- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 17, 2009

LOS ANGELES | Pedro Martinez was painting a masterpiece on the mound. Joe Torre was watching it all from the opposing dugout. Manny Ramirez was in uniform. And Martinez’s manager had to decide whether to leave the right-hander in to finish off his gem or hand the game over to his bullpen.

Hadn’t we seen this before?

Indeed, six years to the day after Martinez was left on the mound by then-Boston Red Sox manager Grady Little in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series - a move that backfired in spectacular fashion and handed the New York Yankees another pennant thanks to a man named Aaron Boone - here we were again.

The scene had shifted 3,000 miles west to Dodger Stadium, and the uniforms were different. But Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel faced the same dilemma. Unlike Little, Manuel chose to pull Martinez after the seventh inning. Like Little, he still paid the price for it.

Philadelphia’s beleaguered bullpen handed the Dodgers two runs in the eighth and a 2-1 victory that knotted the National League Championship Series at a game apiece as the scene shifts back east for Game 3.

“My guys don’t know fear - that’s all I can tell you,” said Los Angeles manager Torre, whose club posted 42 come-from-behind wins during the regular season and has already pulled it off three times in five postseason games. “I really admire what Charlie has done over there and how even winning a World Series doesn’t keep them from wanting more. But today certainly was needed.”

The Dodgers, owners of the NL’s best record, were on the verge of falling into a 2-0 series hole against the defending World Series champs because the 37-year-old Martinez was pitching as if this were the 2003 ALCS and he were still in the prime of his Hall of Fame career.

It would not be far-fetched to claim this was the finest pitching performance of Martinez’s 18-year career. Through seven innings on a 93-degree afternoon, he had allowed two singles and no walks. In the history of postseason play, only three other pitchers had thrown seven shutout innings, allowing two hits or less and no walks.

“This is the kind of game I want to be here for,” said Martinez, who was cut loose by the Mets last winter and didn’t sign with the Phillies until July. “This is one classic example of the things I always wanted to do: to actually choose a team that would give me the best chance to win and actually be there for these kind of situations. To be able to do this is really a joy for me. I’m very thankful for them to give me the opportunity.”

That opportunity, though, didn’t extend into the eighth inning Friday. Even though his starter had thrown only 87 pitches, Manuel didn’t hesitate to pull him with his team up 1-0, having predetermined Martinez would be limited to 90 pitches maximum after sitting idle since Sept. 30.

“He was gone. I mean, I think he was spent,” Manuel said. “We got seven innings out of him. … He did a tremendous job, and he took it actually maybe farther than I anticipated when the game started. To me, Pedro was done.”

Had the Phillies’ bullpen preserved the 1-0 lead, there would be no debate. But a parade of four ineffective relievers - Chan Ho Park, Scott Eyre, Ryan Madson and J.A. Happ - allowed the Dodgers to score the equalizer and the go-ahead run via two singles, a bunt hit and two walks.

Second baseman Chase Utley didn’t help matters, uncorking a wild throw to first on what should have been a routine double-play grounder. The play instead turned into a killer error that allowed Juan Pierre to score the tying run.

“I had plenty of time to turn it,” said Utley, who committed only four errors all season. “I just didn’t make a good throw.”

Still, the Phillies had a chance to escape with the score tied. But with the bases loaded and two outs, rookie left-hander Happ walked Andre Ethier on a low 3-2 fastball, allowing Russell Martin to score the go-ahead run.

“You’ve got to make them put the ball in play in that situation,” said Happ, a starter pressed into relief duty this month. “You’ve got to throw a strike there.”

As the crowd of 56,000 roared, buoyed by a towel-twirling Tommy Lasorda, Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton did what his counterparts could not. He tossed a 1-2-3 ninth, shutting the door on any comeback and sending this already-wild NLCS to the East Coast after a seismic momentum shift that might never have happened had Martinez been given an opportunity to finish what he started.

“For me, it’s not about the win. If you recall, I have [219] wins,” Martinez said. “But I wanted the team to actually win. It’s not wasted, because at least we got one game out of the way. We can now go home, regroup and go get them the next time.”

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