Bob Ford: Phillies ruin Martinez's masterpiece

Credit due: Pedro Matinez gestures skyward after being taken out after going seven innings and with a 1-0 lead over the Dodgers.
Credit due: Pedro Matinez gestures skyward after being taken out after going seven innings and with a 1-0 lead over the Dodgers.
Posted: October 17, 2009

LOS ANGELES - The rest of us see a five-sided home plate, but the Phillies' Pedro Martinez - on a day like yesterday when he reached back across nearly two decades to find his pitches - sees a canvas.

He painted that space for seven wonderful innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers, dotting it with fastballs, dabbing it lightly with change-ups, slashing it with curveballs.

"To us, it's like art. You enjoy painting that little piece of wood or cloth. It's art. I enjoy every little bit of it," Martinez said. "When it gets more difficult, the more we enjoy it. I see the crowd going bananas and it seems like everything is in slow motion."

Martinez, having not pitched in a game for 17 days, drew a masterpiece in Dodger Stadium, but then had to watch as the Phillies threw mudballs at it with a tragic comedy of errors, poor pitches and bad luck in the eighth inning.

It was a terrible 2-1 loss for the Phillies, who could have put their foot on the throat of this series with a win. Instead, they flew quietly home knowing how close they had come and how unlikely were the circumstances of the defeat.

"It wasn't something I like to watch," said Martinez, who took care of the first seven innings by himself and then watched the Phillies need five more pitchers to get out of the eighth. "But I've been there. It's not like we blew it away so bad. Just a couple of little things we should have done that we didn't do."

If his own time on the mound traveled in slow motion, the eighth was an excruciating torture trip. But, as Martinez said, he has seen it all before.

"I take the game as it comes at this moment," he said.

Before the game, manager Charlie Manuel said he was only expecting to get a maximum of 90 pitches from Martinez, who was skipped over during the division series and did not bounce back from lengthy outings at the end of the season. If the Phillies could get an effective five or six innings from Martinez, that was going to be great.

Seven scoreless innings? More than Manuel could have hoped for, and too good a performance to risk him further.

"To me, Pedro was done," Manuel said. "He did a tremendous job and took it actually farther than I anticipated. . . . He was gone. I think he was spent."

Martinez didn't argue the decision and didn't second-guess it afterward. He knew he was coming out when a long fly ball off the bat of James Loney ended the seventh and Martinez did a small fist pump on the mound to celebrate. He had thrown 87 pitches, allowing just two hits. The Dodgers were off-balance all day against him, putting only two runners in scoring position, and Martinez worked out of both jams.

"Putting the team in a position to win was the main goal. I was able to make pitches at key moments," Martinez said. "The temptation is to push it, but after not pitching for 17 days, seven innings was enough. I would have loved to go one more or maybe finish the game if I knew I was going to stay healthy, but I want to be able to still help the team."

There is no guarantee Martinez will get another start. With the three games in Philadelphia, the Phils can pitch Cliff Lee, either Joe Blanton or J.A. Happ, and then Cole Hamels. If the series returned to Los Angeles, Lee would be on regular rest for Game 6.

If this was Martinez's last postseason moment, he'll take it, just as he takes what every game has to offer him at this late moment of his career.

"This is the place where I started 17 years ago," he said of Dodger Stadium, "So I'm pleased and fortunate to get one more chance pitching in this stadium."

There were no happy players in the Phillies' clubhouse and it would be easy to mistake Martinez's acceptance of fate with a complacency about the outcome. That isn't the case. But at this point, he knows that one player can only control himself. And he also knows he can still pitch at the highest levels in the biggest games.

"Everything I [have done], I know I can do once again," he said. "Who knows how many times? This is the kind of game, the kind of situation I wanted. I'm not trying to prove anything. Anyone who needs me to prove anything better go home and check that out."

Even on the brightest of days in the sunshine, however, there can still be an eighth inning that smears the artwork. That's the game.

There will be other games, though. Martinez says he will be ready for those.

"I expect to improve," he said.

The rest of the Phillies had better make the same promise, too.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com.

Read his blog at http://philly.com/postpatterns.

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