My MLB predictions have been little better than useless so far this season; however I completely redeemed myself last night. At 20.09 BST, just under an hour before Game Two of the Phillies-Dodgers NLCS started, I sent the following message to Joe:
I’m a bit torn really because while I’d love to see Pedro Martinez turn back the clock with a magical performance, for the sake of the series I would prefer it if the Dodgers got the win to level it at 1-1. I’ll settle for a seven inning shutout by Pedro and a late L.A. rally against the Phillies’ bullpen.
A seven-inning shutout by Pedro? Check.
A late L.A. rally against the Phillies’ bullpen? Check.
Series level at 1-1? Three out of three!
It was hard luck on Pedro, who really did ‘turn back the clock’ with a strong start. Martinez gave an exhibition on how you can keep a potent lineup in check despite not having a 96 mph fastball. He did everything the coaching manual says you should: working both sides of the plate and changing speeds so that the batters couldn’t time him. Pedro didn’t miss many bats, picking up just three strikeouts, but he kept the Dodgers from putting the barrel on the ball.
The same could be written about the Dodgers’ starter Vicente Padilla. He wore out his welcome in Texas and was effectively picked up off the scrapheap by General Manager Ned Colletti in mid-August. Apart from one mistake to Ryan Howard, which the first baseman smashed into the left-centre seats to continue his monstrous playoff form, Padilla matched his hero Martinez pitch-for-pitch. The Dodgers’ starter did have a 96 mph fastball, but he complemented it with a decent slider and two curveballs, one around 77 mph and a ridiculously slow curve in the mid fifties. The latter was so off-putting that when he threw it to Shane Victorino with his first pitch in the third inning, the Phillies’ centre fielder could do nothing else but laugh.
Howard’s solo shot was the only offense either team could manage off the two starters. The Dodgers had a chance to put Pedro under pressure in the fourth when Matt Kemp led off the inning with a single; however, he gave away the promising position by being caught trying to steal second base. It’s the sort of gamble that always looks bad when it doesn’t work out. Even at that early stage, it was clear that this was going to be a tight game with runs at a premium and, with Kemp being a good base-stealer, the chance to get a runner in scoring position was apparently too good to ignore. The Phillies had to make a perfect play to get him and you have to give credit to Carlos Ruiz for nailing Kemp with a quick, strong and accurate throw from behind the plate. Still, making an out on the basepads with the heart of your order coming up to bat (Ethier, Ramirez and Loney) is the sort of moment you can look back on with regret if you end up losing the game.
Fortunately for Joe Torre and his team, they were able to forget about it. Former Dodger Chan Ho Park came into the game in the eighth inning and gave up two singles to get the home crowd on their feet. In fairness to Park, he then made a decent pitch to Russell Martin that produced a tailor-made double-play grounder. Pedro Feliz snaffled it and darted the ball to Chase Utley at second base. He forced out Ronnie Belliard but then made an awful throw a mile wide of first base that allowed Martin to get on base and pinch-runner Juan Pierre to come around to tie the game 1-1. Charlie Manuel sent in four more pitchers during the rest of the inning as the Dodgers gradually loaded the bases and then took a 2-1 lead after J.A. Happ walked Andre Ethier. Jonathan Broxton took the mound in the top of the ninth and made short work of Rollins, Victorino and Utley to close out the game.
As noted in my prescient pre-game comments, it was good for the series that the Dodgers were able to fight back and win the second game. An 0-2 deficit isn’t terminal in a seven-game series, but it’s a tough spot to get out of against a quality team.
For precisely that reason, the Los Angeles Angels need to win tonight after losing the opener of the ALCS against the Yankees 4-1. CC Sabathia was in dominating form and gave the Yanks the sort of big-game performance that made them sign the lefty over the offseason to the largest free agent contract ever given to a pitcher. It doesn’t get much easier for the Angels as the Yankees can throw A.J. Burnett out there for Game Two. While the former Blue Jay has scuffled along at times during his debut year in New York, he has the stuff to shut down any lineup when he’s on top of his game. The Angels need to stop Burnett from settling into a rhythm and also to eliminate some rare sloppy mistakes that crept into their game yesterday.
Just as I hoped that the L.A. Dodgers would level the series yesterday, I’m rooting for the other team from L.A. to do the same tonight. My Dodgers prediction worked out perfectly. Let’s see if the Angels can follow it up.