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Maddon has the magic touch

October 24, 2008|Phil Rogers

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — Oh, so you can lift your starting pitcher before he gives up a run in a postseason game?

By winning with the once-lowly Tampa Bay Rays, Joe Maddon already has done one thing Lou Piniella could not. But baseball's most creative manager found another way to set himself apart from the Cubs skipper in Game 2 of the World Series.

Maddon pulled his starting pitcher, James "Big Game" Shields from the biggest game of his career before he had given up a run. This was in the sixth inning, when Shields was living on a prayer, the owner of a seven-hit shutout. Maddon had seen enough and his decision would lead to a 4-2, series-evening victory over the Phillies in Game 2 of the World Series on Thursday.

"Tonight he had [to throw] a few more pitches," Maddon said. "I was a little bit concerned when I took him out. They made him work hard for his outs. . . .

"They work some really tough at-bats, up and down the lineup, and they made him work for his outs."

Flashback to Game 1 of the Cubs' first-round series against the Dodgers.

Ryan Dempster, like Shields, was holding a lead (2-0) despite not throwing his best. After walking the bases loaded in the fifth inning, he had retired only 13 of 22 hitters, with seven walks. He already had thrown 102 pitches -- only two fewer than Shields had when Maddon got him.

Piniella stuck with Dempster, and James Loney delivered a grand slam that started the Cubs reeling home early in a postseason that was supposed to bring them some distinction.

And nothing Piniella has done in his two years with the Cubs has been as curious as his lifting Carlos Zambrano early in Game 1 against Arizona in 2007 because he was thinking about bringing him back on short rest for Game 4 -- a game that ultimately didn't need to be played.

While Tampa Bay's Maddon is managing in the postseason for the first time, he seems to have grasped a concept Piniella struggles with -- all that matters in October is winning that day's game.

Maddon wasn't concerned about Shields' feelings when he brought in Dan Wheeler to keep the Phillies scoreless in the sixth. He wasn't concerned about Wheeler's feelings, either, using his late-season closer with 10 outs left.

Maddon, who used five pitchers in the eighth inning in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, would go from Wheeler to David Price.

His pitchers got outs when they needed them most -- a trait of teams that win titles. The Phillies had a second straight maddening night at the plate. They had nine hits, including Eric Bruntlett's pinch-hit homer off Price, but left 10 men on base.

While Ryan Howard stirred with two hits, Philadelphia was one for 15 with runners in scoring position. That makes them one for 28 in two games.

The Phillies are described as having an "American League lineup," but they've scored only 45 runs in 11 playoff games. That total would be considerably higher if they weren't hitting .176 in scoring-position at-bats.

"I am concerned about our hitting with guys on base," Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel said. "At times it looks like we're trying too hard."

No team has won the World Series hitting less than .215 with men in scoring position in the playoffs since a third tier was added to the postseason. The Phillies must start scoring if they're going to stop the Rays from finishing their season in storybook fashion.


Rogers is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune

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