Sam Donnellon: Manuel should have pitched Lee in Game 4

Charlie Manuel didn't ask Cliff Lee to pitch on 3 days' rest because he hadn't done it before.
Charlie Manuel didn't ask Cliff Lee to pitch on 3 days' rest because he hadn't done it before.
Posted: November 02, 2009

FROM THE MOMENT Cliff Lee put on a Phillies uniform and stymied the Giants with a complete-game victory in his first start, we have celebrated the acumen of Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.

Getting your ace and having your cake, too?

Not trading away all those prospects to get Roy Halladay?

Well, how could that not have been the better move?

And now, the answer you don't want to hear:

Cliff Lee on 3 days' rest: 0-0, 0 starts.

Roy Halladay on 3 days' rest: 4-2, six starts.

Number of strikeouts thrown over those starts: 27.

Number of walks: one.

The Toronto ace also has started once on 2 days' rest.

Charlie Manuel gave several reasons for deciding against using Lee in last night's excruciating, 7-4 loss to the Yankees but it always came back to this: "You're asking Cliff Lee to do something that he never did before,'' Manuel said.

"We're also asking him to do it in a very big, important place, and that's in the World Series. I didn't have to think very long at all about that, and neither did [pitching coach Rich] Dubee.''

Instead, Joe Blanton was inserted in that big, important place. Joe Blanton, who was not worthy of a start in the National League Division Series despite his regular-season dependability. Joe Blanton, who allowed three earned runs in six innings in Game 4 of the NLCS against the Dodgers.

Joe Blanton did what you would expect Joe Blanton to do. He battled, he grinded, he gave up enough runs to be beaten by a well-pitched game, and not enough to be beaten by a badly pitched one.

CC Sabathia did what he has done so often on 3 days' rest. He battled himself at times, he worked his way in and out of several jams against the best Phillies hitters and won far more than he lost. He blew a 2-0 lead, and Chase Utley's seventh-inning home run cut another two-run lead the Yankees had whittled from Blanton in half.

He left after that, ahead 4-3. He threw 107 pitches, allowed seven hits and three walks. He gave you all the ammunition needed for the gnawing debate:

Would Lee have won this game? Without Pedro Feliz' game-tying, eighth-inning home run? Without Brad Lidge having to enter a tied game in the ninth?

Unanswered is what Lee would have done with 1 less day of rest.

"This point of the season, in these situations, physically you feel fine,'' Sabathia said after the game. "I definitely think it's more mental just not having the day's rest and be able to come back and pitch in a game.''

Would Lee have been the dominating arm of this postseason, the guy who has thrown two complete games, has allowed two earned runs in four starts - the guy who outdueled Sabathia in the only game the Phillies have won in this World Series?

Or would the control he so needs to achieve that success been less - and how much less? Lee looked like a tired pitcher in his three final regular-season starts. Twenty three hits allowed over his last three starts, none lasting beyond the sixth inning. Then came some nice gaps between starts, and the guy who walked onto the mound in San Francisco on the last day of July re-emerged.

"It was a pretty quick conversation, him asking me if I had ever done it and me telling him no and saying that I think I could,'' Lee said last night. "I just let him know I'd pitch whenever he wants me to pitch.

"I think I could do it, but he makes the calls.''

The call was more than just about last night, as huge as that was. The call last night was about Thursday night too, and a possible Game 7. The call was about Lee on 3 days' rest for his last two starts this season.

It was a two-for-one deal and Manuel simply didn't feel that desperate to make it. He harped often about his team's success against Sabathia over the last 2 years.

He left out the part about the Yankees' success against Blanton.

Blanton was 0-3 with an 8.18 earned run average against the Yankees before last night. Combined, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez were 17-for-46 against him with six home runs. When Manuel finally took the closer's role from Brad Lidge this season, when he removed Jamie Moyer from the rotation, he spoke of the need to put his heart on a shelf and manage with his head.

No matter on which side of the Lee debate you land, he has not done that at critical times this postseason. Starting Pedro Martinez in Game 2 in New York was a guess. Starting Blanton last night was a hope. Giving Cole Hamels chance after chance in this postseason was no head-over-heart move.

Brad Lidge in a tie game in the ninth?

Well, he was out of options by then.

For sure, a little magic has been lost in Charlie's postseason wand. The J.A. Happ start in Colorado didn't work out so well, either, but he messed that kid right into partial ineffectiveness this postseason.

Maybe Cliff Lee isn't Roy Halladay. Maybe he couldn't do what Halladay already has done.

But after all he has done for you this season, he should have been given that chance.

Send e-mail to donnels@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/donnellon

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