Bob Ford: Now Phils need to do it again
Now comes the hard part.
Now comes the hard part.
Monday night's World Series win over the New York Yankees was hardly a sure thing, but it was the surest card the Phillies had in their hand as they attempt to play their way out of the deep hole they dug in the first four games of the series.
Cliff Lee settled down after a shaky first inning, got some run support and was able to pitch aggressively against the Yankees. The only reliable starter left in the makeshift rotation wasn't as sharp as he was in the opener, but he didn't have to be. New York hasn't been able to hit him consistently, but, in all likelihood, won't get a chance to prove that again.
Having dodged elimination once by the 8-6 score - and saving local fans the sorrow of watching a visitor celebrate on their home turf for the first time since the 1983 World Series - the Phils get back on the train to New York and hope it's not just a quick round trip.
Whatever carryover momentum they hope to take with them will become moot at approximately 8 p.m. tomorrow night when Game 6 begins. After that, it's all up to the starting pitchers to provide the advantages and disadvantages. The Phillies will feel a little better about their chances (having awakened still having some), but everything that follows rides on what they can get from Pedro Martinez in the first game back in Yankee Stadium and whatever mix-and-match special Charlie Manuel dials up for Game 7.
Working from the back, if Manuel even has an inkling that Cliff Lee could be part of his plans for a potential Game 7, he did himself no favors by leaving Lee in the game far longer than he might have last night.
Yes, the bullpen is unreliable and, yes, Lee was in control of the game. Everyone knows that. But the Phillies came into last night having to win three games, not one. Walking that narrow ledge requires taking some chances you don't want to take.
After five innings last night, with the Phillies holding a 6-2 lead - and Lee having just surrendered a run - the lefthander had thrown 76 pitches. If Lee had to come back for an inning or two or three on Thursday night, on two days' rest, his chances of being effective were logically greater if he threw fewer pitches last night. Watching Ryan Madson flail through the ninth inning doesn't help the argument, naturally, but Chan Ho Park looked like he could have taken several innings by himself.
It comes down to whether you believe having a potentially fresher Lee available for Game 7 is a good thing and to whether you believe that handing a four-run lead to the bullpen last night was an acceptable risk in order to get that in return.
Manuel didn't bite on that bait, and Lee ended up throwing 112 pitches. Having watched this bullpen all season, it's hard to really blame Manuel. But if whatever combination of Hamels, Happ and Hope isn't working by the fifth inning on Thursday night, remember the decision.
"The seventh game is [Lee's] day to throw in the bullpen. I'll definitely talk to him about what he thinks if he can pitch at all or something," Manuel said.
All right, fine, enough with what might or might not happen for Game 7. We won't know those pitching plans for a while anyway. Hamels could start on a leash so short he'll come out the first time he gives up a hit or rolls his eyes. Either one. J.A. Happ could make his first start since Oct. 11. Or something else. A couple of innings from Arm A, a couple of innings from Arm B. If it gets that far, we'll see.
The more pressing mine field to traverse is Game 6 where Martinez, who was charged with three runs in six-plus innings in a Game 2 loss, will try to ramp up his emotions for one more great challenge. He left that game smiling, laughed all the way through his postgame interviews and felt so good about the way things went it would have been churlish to remind him that his team didn't win.
Martinez can bear down when necessary, and he'll give it his best effort, but if he can't take the game at least into the middle innings, Manuel would have to burn up his bullpen just trying to reach an ultimate game the next night.
No one said this was going to be simple, and regardless of the pitching, if the offense doesn't keep rolling none of the above matters.
Still, last night turned out fine. Everyone got to cheer one more time and the stadium lights were turned out for the final time this season after a win rather than a loss.
Last night was good. But last night was also the easy part.