October 15, 2009

Prove it all night.

To win the 2009 National League Championship Series, the Philadelphia Phillies are going to have to come up big in Games 1 and 2.

Clichéd? You bet.

But it's true.

Our Game 1 starter is Cole Hamels, 2008's golden boy but the definition of mediocrity in 2009. His five-inning, four-run start in Game 2 of the NLDS was either the continuation of a subpar season or the result of his mind being elsewhere: His wife went into labor with their first child during the game. Take your pick; either way, he was not the Octoberized version of Hamels we were expecting.

And our Game 2 starter is Pedro Martinez. Pedro threw a 130-pitch gem on September 13th, dazzling the New York Mets on Sunday Night Baseball and winning over the hearts of Phillies fans everywhere. And then, of course, his body fell apart. He only pitched seven innings the rest of the year; we haven't seen him on a mound since September 30th. Just the man you want starting a crucial NLCS road game, huh?

They'll be opposed by lefty Clayton Kershaw and drunk Vicente Padilla, respectively. The book on Kershaw says his electric stuff might be diluted by patience and the pressure of starting a playoff-series opener at 21 years old. And the knock on Padilla has always been "million dollar arm, ten cent head", a phrase that sums him up beautifully. Oh yeah, and he was most likely caught drinking in the clubhouse during the 2002 All-Star Game.

But Kershaw has been dynamite since his second regular-season loss to the Phillies on June 4th, and Padilla threw seven shutout innings against the Cardinals in the Game 3 NLDS clincher. On paper, it might seem the Phillies have the advantage, but the reality is that these two very different pitchers have been extremely successful for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

So it's up to Cole and Pedro to make a statement. What we need to see is the Cole Hamels who loves the spotlight, the Hollywood kid with the squeaky voice and moderately famous wife. The Pedro Martinez who can appear ageless, who evokes annoying Favre-esque commentary like "he's having fun, he's a kid out there." In the past, in their own way, both have reached the pinnacle of the starting pitching mountain. Hamels is trying to keep his spot on Mount Pitchmore, and Martinez will be enjoying what is probably his last shot at adding to his Hall of Fame resume.

But in the next two days, both will have everything to prove. The only impact they've had on the Phillies 2009 postseason thus far is negligible at best, negative at worst. Players like Cliff Lee, Scott Eyre, Jayson Werth, Ryan Howard, and even Brad Lidge are why the Phillies are still in the hunt. If Hamels and Martinez want to exist as fellow heroes in the present, not just as distant memories of championships and successes past, well, they've got two days to prove it.

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