Just Masterful: Vicente Padilla, Underachiever to Playoff Hero

Chris StaafCorrespondent IOctober 10, 2009

The Los Angeles Dodgers completed a three game sweep against the favored St. Louis Cardinals in St. Louis today 5-1. Manny Ramirez finally busted loose with three hits, Andre Ethier smashed a long two run home run and was a single shy of a cycle, and Jonathan Broxton once again worked more than one inning to finish off the Cards.

The biggest star of the game however was pitcher Vicente Padilla. Padilla is now 5-0 with the Dodgers since being acquired on August 19 from the Texas Rangers and right now looks like the best midseason move among all remaining playoff teams.

This game in my opinion was a must win game for the Dodgers. Although Chris Carpenter has never pitched on three days rest in his career, I do not think anyone in Dodger Blue wanted to find out if Carpenter would pitch as well has he did.

Not only that, if the Cardinals had won games three and four, the Dodgers would have had to face Adam Wainwright again, the same man who shut down the Dodgers for eight innings.

Luckily for the Dodgers, Padilla slammed the door on the Cards. Not only that, Padilla, at age 32, finally turned a corner on his underachieving career.

Padilla, a ten year veteran from Nicaragua, has always had good stuff with an electric fastball that can touch 98 mph and good breaking stuff. However, his commitment to the game and his temperament has always been questioned, a primary reason why the Rangers released him and allowed the Dodgers to sign him.

In ways, Padilla, despite making one All-Star appearance and going over the 200 innings mark three times in his career, has always been viewed as a hotheaded underachiever. Padilla was Carlos Zambrano before Big Z entered the big leagues.

However, in his first playoff appearance today, Padilla looked as sharp as ever, especially after a shaky first inning. Padilla dominated the Cardinals lineup with his buzz-saw fastball, often getting weak grounders and popups for seven innings. He never lost his head and focus.

I believe that getting dropped by the Rangers was a wake up call for Padilla, especially since the Rangers at the time were in the middle of a heated playoff push. With the Rangers pretty much telling him that they would rather lose without him (which they did) than try to win with him, it had to be a blow to Padilla's psyche.

To make matters worse, Padilla's reputation as a headhunter who drilled batters after giving up home runs grew further in the last few months with the Rangers and the Rangers' hitters got sick of paying for his petulance. Padilla never had to face a potential beanball with the DH in the American League and his act got tired in Arlington.

Padilla had to look at himself and realize what he was doing wrong. Lucky for him, the Dodgers were strapped for starting pitching with injuries and inconsistency from everyone not named Randy Wolf.

Padilla's former manager in Philadelphia Larry Bowa (and current Dodger third base coach) gave good reviews about his former pitcher to manager Joe Torre, who had doubts about Padilla like everyone else. 

Torre gave the thumbs up and Ned Colletti made the move. Thus far, the Padilla move has been on par with any of the midseason moves made in the National League this summer though it has been under the radar until today.

4-0 in seven starts with 3.20 ERA in the final five weeks of the season plus the clinching win against a talented and desperate Cardinals team has made it all worth it.

Padilla's start today cemented his role as a third starter behind Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw in the NLCS. The only question now for the Dodgers is will Hiroki Kuroda be healthy enough to go in game four or will the Dodgers be forced to find out if Chad Billingsley is right in the head.

Either way, this was Padilla's day and hopefully for the Dodgers, there will be many more to come. Here's to hoping that his mind and psyche has finally caught up to his talented right arm.