Extra off-day alters Rox, Phils' optionsPotential strategies change in what is now a best-of-three
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
10/10/09 4:45 PM ET
DENVER -- Sunday's weather forecast in the Mile High City returns to normalcy, with a sunny, cool fall day followed by a crisp alpine night.
Game 3 of the deadlocked National League Division Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Colorado Rockies?
Not so typical.
Mother Nature tacked a second straight off-day onto the best-of-five set when Game 3, slated for Saturday, was postponed a night because of snow and record-low temperatures.
That left Colorado manager Jim Tracy and his Phillies counterpart, Charlie Manuel, with even more options on an already full table, and the deck has been shuffled once again.
Pedro Martinez's expected Game 3 return to the spotlight vanished amongst the Saturday snowflakes, with Manuel deciding to throw rookie left-hander J.A. Happ against Rockies righty Jason Hammel.
Happ's Game 3 availability was in question after he pitched in Thursday's Game 2, took a Seth Smith liner off his lower left leg after only four pitches, and exited with a contusion.
But an extra day to heal, Happ's sparkling 2009 resume against the Rockies and the fact that Martinez has pitched just once since Sept. 19 steered the decision back to the kid.
"It's the most reasonable thing to do," Martinez said Saturday in the lobby of the team's hotel. "I haven't thrown in 10 days. Difficult weather. Happ has been in there. He has a better feel for the ball. I'm just hoping I get an opportunity to pitch a couple innings before they use me."
Happ has thrown 11 1/3 scoreless innings in two appearances against the Rockies this year, highlighted by an Aug. 5 shutout of Colorado in Philadelphia in which he struck out a career-high 10 batters while throwing a career-high 127 pitches.
So Happ is happening, but what about Game 4 on Monday and the possible Game 5 that would take place in Philadelphia on Tuesday?
Given the Phillies' obvious preference to throw left-handers at Colorado, it seems likely that southpaw Cliff Lee will get the ball Monday night.
Lee started Game 1 in Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday and dominated the Rockies with a complete-game 5-1 victory, while Colorado's Game 1 starter, Ubaldo Jimenez, showed brilliance for a few innings before running into trouble.
Both should be available for the new Game 4 at Coors Field, because the extra day off got them back on their regular schedules.
Then again, the Phillies still have Martinez and righty Joe Blanton to consider, and given the fact that Manuel had Happ (four pitches), Blanton (19 pitches) and Lee (as a pinch-runner) appear in Game 2 alone, it's safe to say Manuel can -- and will not hesitate to -- defy convention from time to time.
As for the Rockies, they'll have to wonder if the momentum they took from their 5-4 win in Game 2 will have some warmth when Hammel throws his first pitch a day late.
On the positive side, the best-of-five is still a best-of-three, the first two games are still in their backyard, where they were 44-17 under Tracy this year, and the extra day gives his bullpen, which has shined in the first two games, more rest and more flexibility.
|Gm. 1||PHI 5, COL 1||Wrap||Video|
|Gm. 2||COL 5, PHI 4||Wrap||Video|
|Gm. 3||PHI@COL||Sun., Oct. 11||10:07 ET |
|Gm. 4||PHI@COL||Mon., Oct. 12||TBD|
|Gm. 5*||COL@PHI||Tue., Oct. 13||8:07 ET|
All games on TBS
"I really don't think even beginning in Game No. 1 you think along the lines of the leash being real long," Tracy said during Friday's off-day workouts.
"But ... when you go from a best-of-five to actually a best-of-three now, the leash is shorter. But I think we did a real good job as far as putting things together as far as our pitching staff was concerned in that we can afford ourselves the opportunity to do that.
"We have reliability in our bullpen. And we've got people down there that can get outs -- and they can get big outs."
Colorado also has reliability at the top of its lineup, where left fielder Carlos Gonzalez, 23, and center fielder Dexter Fowler, 22, are seemingly peaking at the right time. The events of Game 2 showed their maturity is growing with every inning and could come in handy at home.
In Game 1, Fowler went hitless in the leadoff role and struggled with the swirling wind in the outfield. Tracy recognized this and moved him to the No. 2 slot on Thursday, letting Gonzalez set the table. It worked immediately, with Gonzalez singling off Cole Hamels to start the game, stealing second base, moving to third on a Fowler sacrifice bunt and scoring on a Todd Helton fielder's choice.
Fowler would add two huge sacrifice flies, including one in the seventh inning that would prove to be the game-winner.
"Dexter [in Game 1] looked like a 22-year-old kid that has never seen a pitch in Triple-A and certainly hasn't seen 47,000 white towels being spun in a circle," Tracy said after Game 2.
"And I just felt like to flip-flop the two of them and put him in a position to kind of help relax him a little bit, and if a situational opportunity came up like it did in the first inning, to allow him to put a bunt down and do some things like that, that it might ease him up a little bit.
"What a difference for a young kid from Day 1 to Day 2, and in both their cases, we have ... two, just young studs that have quite a future in this game at the Major League level. ... They came up very, very big ... both of them."
And it didn't hurt that they got tutelage from one of the team's wise elders.
"I give some credit, too, to our guy on the bench in Jason Giambi," Tracy added. "[Giambi] and I had a conversation behind the cage early [Thursday] when we were taking batting practice where he basically huddled up all the kids that we had involved yesterday that had never been involved in the postseason, and Jason's message to them was, 'OK, now you've been in the postseason. So now let's get back to being who you are.' "
Despite two days off, the Rockies and Phillies will get back to being who they are Sunday night in Game 3 of the NLDS, both with hopes that it'll be the next "W" on the way to a Fall Classic crown.
"To have the opportunity to be here, it's great," Martinez said. "And at the same time, until you lose the last game, you have a chance to go to the World Series. And there's nothing greater than winning a World Series."Doug Miller is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.