DENVER - Pedro Martinez expected to be named the Phillies' starting pitcher for tonight's Game 3 of the National League division series, but was giddy nonetheless after the official announcement was made.

"Hello, hello, everybody, hi," he said yesterday, grinning and waving while making an entrance into the interview room at Coors Field worthy of a stand-up comedian. "Which one is my chair?"

The mood of the 37-year-old future Hall of Famer has been light since the Phillies granted his career a reprieve this summer, but his task is serious: keep the Phillies from falling behind the Colorado Rockies by two games to one in a best-of-five series. He will face righthander Jason Hammel.

Manager Charlie Manuel chose Martinez over Joe Blanton, whom he seems to view as a key reliever in this series, and J.A. Happ, who suffered a bruise on his left leg when hit by a line drive Thursday. Happ appears to be the likely choice to start tomorrow's Game 4.

"I think he put two and two together last night and kind of knew, really," Manuel said of Martinez.

Though Martinez has not pitched effectively since throwing 130 pitches on Sept. 13 and injuring his neck or rib on Sept. 19, Manuel believes the veteran is ready.

"I can sit here and tell you - very honestly can tell you - that I think Pedro is capable of going anywhere . . . from 85 to 100 pitches," the manager said. "And I think he can get you into the sixth or seventh inning if his command is good."

Martinez said he felt healthy, and was excited to return to the postseason. He spent most of this spring and summer in the Dominican Republic, working to remain in shape if an opportunity arose.

Now, as he has before with the Boston Red Sox, Martinez sat at a podium, asked by a championship team to win a crucial game.

"I kept my faith," he said, breaking into a broad smile. "I thought I was going to get a chance. . . . And right now, I'm looking really smart."

The topic of the day was the weather, because the game is expected to be played in snow, with temperatures in the high-20s. Martinez downplayed the effect of climate and other variables like the mile-high altitude of Coors Field.

"I don't really think about it," he said. "I'm planning on going out there, having fun, and doing whatever I have to do. I have never been in a situation where I have to put up with the snow on the field or anything like that.

"But I have been in pretty cool weather. I'm just looking forward to the challenge and seeing what else I have to defeat."

He later recalled the first time he encountered snow, as a young minor-leaguer.

"I think I was going across the mountains of Reno, Nev., on a bus," Martinez said. "It was a 12-hour bus ride, or something like that. I came straight from the Dominican and was dropped right in the middle of Great Falls, Mont., if you're going to talk about drastic changes and weird things to see.

"When I saw snow, I actually stopped to grab a little bit and put it in my mouth and see if it felt like ice. But it's something you get accustomed to."

Some pitchers have complained that their breaking balls suffer because of the dry air, a potential problem for the crafty Martinez, who relies far less on his fastball than he once did.

"Well, without a doubt it feels a little drier," he said. "But you can't make a big deal out of something the other pitcher has to do, and he is not complaining."

In a wide-ranging 18-minute interview session, Martinez veered into several light moments.

One reporter asked him to respond in both English and Spanish. Martinez said: "Why? This is America. English-speaking America. Is anybody going to give me an extra ring for translating for you guys?" (He accommodated the request.)

But he also discussed the mentality that had enabled him to succeed in meaningful moments. Martinez is 6-2, with a 3.40 earned run average, in 13 postseason games.

"You just have to stay focused, play the game that you know how to play," he said. "Those people that are gifted to maintain their focus and actually put it into play . . . those are the ones who are probably going to surpass everything."

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