Five relievers combine to surrender lead in eighth inning
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
PHILADELPHIA -- Those Phillies critics who were doubting Pedro Martinez's ability to pitch effectively after a long layoff were forced to turn their attention toward a familiar target.
After Martinez dominated the Dodgers over seven scoreless and efficient innings during Game 2 of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on Friday afternoon, the same Phillies bullpen that had been drawing all the right cards over the course of the past week went bust during a forgettable eighth inning that turned the tide in this best-of-seven series.
While Brad Lidge has been pulling rabbits out of his hat during this postseason, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has looked like a skilled magician. But during the eighth inning of Friday's 2-1 loss to the Dodgers, Manuel looked more like a scout who was searching far and wide to find one effective arm.
"We play day-to-day, and I know this was a tough loss and it's a big loss in a way, but at the same time our team .. we've bounced back before, and we'll bounce back again," Manuel said.
While limiting the Dodgers to two hits during his seven-inning effort, Martinez certainly wasn't affected by the fact that he'd thrown just seven innings since Sept. 13. The 37-year-old right-hander threw 57 of his 87 pitches for strikes and allowed just one Dodger to advance as far as second base.
"Actually he did a tremendous job, and he took it actually maybe farther than I anticipated when the game started," Manuel said. "To me, Pedro was done."
Unfortunately for Manuel, Martinez's exit meant that his club's pitching dominance was done. During the eighth inning, five different Phillies relievers combined to throw just 16 of their 31 pitches for strikes. In addition, they were forced to pitch around the costly throwing error that Chase Utley committed on a double-play relay.
Utley's second errant throw in two days allowed the Dodgers to dent the scoreboard and prolong the inning long enough for Andre Ethier to work the decisive seven-pitch, bases-loaded walk off J.A. Happ, a 12-game winner who has made one start and three other relief appearances thus far in the playoffs.
"It was just a tough inning all around," Happ said. "Regardless of what happened that inning, my job is to come in and throw strikes."
Actually, it's pretty difficult to say that any of the Phillies relievers have had a defined job during this postseason. Lidge has seemingly regained the closer's role and Ryan Madson has obviously been the guy that Manuel wants pitching in any key late-inning situation against a right-hander.
But Madson's reliability has to be further questioned after he entered Friday's game and immediately issued a five-pitch walk to Rafael Furcal to load the bases. The right-handed reliever has issued four walks and surrendered five hits in the four innings that have encompassed his past three appearances.
"It's just normal stuff," Madson said. "It's nothing new. It's just the same stuff that I've been working on all year."
Because Madson needed 31 pitches to get through Thursday's eighth inning, Manuel provided a reminder about the state of his bullpen by bringing Chan Ho Park out to begin Friday's eighth inning. The right-hander, who had been sidelined since Sept. 16 entering this series, surrendered consecutive singles and then induced the double-play grounder that Utley misplayed.
This prompted Park's exit and forced Manuel to resume his game of bullpen roulette. Scott Eyre exited after allowing a single to Jim Thome, who had been hitless in seven previous at-bats against the veteran left-hander.
After Madson struck out Kemp with the bases loaded, Happ was called upon to solve Ethier, who had drawn a .283 on-base percentage against left-handed pitchers this year. But seven pitches into the rookie southpaw's appearance, the Dodgers had the lead and the Phillies once again had a suspect bullpen.
Happ's struggles provide reason to believe that the Phillies might call upon Joe Blanton to start Game 4 on Monday night. Having served as one of the men asked to make this bullpen right during the playoffs, Blanton would be making his first start since Oct. 2.
"I've got all the faith in the world in our team," Manuel said. "It's going to be a good series, guys. It's going to be a tough series."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.