- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 18, 2009

LOS ANGELES

There’s a common philosophy shared by most every manager in baseball that states you don’t change anything once you get to the postseason. If it worked for you over the course of 162 games, it’ll work for you come October.

It’s on display all the time in the playoffs, especially when it comes time to decide whether to leave a starting pitcher in the game or turn to the bullpen. And it was on display Friday in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, when Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel decided to pull Pedro Martinez after seven brilliant innings and entrust a 1-0 lead to his bullpen.

That move, of course, failed miserably, with four Phillies relievers combining to allow two runs on three hits and two walks - with Chase Utley’s error compounding the mess - during a disastrous eighth inning that handed the Los Angeles Dodgers a 2-1 victory and sent the series back east knotted at a game apiece.

Manuel was armed and ready with his justification for pulling Martinez when the question inevitably arose in his postgame news conference. The plan going in was to limit the 37-year-old to a maximum of 90 pitches, so with his count at 87 at the end of seven innings, it was time to make a change.

Never mind that this future Hall of Fame hurler had put a grand total of three Los Angeles batters on base: a soft single, an infield hit and a misplaced 0-2 change-up that caught a piece of Russell Martin. Pedro had done his job. Now it was time for the bullpen to do its job.

“He did a tremendous job, and he took it actually maybe farther than I anticipated when the game started,” Manuel explained. “To me, Pedro was done.”

Re-read that first line from the Phillies manager. Martinez did a “tremendous” job and went “farther than I anticipated when the game started.” In other words, he was pitching one of the best games of his life. So why on earth would you want to take him out?

Because that’s what you did all season long. Get seven strong innings from your starter, then hand it over to your best relievers. That’s what they’re paid for, right? Yes and no. While that strategy certainly makes sense on May 5 or July 27 or even Sept. 12, it doesn’t necessarily hold up on Oct. 16.

Despite what managers want to believe in their hearts, the playoffs aren’t the same as the regular season. The regular season is a 162-game marathon with long-range storylines and tactics. A manager has to do the best he can to win that particular day’s game, but he can’t do it at the expense of the long term. He can’t let his starter go the distance every five days in June because that guy might not have anything left in the tank come October.

The postseason, though, is different. It’s a series of one-game chess matches. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to win today. Then you worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.

And often, that means scrapping your usual game plan and calling an audible at the line of scrimmage. Manuel shouldn’t have paused a nanosecond before the eighth inning Friday and considered what he would have done had this been a regular-season game. His decision-making process should have been simple. Was Martinez absolutely dominating the Dodgers? Yes. Was he showing any signs whatsoever of fading? No. Is this guy one of the greatest big-game pitchers of his generation? Absolutely.

If nothing else, this should have been the clincher: With a one-run lead in the eighth inning of a postseason game, would you rather have Pedro Martinez or Chan Ho Park on the mound? Does that question even need to be asked?

Martinez said all the right things afterward, not blaming Manuel at all for the move. The future Hall of Famer, though, made it clear he wouldn’t have minded the opportunity to finish what he started.

“I felt pretty fresh,” he said. “I would have loved to go one more, or maybe even the rest of the game.”

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