Phillies' Manuel keeps everyone guessing with pitching alignment

Publish date:

PHILADELPHIA -- Some say the playoffs are a crapshoot. But what's really a crapshoot these days is Charlie Manuel's pitching alignment.

After Pedro Martinez became the only one of seven Phillies starting pitchers on their playoff roster to remain inactive though Game 2, the Great Pedro opined that he believes he's getting the Game 3 start in Colorado. And why the heck not?

Manuel has managed to use every other starter so far, from ace Cliff Lee to Cole Hamels to Joe Blanton to J.A. Happ to even Antonio Bastardo to Brett Myers and back to Lee again (the multitalented Lee pinch ran Game 2 while the others all pitched in that one game). Manuel certainly appears to be saving the Cooperstown-bound Martinez for something, and it's not a bronzing.

It's a guessing game only Pedro's willing to play so far. The manager himself only suggested it's down to Blanton and Martinez to start in the cold and snow of Colorado after third candidate Happ took a liner off his lower left leg in Game 2 Thursday. Everybody threw in their two cents, though no one was as definitive as the cagey Pedro.

Blanton told reporters he could go, not that he expected to, after throwing 19 pitches Thursday in the Phillies' 5-4 Game 2 loss to the Rockies. And actually so did Happ, who made a special trip to Manuel's office to plead the case that his leg is fine after Manuel noticed it "shake" in warmup tosses following the incident.)

But unlike the veteran Pedro, the others are making no assumptions. And really, why should anyone think they can guess along with Manuel? Beyond the calls to go with Lee to start Game 1 and Hamels to start Game 2, which even surprised folks here (some assumed he'd go with 2008 World Series MVP Hamels), Manuel thus far seems like he's pulling names out of a hat.

Blanton was the early favorite for Game 3, but then he appeared in relief in Game 2. And Happ seemed to be the next most logical candidate, but he too entered the game, only to exit it moments later, after being drilled just below the kneecap.

If the Phillies' rotation is a mystery, their closing situation is a horror show. As for that question, Manuel has basically thrown up his hands. "What the (blank) should I do?" Manuel has been known to ask folks who enter his office after 2008 savior Brad Lidge turned to dust.

In reality, Manuel has been managing like he wants to avoid most of his relievers, and not just the imploding closer Lidge. He managed Game 2 with a desperation to win, perhaps with thoughts of an ice-cold Coors Field to come (not to be confused with an ice-cold Coors). Frost is expected Saturday after a sunny day in Philadelphia on Thursday.

Temperatures in the 30s are expected Saturday. And the weather forecast is a lot more certain than Manuel's unusual pitching machinations.

In Game 2, the mad Manuel went with a succession of rotation guys. Blanton, Happ, Bastardo and Myers are all starters by trade, and Bastardo was pitching in the instructional league within the last week.

"I was making moves out there that if I could have picked some other things to do, I would have probably did it," Manuel said afterward.

Manuel got laughs, but not the victory.

Perhaps there's a method to his managerial madness, as he's keeping the Rockies guessing. Phillies people insist that Manuel wasn't withholding information in an effort to gain an advantage, and that he'll have an answer for Game 3 by today. But Rockies people, citing some playoff scuttlebutt, seemed to believe even before Thursday's game that Manuel would employ Pedro in Game 3.

That seemed illogical at the time since Happ's been arguably their best pitcher this year. Plus, Pedro isn't known as a cold-weather performer. "This is the summer pastime. We are the boys of summer," Pedro said while reminding us all that Boston can be cold. Even some Phillies people were reacting with shock upon hearing Manuel might use Pedro in the snow. But Manuel has his own plan.

Regardless, Pedro seems pretty sure it's him. Whether he has the same source as the Rockies, heard something more definitive from Manuel or is just guessing, he seemed pretty confident his time was coming.

"I've been in this game long enough to understand it's my spot," Pedro said.

If so, Pedro's practically the only one who understands what's going on.

Yorvit Torrealba's two-run home run off Hamels gave the Rockies a 3-0 lead in Game 2. But no matter what happens in the NLCS, Torrealba will continue a daily tradition that began this summer.

"When I wake up every morning," Torrealba said, "I say 'Thank God.' "

Torrealba's son, Yorvit Jr., and two of the boy's uncles were in the hands of kidnappers for nearly two days in Venezuela in June after they were taken at gunpoint while Yorvit Jr. was on his way to school. The kidnappers originally requested $500,000. However, after some negotiation, the price came down to $50,000. The police were bringing the $50,000 to a drop-off location in Caracas when the kidnappers let the boy and his uncles go. Yorvit Jr. was found later on a street corner in Caracas. Two sleepless days after his boy was abducted, Torrealba's world was returned to order.

Speaking of the ordeal, Torrealba said, "It's definitely something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.

"It feels so good. I can't thank God enough for my son being with me," Torrealba said.

He talks to his baseball-crazed, 11-year-old son daily, happily providing daily scouting reports on the opposing team. Yorvit Jr. is happy to get them. His dad is just happy to hear his voice.

The Torrealbas have since moved from Venezuela to Hollywood, Fla., providing a Hollywood ending to this happy story.

• Bobby Valentine is the name most prominently mentioned as a candidate for the Indians job. But Indians people say they have a long list. Red Sox coach Brad Mills could be a candidate. Makes sense, his son, Beau Mills, was a high draft choice of theirs recently. Indians and Red Sox executives are close, and the Indians originally targeted Boston pitching coach John Farrell, who decided to remain in his current job.

• The Braves may consider going after Matt Holliday, who made a huge error in St. Louis' Game 2 loss but is the biggest star who'll hit the free-agent market. Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt has said they are going to try hard to re-sign Holliday, and other candidates appear to be the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and Giants. Over the last four years, Holliday ranks second in doubles (172), fourth in batting average (.325), fifth in hits (767) and runs (440), sixth in slugging (.563) and OPS (.962) and seventh in RBIs (448).

• Jason Giambi said he wants to play another year, "But as a DH," he said. Giambi said he was expecting to only play first base one or two days a week in Oakland, and that the regular play there isn't what's best for him now. "I wasn't expecting to play that much first base," said Giambi, who's become a big contributor in Colorado.

• Rockies coach Don Baylor has surfaced as a candidate for the Astros managing job. Houston, which once hired off a list of one (Phil Garner) has a very long list. Baylor is a native of Austin, Texas.

• Whoever gets that job, good luck. The Astros are expected to cut payroll.

• The Rockies are still hoping Jorge De La Rosa will be available if they reach the NLCS. One Rockies person said he's had this groin issue before, and normally it only takes five-to-seven days to heal.

• The Mets are looking for coaches to fill minor-league jobs after firing a few. Wally Backman, hero of the 1986 team, is all but assured of getting one job. Warren Cromartie, a spirited fellow who was a terrific hitter with the Expos and in Japan (and is a friend of Jerry Manuel's), should be a serious candidate for another job.

• Several umps seem to be in a lather over the TV strike zone box. As it turns out, the umps aren't perfect. The box has made that plainly clear in a couple cases. If the box is gone by next year, we'll know why.

• The Angels aren't too confident they'll be able to retain John Lackey, who threw 7 1/3 scoreless innings in his Game 1 win and is on the cusp of free agency. One sign they aren't so confidence is the acquisition of Scott Kazmir, who makes a nice replacement. The Angels offered close to $60 million over four years. But word is, Lackey will seek at least the $82.5 million A.J. Burnett got. One scout said, "He's in a pretty good position as the best pitcher on the market."