Wednesday October 21st, 2009

PHILADELPHIA -- Pedro Martinez held court in the corner of the Phillies clubhouse for 20 some minutes today, answering questions in English and Spanish, referring to himself and Raul Ibañez as the club's "old goats," proclaiming Boston's 2004 ALCS comeback "the greatest in the history of the game" and riffing on Jimmy Rollins' youthful appearance ("he looks just like he did in that 'Beyond Baseball' commercial").

Amongst the few dozen questions thrown his way was whether he had drawn on his own postseason experience to give advice to his new teammates. His answer was classic Pedro, said with a little defiance, meant to elicit a laugh and buried within it was an insightful point.

"This team doesn't need to be told [what to do]," he said, noting the obvious, that the Phillies are already defending World Series champions. "If we were a car, we'd probably be in trouble with the law. This team really speeds up and never lets down. We're a NASCAR type of team."

He's right, that the Phillies certainly go from 0 to 60 awfully quickly, though that offense does slam on the breaks at times.

They were the National League's top-scoring offense this year -- 820 runs, 5.1 per game -- and led the league in home runs (224), slugging percentage (.447) and stolen-base percentage (81.0). Their batting average was only ninth (.258), their on-base percentage was eighth (.334) and their use of the sacrifice bunt was nearly non-existent (55, 15th in the NL and just one more than last-place Arizona).

In other words, they are a quick-strike, burn-rubber offense. Of the Phillies' 788 RBIs this season, nearly half scored on home runs: 370, which is 47.0 percent of the total and the highest rate in the majors. The other 29 teams only plated 36.9 percent of their runs on four-baggers. Though the Yankees hit 20 more homers, they scored a smaller percentage of their runs (41.0) that way. Similarly, Philadelphia drove in 65.0 percent of its runs (512) on extra-base hits, while the rest of baseball scored only 56.7 percent on multiple-base hits.

Like a NASCAR wreck, Phillies' hits often have collateral damage.

Their NLCS matchup with the Dodgers, which the Phillies somewhat amazingly lead 3 games to 1, is an exaggerated version of their score-in-bunches tactics. The Phillies are batting just .224 this series -- and if it weren't for the 11-0 Game 3 drubbing of the Dodgers, that average falls to .185. (It, of course, should be noted that Philly's pitching has been sensational, with a 2.83 ERA and 1.11 WHIP.)

So while Ryan Howard (.385, 2 HR, 8 RBIs) and Carlos Ruiz (.500, HR, 4 RBIs) are mashing the ball and Shane Victorino (.333, HR, 3 RBIs) has been about the team's only other consistent hitter, Philadelphia is getting along fine with big hits in big spots, with nine multiple-RBI hits and, of their 28 totals hits, 13 have gone for extra bases, giving them a far more respectable .448 postseason slugging percentage. Raul Ibañez, for instance, only has two hits, but one was the back-breaking, three-run homer in Game 1.

For Dodgers starter Vicente Padilla, his Game 5 plan should be simple: don't walk anybody. The Phillies' had the NL's third-worst batting average on balls in play and won't string together a ton of hits. Because when they do hit the ball, it'll often leave the park.

• On the off-day, the Dodgers announced an extension for general manager Ned Colletti, who, though he was excited about the new contract, was pretty dour. While he sat on stage waiting to begin, a reporter suggested he tell a joke to kill time. His befuddled response: "Today?"

• Colletti did say his hiring was a "symbolic statement" of the solidity of the ownership group (mired in reports that owner Frank McCourt and his wife, CEO Jamie McCourt, are separating). And of assistant GM Kim Ng, who interviewed for the Padres GM job, Colletti said, "Her time is getting close."

• A video posted on Halos Heaven -- an Angels fan site -- in which Yankees closer Mariano Rivera appears to spit on the baseball made sufficient rounds in the sports blogosphere. Dodgers manager Joe Torre was asked about it, relating to his own experiences managing Rivera. "Well, it's disappointing to have people make something of that," Torre said. "I've been around him for 12 years. He's top-notch for me. I didn't see any of it, I just heard some people talk about it. Evidently he was off the mound, and that's all legal stuff as long as you remember to wipe it or whatever. But as I say, I didn't see the video. But Mariano Rivera is above and beyond for me. As I said, I can't comment because I didn't see it. But the individual for me is ace No. 1."

• Phillies pinch-hitter Matt Stairs -- who drew a walk to start the ninth-inning rally on Monday night -- was asked what his approach was at the plate when facing the Dodgers' Jonathan Broxton, especially since he had homered off the L.A. closer in last year's NLCS. "When I stepped in that batter's box, I had one thing on my mind," Stairs said. "And that was to go for that Budweiser sign" in right field. As honest an answer as there ever was.

• Other highlights of Pedro Martinez's clubhouse chat today:

Asked further about his NASCAR analogy, Martinez admitted he's a mild auto-racing fan, though he's never attended a race. He also has a few favorite drivers, but, playing the part of diplomat, declined to name any of them.

Martinez played diplomat again when he declined to answer any question about the possibility of facing the Yankees in the World Series. All he said on the subject was his reaffirmation that the Red Sox' performance in the 2004 ALCS constituted "the greatest comeback ever in the history of the game" -- not that there should be any doubts about that.

• Speaking of the '04 ALCS, Torre reminded the media that he's now managing both Ramirez and Doug Mientkiewicz, two Sox who beat him that year (and Bill Mueller is in the Dodgers' front office as a special assistant to the GM), and that there's plenty of give and take. "I wanted to watch that game when Aaron Boone hit the home run," Torre said. "Mientkiewicz made we watch 2004 the next day on the Major League Network. Turnabout is fair play. Even though I'm the manager and I have certain privileges, I try to be even."

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