Phil Sheridan: Retooled rotation is driving Phils

Cliff Lee has replaced Cole Hamels - last year's World Series MVP - as the staff's top starter.
Cliff Lee has replaced Cole Hamels - last year's World Series MVP - as the staff's top starter.
Posted: October 25, 2009

The great irony of last year's World Series title was that the hard-hitting Phillies really got through October on the strength of their pitching. It was like Andy Reid winning the Super Bowl with 300 rushing yards and only 10 forward passes.

The amazing thing about this year's run is that the starting pitching has been strong again but with a very different cast.

Last year: Cole Hamels and Brett Myers at the top of the rotation.

This year: Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez.

Hamels has been puzzlingly inconsistent. Myers is out of the rotation because of injury (although he could be back in the bullpen for the World Series). Jamie Moyer is lost with an injury. In a way, Hamels has taken Moyer's slot in the rotation, while the new guys have taken the top two spots.

J.A. Happ was in the bullpen last year and has played both roles this year. Joe Blanton pitched very well last October and pretty well this October. He's about the only constant from one World Series run to the next, and that is just plain stunning.

The Phillies went into the season believing their rotation was a strength, a real factor in their chances to become the first National League team to repeat as World Series champions since the 1976 Cincinnati Reds. And they were right, except that it took a complete overhaul of that rotation in midsummer to make it happen.

In Clearwater, Fla.: Hamels was the No. 1 guy, followed by Myers, Blanton, Moyer and Chan Ho Park.

In October: Lee, Martinez, Hamels, Blanton and Happ.

That much change would normally be enough to torpedo a team's chances of repeating. You'd shrug and say the pitching just wasn't there, oh well, let's get 'em next season. But it is to the enormous credit of first-year general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and his handpicked staff that the Phillies were able to retool on the fly and wind up back in the World Series.

By now, you may be questioning whether Martinez or Hamels is the No. 2 starter in the World Series. And the truth is, manager Charlie Manuel could go either way. But the firm belief here is that Lee should (and will) start Game 1 and Martinez should start Game 2.

If that means Yankee Stadium - where he acknowledged a very different Yankees lineup was "my daddy" back in 2004 - then so much the better. Martinez delivered the single best starting performance of the NL Championship Series - which is saying something, considering how magnificent Lee was in his starts. Even though the Phillies lost Game 2 in Dodger Stadium, Martinez, at 37, proved he is as money a big-game pitcher as ever.

"I look at Pedro as a starter," Manuel said. "He's been in the big moment. I think he's still got quite a bit left. I was watching those playoff games he pitched in [in the past], and you notice his velocity on his fastball was at 87 to 91 [m.p.h.]. He was even better than that in Dodger Stadium. That was two or three years ago, when he pitched those games against the Yankees. He knows how to pitch."

That's about as high as any praise Manuel can shower on a pitcher.

It is a happy accident that Martinez is here at all. Amaro recounted Friday that assistant GM Scott Proefrock brought up the future Hall of Famer's name out of the blue in a meeting. Proefrock had read in the papers that Martinez was working out in his native Dominican Republic and floated the idea of checking him out. Amaro agreed, and the Phillies wound up with a guy who could decide the World Series for them.

"We were struggling in our rotation at the time," Amaro said. "Guys just weren't pitching that well. We were 13th or 14th in the league in ERA. We found out [Martinez] was interested in the Phillies. We saw him in a private workout and things continued from there. We figured it was a low-risk, high-reward [signing]."

That's an understatement.

Amaro's trade for Lee is shaping up as one of the great steals of this or any season. Even if Carlos Carrasco or Jason Donald or the other prospects turn out to be all-stars, Lee was instrumental in getting the win-now Phillies back to the playoffs and now the World Series. Bottom line: They don't win the pennant without him.

The Yankees teams that won four World Series in five years from 1996 to 2000 went through some evolution in their rotation. But Andy Pettitte, David Cone, and Orlando Hernandez were there for most of the run, with Roger Clemens taking over the spot held by David Wells. And the Atlanta Braves who won all those NL East titles in a row did so on the strength of Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and John Smoltz.

It isn't easy to overhaul the starting rotation of a World Series champion. Of course, if the Phillies hadn't, they wouldn't have a chance to repeat.

Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or Read his recent work at

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