In the fifth inning of Game one of the National League Championship Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins gobbled up Andre Ethier ’s groundball. Rollins, an above-average shortstop, hesitated before shoveling the ball to second baseman Chase Utley , who was standing on the bag waiting for the throw.
Because of his hesitation, Utley’s timing was thrown off. He received Rollins’ throw, touched the bag, but didn’t set his feet for the throw to first base. His attempt to complete the potential inning-ending double play missed Ryan Howard, a big target at first base, by a good ten feet and sailed into the dugout.
Starting pitcher Cole Hamels looked back at Utley in dismay. This error not only allowed a run to score and extend the inning, but it was followed by a two-run shot by Manny Ramirez that cut the deficit to one.
The second error committed by Utley in the series was identical, but far more costly. Runners were on first and second in the bottom of the ninth inning with nobody out when Russel Martin hit a groundball to third baseman Pedro Feliz.
Prior to the eventful bottom of the eighth, the game was brilliant pitchers duel between two veterans. One is a future Hall of Famer, the Phillies’ Pedro Martinez , and the other, Dodgers’ Vicente Padilla , is trying to resurrect his career. The 37-year old and 32-year old matched each other inning by inning, mowing down the opposition almost effortlessly.
Martinez, one of the top-ten pitchers of all-time in my book, has lost some velocity as his career has progressed, but though his ability to overpower an opponent with strikeouts galore has left him, his effectiveness remains.
He isn’t intimidating heighth-wise, but his postseason pedigree, reputation, and whipping delivery does strike fear into the opposition, and did on a glorious day in Los Angeles.
The Dominican and former Boston Red Sox ace, with curly black hair protruding from his cap, was vintage Pedro. His fastball touches 90 on the gun nowadays instead of 98, but his three-quarter arm angle and powerful arm action through the delivery makes it look 95 to the hitter.
He offsets this fastball with one of the nastiest changeups the game has ever seen, an 86-mile per hour pitch that, for the first 55 feet, looks like a fastball, then breaks down sharply. This combination baffled the Dodgers as it has so many others.
Padilla, sturdy at 6′2″, hasn’t had nearly the career of Martinez. He had his best years as a member of the Phillies, winning fourteen games in 2002 and 2003, but as had an average career overall, and is as known more for his tendency to hit batters than his accomplishments.
His ERA was in the high four’s over the course of his tenure with the Texas Rangers, and he became so ineffective that the club designated him for assignment. He was open to sign with any team, and the Dodgers pounced. Their pitching was in disarray and they needed a back-end of rotation starter–perfect fit.
Padilla relished in the new start and pitched extremely well in his month-plus with Los Angeles, allowing 14 runs in six starts. His performance earned him a start in the division series against the St. Louis Cardinals and all he did was throw seven shutout innings in victory. This outing against the Phillies was equally as dominant .
The only blemish was a solo-homer allowed to slugger Ryan Howard in the fourth. That was the only run either team pushed across until the eighth. Padilla pitched into that eighth, and left with this line: seven 1/3 innings, four hits, one run, one walk, six strikeouts. Martinez was done after seven and relinquished only two hits while walking none . They were brilliant.
The first two hitters in the Dodgers half of the eighth reached against Chan Ho Park , who made his first appearance since September 16th in the first game of the series and is still hampered by the hamstring injury that sidelined him. The second hitter, Ronnie Belliard, laid down a bunt, attempting to move the speedy Juan Pierre over to second.
He bunted it hard in between the mound and first base. Park jumped off the mound and made a sliding attempt, but his hamstring wouldn’t let him do so effectively, and the ball evaded him and trickled past Howard as well.
Then came the play that changed the game. Martin lined a grounder to Feliz. The slick-fielding third-baseman picked the hot-shot and rifled it over to Utley, who was covering second. The ball arrived far before Belliard, so his slide wasn’t an issue. Utley got on the wrong foot again, and fired woefully off target .
His terrible throw was similar to his one in Game one. The only difference was that it bounced off the mesh protecting the dugout instead of ricocheting amongst his teammates in the dugout.
Pierre alertly kept on running, and put on the afterburners when he realized the ball stayed in play. He scampered home for the tying run. Martinez would not get the win he deserved. When all said and done, the Phillies wouldn’t either.
Philadelphia’s manager Charlie Manuel took out Park and used four other pitchers in the inning. The third of the ensuing four, J.A. Happ , came into a bases-loaded, two-out situation. He made life difficult for himself against Ethier after jumping ahead 1-2 in the count, missing outside for ball-two and low for ball-three.
In danger of walking in a run, he went to his fastball. It went over the plate, but it missed low. Carlos Ruiz tried to frame it and move his glove up a notch, but the umpire wasn’t buying his sell. Martin walked home for the go-ahead run as Happ just stared at the plate.
The Phillies lost by that score, 2-1. Martinez did nothing to lose. Happ was called upon in the toughest of situations. It was Utley, once again, who cost Philadelphia. In Game 1, he allowed the Dodgers to climb closer. In Game 2, he gift-wrapped the Dodgers a win they desperately wanted.