By Tom Verducci
October 08, 2009

1. It took only four innings for the Dodgers to announce and execute their game plan for the entire NLDS against St. Louis: turn the games into a battle of the bullpens. Los Angeles manager Joe Torre yanked his Game 1 starter, Randy Wolf, only two outs into the fourth inning while holding a 3-2 lead. And it worked. Five Dodgers relievers took care of 16 outs to beat the Cardinals, 5-3.

It's not supposed to be like this. The modern game is all about running up the pitch count of the starting pitcher to get into the other team's bullpen, where weaker pitchers reside -- which is exactly what the Dodgers did to the Cardinals. Who gets only 11 outs of their starting pitcher and is happy about it? Well, the team with the best bullpen in baseball.

"From now on," Wolf said, "I think the other teams may want to keep our starter in the game to have a better chance." He was joking. I think.

It is certainly not the preferred road map to postseason victories. Consider this: Before Wednesday night, teams in the wild-card era that received no more than 11 outs from their starting pitcher in a postseason game won only 26 percent of the time (30-85). The all-time postseason success rate with such early exits is 24 percent (89-281). But when you see Jeff Weaver tossing Frisbees, Ronald Belasario throwing 95 mph shot-put sinkers, Hong-Chih Kuo blowing fastballs past Matt Holliday, George Sherrill playing hide-and-seek with his fastball and Jonathon Broxton pushing triple digits on the gun, you get what Torre and the Dodgers are up to. Torre is as aggressive a manager in the postseason as anybody out there when it comes to bullpen management -- he is the guy who yanked Denny Neagle when he was one out from a World Series win in 2000 -- and now he has plenty of reasons to pull the trigger.

"The playoffs are different," Wolf said. "Every game is a must-win. In the regular season, I probably would be upset by him taking me out then. In this game, I completely understand it."

2. File away this episode for possible reference as the series goes on: Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter yelled at Wolf for what he thought was an excessive bat flip in the third inning. Wolf, batting with the bases loaded and two outs, popped up. Carpenter thought Wolf then flipped his bat in frustration, as if Wolf was supposed to get a hit. As Wolf jogged down the line, Carpenter, rather than watching the popup, stared at Wolf and yelled at him for most of the 90 feet of the baseline. A surprised Wolf told Carpenter that he didn't flip his bat.

"I don't see him as an egotistical guy, and I respect what he's done in the game," Wolf said. "What he said really didn't bother me. It's the heat of battle. And certainly the last thing I'm going to do is try to show somebody up."

3. Manny Ramirez ended the season with 10 strikeouts in his final 27 at-bats while opposing teams kept blowing fastballs past him -- even in situations with first base open. His swing has been long and slow and his balance has been off. In other words, he has looked like a guy who turned 37 years old this year.

When I asked Dodgers hitting coach Don Mattingly before Game 1 if he was concerned about Ramirez, Mattingly smiled and said, "His work the past four games has been ridiculous. And when a good hitter feels it, you pay attention. They know."

At one point in the past few days Ramirez smiled at Mattingly, put an index finger to his lips and said, "Shhhh" -- meaning the secret between them was that Ramirez was ready to bust out.

Well, maybe not. "It doesn't always translate to the games," Mattingly said before Game 1. "We'll see." Ramirez went 1 for 4, his only hit a double on which he broke his bat. He still wasn't able to square up fastballs.

Until Ramirez shows otherwise, expect the Cardinals to continue to pitch him aggressively, especially to pound fastballs in. It's a long way from the postseason a year ago, when Ramirez deserved and received the Bonds treatment.

4. Speaking of the Bonds treatment, Torre made it clear in Game 1 that he is not going to give Albert Pujols a chance to beat him. Torre walked the Cardinals slugger twice, including once in the first inning to load the bases with no outs. (It worked; Wolf survived the scare by allowing just one run to score.)

But Torre's treatment of Pujols also highlighted one huge difference between Torre and Tony La Russa. This series may be a matchup of two of the five winningest managers in baseball history -- and their 4,798 wins is the most ever in one postseason series -- but there is at least one major difference in managerial philosophy. Torre is much more likely to put a batter on intentionally rather than have his pitchers work around someone with a base open. Torre ordered more intentional walks than any manager in the league (68). The manager who ordered the fewest? That would be La Russa (23).

5. I give the Twins so much credit for their 17-4 sprint to the AL Central title. You never want to count them out entirely. But really, the Yankees have too much firepower for them. Game 1 displayed everything you need to know. Minnesota didn't play that poorly, and its 137 pitches over eight innings represented fairly efficient pitching against that lineup.

But the game, like almost all games against New York, came down to walks and home runs. The Twins, who walked the fewest batters in the league, walked five batters. Two of them scored. The Yankees also took care of their daily dose of two home runs. Ballgame. Again.

The Yankees led all 30 teams in walks and also led all 30 teams in home runs, a lethal combination. It means that the Yankees are on the cusp of a rally constantly. They don't need three hits to score. And that is a constant source of anxiety that wears down staffs mentally and physically.

The Yankees played only five games all year in which they didn't get a walk, including only one at Yankee Stadium. They were 0-5 in those games.

So there's your secret of how to beat the Yankees. Good luck with that, Twins.

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