The angst isn’t afflicting just the fans. The front office, too, is feeling the heat generated by a team that has everything a team needs to defend a championship except the most vital ingredient of all — pitching.
And so, after their deadline trade for Cliff Lee, the Phillies have rolled out their latest hope — some might call it more of a prayer — to solve their pitching problems. Nearly 11 months after he last threw a ball in anger for the New York Mets, 37-year-old Pedro Martinez took the mound Wednesday against the Cubs.
It is a gamble of the sort that rarely works. The Red Sox, another team undergoing a late-season meltdown, ran a similar experiment with John Smoltz that blew up in their faces. But when you have gaping holes in your starting rotation and a team ERA that’s among the worst in the league, these are the sorts of things you do. You grasp at straws — or aging pitchers — and hope for the best.
The Phillies shouldn’t need such moves. The unexpected excellence of rookie J.A. Happ and the veteran brilliance of Lee have been counterbalanced by a spate of injuries to their starting pitching that have been amplified by the relative ineffectiveness of last year’s hero, Cole Hamels. And when the starters perform well, they’ve had to watch another of last year’s heroes, closer Brad Lidge, blow saves and give up runs at a frightening rate.
When the Phillies get everything together, they look like the defending world champions. They last did that from July 3-28, when they went 19-3, including 10 straight wins and a streak of 14 out of 15. At the end of that streak, they had a seven-game lead in the division.
But after that they went 3-8, including three straight losses to the Marlins that slashed the lead in half. In Philadelphia, that spells panic time.
And so we end up with Pedro, determined to prove that last year’s 5-6 record and career-high 5.61 ERA with the Mets were a mirage and that he can still get people out in the big leagues.
He pitched decently in his debut, allowing three runs in five innings and benefiting from a 12-run output from Philly's offense.
Personally, I wish him well. Of all the loveable knuckleheads in baseball, Pedro is at the top of my list. Like his old teammate in Boston, Manny Ramirez, he marches to the beat of his own marimba. And, like Manny, he has — or had — the kind of talent that comes around only once a generation, if that often.
He struck out 11 Class AA minor leaguers in his last rehab start and managed to crank his fastball up to 93 mph. For four or five innings, he was virtually unhittable, which convinced both him and the Phillies that he’s ready to try out for the role of designated savior.
It’s asking a lot, but if you’re going to ask anybody to take on that job, Pedro’s your man. Unlike Smoltz, a power pitcher who lost his power, Pedro is a thinking man’s pitcher. When he was young, he blew people away. As he got older, he learned to trick them into submission, serving up a baffling variety of pitches thrown on the edges of the zone at widely varying speeds. If you watch him long enough, you’ll be convinced that he could get people out if he had to lob the ball underhand.
HBT: Carlos Ruiz was lifted from Sunday afternoon’s game against the Reds after straining his right hamstring while running the bases in the bottom of the second inning.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
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