Alright, alright, we get it. No one wants to talk about Cliff Lee like that. It hurts too much or something. But after he fired a 13-strikeout, two-hitter in Yankee Stadium to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead in the ALCS, we’ll just leave that stuff with one, short and sweet point…
It’s not like the Phillies would be in any different position than they are right now if Cliff Lee were still on the Phillies. They swept the Reds, Roy Halladay lost Game 1 of the NLCS, Roy Oswalt won Game 2, and Cole “Roy” Hamels is ready to go in Game 3. It wouldn’t matter if the Phillies had Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Grover Cleveland Alexander—they still would be tied with the Giants headed to Game 3 with Hamels ready to take the ball.
Instead, let’s discuss what Cliff Lee left behind when he was traded to the Mariners last December for Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez, barely a month after he put together the best postseason by a Phillies’ pitcher since ol’ Pete Alexander. But, strangely enough, Lee’s lasting impression on Hamels and his resurgence in 2010 all starts with a September gem pitched by Pedro Martinez against the Mets.
Remember that one? Pedro dialed it up for eight scoreless innings with just six hits and 130 purposeful pitches. Frankly, it was an artistic and masterful pitched game by Pedro against the Mets. In baseball, there is the nuance and the minutia that the devout understand, but the genius supersedes all. It stands out and hovers over the season in a way that a highlight film cannot capture.
Pedro painted that Sunday night game in September at the Bank. Sure, it was the 130 pitches that opened the most eyes, but that’s just half of it. It was the way he showed off those 130 pitches. For instance, David Wright saw nothing but fastballs in his first three at-bats without so much as a sniff at an off-speed pitch. But in his fourth at-bat Pedro struck out Wright after starting him off with a pair of change ups before turning back to the heat.
After strike three, Wright walked away from the plate like he didn’t know if he was coming or going.
Wright wasn’t alone. After throwing nine total changeups to every hitter the first time through the Mets’ lineup—except for Wright, of course—no hitter saw anything more off-speed than a handful of curves the second time around. That changeup, Pedro’s best pitch, wasn’t thrown at all.
So by the third and fourth time through the Mets could only guess. By that point Pedro was simply trying not to outsmart himself or his catcher Carlos Ruiz, who seemed as if he was just along for the ride. In fact, Pedro said that the he purposely bounced a pitch in the dirt (a changeup) that teased Daniel Murphy into making a foolhardy dash for third base that led to the final out of the eighth inning.
Yes, he intentionally threw one in the dirt on a 0-1 offering. Whether or not he did it thinking Murphy might make a break for third is a different issue, but not one to put past Pedro’s thinking.
So mesmerized by the audacity, fearlessness and the brilliance of Pedro’s pitching, that I thought it would be wise to ask one of the team’s pitchers to offer some insight from a pitcher who could better understand the nuance of the effort better than me. Sure, it’s possible I was over thinking the performance, but it really was quite fascinating trying to figure out the chess match that occurred on the mound. Needless to say, Cliff Lee was my first choice to pepper with questions, but he had already bolted for the evening.
Then Hamels walked into the room. Certainly Hamels would be able to satisfy my need for overwrought analysis. After all, he is a pitcher, right? A pitcher has to be fascinated by the art of pitching…
What I learned was that Hamels didn’t see things my way when I asked him my questions.
I said something like, “do you look at a game like the one Pedro just pitched the way a painter or a musician might admire another artist? Was it fun to just watch the pitch sequences and wonder what he might do next?”
“I don’t look at things that way. I just saw it as a guy going out there and doing his job,” Hamels said.
Certainly there is something to be said for a guy doing his job. That’s an admirable trait for a man to have. But we weren’t talking about a guy who spent all day working in the mines and then went home and helped his neighbor put in a patio. This was Pedro Martinez we were trying to talk about. If Sandy Koufax was the Rembrandt of the mound, Pedro certainly was Picasso.
But at that stage of his development, pitching was just hammer-and-nail type stuff to Hamels. Not even a year after he had won the MVP in the NLCS and World Series, Hamels had just won a game two days before Pedro’s work of art to improve his record to 9-9 and his ERA to 4.21. Clearly those were the numbers of a pitcher fighting against himself.
Eventually Hamels got it. Yes, it took some time away for the field and maybe even some work with a mental guru/coach, but Hamels finally understood what pitching coach Rich Dubee and manager Charlie Manuel had been trying to tell him.
“He’s added a cutter,” Manuel said during Monday afternoon’s workout at AT&T Park on the eve of Game 3. “His fastball, his velocity is up from last year. Basically he sits there right now I’d say he sits there like 92, 94, 95 consistently, and whereas before he was like 88, 92. And I think the cutter’s helped him.”
It doesn’t hurt that Halladay throws a cutter—a pitch that is held very much like a four-seam fastball except for the pitcher’s thumb, which rests closer to his index finger. Halladay (obviously) has had great success with the pitch this season. Mariano Rivera could go down as the greatest closer and the greatest breaker of bats because of his hard cutter. Just like the split-finger fastball that Bruce Sutter and Mike Scott made famous in the 1970s and 1980s, the cutter is the pitch these days.
Still, the light bulb didn’t go off above Hamels’ head until he watched Cliff Lee throw it during the postseason of ’09. Actually, Lee’s cutter has been so good during the 2010 postseason that the Yankees’ announcers have accused the pitcher of cheating by using rosin on the ball. But it was such a silly premise that Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi debunked it.
Adding on his latest gem, Lee is 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 24 innings this season. Coupled with his run for the Phillies in 2009, Lee is 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA with 67 strikeouts and seven walks in 64 1/3 innings.
Now the question is if Lee gets some inspiration points to his stat line for his influence on Hamels.
“I think being able to watch Cliff Lee last year throwing the cutter and how much it really helped out this game, and having Roy Halladay come over and seeing what a significant pitch it is to his repertoire, I felt it could be a very good pitch for me to add especially because it goes the other direction as a change-up,” Hamels said. “It’s just a few different miles an hour off in between a fastball and a change-up so it’s just kind of makes it a little bit harder for hitters to really pick a pitch and a specific location to really get there type of better approach.”
Hamels picked it up quickly, too. By the third game of the season his cutter was good enough that the lefty could throw it confidently in any situation or any count. Better yet, the addition of the cutter with a curveball for show, too, has made Hamels’ best pitch better.
And to think, all he had to do was watch what the pitchers were doing out there.
“He can throw the ball inside effectively and it opens up the strike zone for his best pitch, the change up,” said ex-teammate and current Giants’ center fielder, Aaron Rowand.
Of course it’s just one pitch and the selection of when and where to throw it is always important. However, Hamels finally added to his repertoire just like Manuel and Dubee wanted, and all he had to do was watch what was going on.