That seems to be the plan, by the way. It just makes too much sense. If your goal is to win the whole thing, and if you have as many quality starters as the Phillies have, there is no sense in burning out your top pitcher halfway through.
"We kind of wanted to set it up the way we've had it . . . and the fourth day, of course, that Joe would fit in that slot," Manuel said yesterday, another day in the interminable run-up to the NLCS.
So Blanton is a lock to start, regardless of the situation in the series?
"I'm a day-to-day guy," Manuel said, leaving himself an out. "But at the same time, when we have a plan . . . Rich [Dubee, the Phillies' pitching coach] and I felt like that Blanton goes in the fourth slot for us."
The only hard decision comes if the Phillies are trailing in the series by 2-1, but it really isn't that hard. You still go with Blanton, you carry a quick hook, and you trust in a team whose nucleus will be playing in its ninth playoff series together.
There is this fascination about the 3-days'-rest thing at this time of the year. People see a stud pitcher and just assume. Out in San Francisco, first baseman Aubrey Huff was quoted in the San Jose Mercury News as saying about Halladay, "Oh, yeah, he's pitching three games if it goes seven; there's no question. He's wanted this for so long."
But it really doesn't play out that way very often. In the World Series, it has happened only twice in 19 years, the most recent being Curt Schilling for Arizona in 2001. In the league championship series, it has happened only three times in the 50 series played under a seven-game format. The most recent was in 1992, when Atlanta's John Smoltz and Pittsburgh's Doug Drabek each started three times in the same NLCS.
It hasn't happened in 18 years in this round, and that is a long time, and there is a very good reason. The strain is just too great, and the collateral damage to the rest of the starting staff is just too real - especially when you remember that, if you win, the most important games still remain to be played.
If the Phillies were to pitch Halladay in Game 4 on short rest, it would also require Oswalt to pitch Game 5 on short rest, followed by Hamels pitching Game 6 on short rest, followed by Halladay pitching Game 7 on short rest again. A single decision affects three guys for the rest of the series.
Hamels has never done it. Halladay (2.79 ERA) and Oswalt (2.59 ERA) have done it a handful of times, effectively - and each has done it once in September in his career. It is not completely out of the question.
But Halladay would have to do it twice under this scenario and he already has pitched 259 2/3 innings this season, and it is undeniable that he slipped from stratospheric to merely very good as the innings began to pile up this summer. Back-to-back games on 3 days' rest is just an unnecessary stretch.
(And don't even ask about the World Series. To play this out, Halladay would have to pitch on 3 days' rest again if they wanted him for Game 1, and then . . . )
It is just too much.
"I always look forward to Roy pitching," Manuel said. "I have a lot of confidence in Roy and he has a lot of confidence in himself and our team has a lot of confidence in him. I've seen a perfect game and a no-hitter this year - I don't know what else I can see. But if it's better, now, I damn sure want to see it."
Smoltz, an all-time horse in 1992, pitched four times during that postseason on 3 days' rest. So did Orel Hershiser for the Dodgers in 1988. So did somebody named Deacon Phillippe for the Pirates in 1903. Eleven other guys did it three times in a postseason, but none since Jack Morris for the Twins in 1991. And that's it.
It's too hard and it's really unnecessary. Halladay, Oswalt, Hamels, Blanton, rinse, repeat. *
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