters, Chase Utley, Howard and Raul Ibanez. Yes, Utley did smack two home runs off CC Sabathia -- off fastballs. All those hitters have seen since then are "show" inside fastballs early in the count to set up the breaking stuff. Philadelphia's lefthanded hitters are now 4-for-24 (.167) against New York's lefthanded pitchers in the World Series. And with Sabathia and Pettitte scheduled to start five of the seven games in the series, and lefthanders Damaso Marte and Phil Coke in the bullpen, the lefties have no room to breathe in this series. Unless Utley and Howard can get to New York's lefthanded pitchers, the Phillies are done in this World Series.

4. A disclaimer, which is necessary given that this is second-guess hunting season in baseball: This item is meant in a humorous vein. Yankees manager Joe Girardi, when asked about his use of having Mariano Rivera get the final two outs when up 8-5, said, "We were going to give Mo some wiggle room for the save ..." Save? It was not a save situation. A reporter asked Girardi again later in his office, for clarification, why he gave the ball to Rivera then. "Save situation," Girardi said tersely. Uh, no, the reporter told the manager. It was not a save situation. "It was to me," Girardi said. Good save by Girardi. The save, of course, is the one statistic in baseball that routinely drives managerial game strategy. Whether it was a save situation or not, however, is not important. Using Rivera there was the right move to make. This is the World Series. You don't give the other team a hint of momentum. You don't "save" Rivera because nothing is guaranteed the next day. Rivera threw five pitches, enough to bust up two more bats but not enough to even break a sweat. When you have the greatest weapon in postseason baseball history, you use it.

5. The Philadelphia bullpen deserves some blame for all of the tack-on runs that made Girardi's job -- and Rivera's job -- much easier. The Yankees scored in five consecutive innings, becoming the first team to do so in the World Series since the 1960 Yankees against the Pirates. If the Phillies bullpen had held the game close, then Girardi might have been forced to go to his platoon-matchup game and to go to Rivera earlier and in a more stressful situation. With Rivera coming off a 39-pitch effort in Game 2, and looking at three straight games without a day off in the schedule, the Phillies needed to tax Rivera more than they did in Game 3.

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