Commentary

Pedro won't make Game 3 start for Phils

Saturday's cold temps force postponement and push third game of NLDS to Sunday

Originally Published: October 10, 2009
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

DENVER -- Major League Baseball has already had one monumental October weather debacle involving the Phillies. (See 2008 World Series Game 5 -- parts 1 and 2 -- for details.) It didn't need another.

So before the snowplows and salt trucks had even finished clearing the highways Saturday morning, MLB made the only sane call -- and postponed Game 3 of the Phillies-Rockies National League Division Series on account of snow, ice, freezing drizzle, record lows and other assorted meteorological muck that descended on Denver on Saturday.

That means Game 3 of this series, which is tied at one win apiece, is now scheduled for 10:07 p.m. ET on Sunday. And Game 4 is now going to be played Monday at a time to be determined once MLB knows how many other games will be played that day.

What's known is that Game 4 will start sometime in the afternoon, local time. If the Yankees and Angels finish off sweeps of the Twins and Red Sox, respectively, on Sunday, the Phillies-Rockies game is expected to be played at 7 p.m. ET. If one of the AL series is still alive, the Phillies and Rockies would tentatively be set to play at 5 p.m. ET. If both AL series are still going, the Phillies-Rockies game would be at 2 p.m. ET.

[+] EnlargePedro Martinez
Jeff Haynes/Getty ImagesBack in his Boston days, Pedro Martinez was well prepared for cold weather.

Got all that? Great. But the start time wasn't the only thing affected by the mess MLB saw on its Dopplers. The weather gods also wound up having a major impact on both teams' starting rotations.

First up, the Phillies mulled their options for a couple of hours Saturday morning, then announced they would switch starters for Game 3. The original plan was for Pedro Martinez to crank it up for his first postseason start in five years. But instead, the Phillies plan to pitch left-hander J.A. Happ in order to take advantage of the Rockies' issues against left-handed pitching. (Colorado went 28-27 this year when a left-hander started, counting the postseason, versus 65-44 when a right-hander started.)

There was no indication that Colorado was considering bouncing its scheduled Game 3 starter, Jason Hammel, in favor of Jason Marquis. But now that Game 4 is Monday instead of Sunday, both teams almost certainly are going to bring back their Game 1 pitchers -- Cliff Lee for the Phillies, Ubaldo Jimenez for the Rockies -- on normal rest. And that would set up the Game 2 starters -- Cole Hamels and Aaron Cook -- to return on normal rest for Game 5, if there is one.

But while the powers that be pondered all that, they were all heaving a humongous sigh of relief that MLB didn't force them to play Saturday in conditions more suitable for an Olympic bobsled final than a pivotal postseason baseball game.

With temperatures expected to dive-bomb into the teens, snow all over the interstates and freezing drizzle in the forecast, this was no way to decide two teams' baseball seasons -- although it definitely would have been entertaining, in an Iditarod kind of way.

"If it snows, man, I don't think nobody can prepare for that," Rockies catcher Yorvit Torrealba said Friday. "It don't matter if you're from Montana. You can't prepare for snow."

Well, we'd like to take his word for it. But just to make sure, we checked with a few of the likely participants who grew up in places where they were guaranteed to know a snowflake from a cornflake.

"I played in snow in high school," said Phillies reliever Scott Eyre, who spent those high school years in tropical Magna, Utah. "One year, it snowed so much on the opening day of our season, we were actually pouring gas on the field and lighting it -- just the dirt area -- to help burn off some of the water."

Oh. Great. Fortunately, Eyre said he wouldn't be relaying that snow-clearing tip to the Coors Field grounds crew. But before we move on, all we can say is: Kids, please don't try that at home. Or within 50,000 miles of home. Please. Double-please.

Eyre's bullpen compadre Brad Lidge remembers playing for Notre Dame against Boston College one year after a "disastrous" snowstorm that dumped two feet of partly cloudy on the local ball field and, shockingly, the rest of Boston as well.

"So they plowed it off, and we started playing," Lidge reported. "But I think there were big snowbanks in center field where they piled up the snow. And I remember [both teams] had no-hitters going because the hitters couldn't see the ball against the snow that was all piled up."

In other words, we asked Lidge, if a blizzard busts out Saturday, would his strategy be to build a giant snowman out in the bullpen?

"Exactly," he said. "We'd try to build it right in the line of the hitters."

But not everybody on these two teams had quite that much familiarity with the joys of winter-wonderland baseball. Torrealba, in fact, revealed that he'd never seen snow in his life until the Rockies were working out in Denver the week before the 2007 World Series.

"One night, I went to bed, and when I got up, I had to go to the park for a workout," said Torrealba, who hails from the no-snowflake climes of Guarenas, Venezuela. "So I went down to the parking garage, and I got in my car. And when I drove out, there was snow everywhere. And I said, 'What the heck is going on, man?' So I turned my car around, drove right back in the garage, parked the car and got a cab -- because I didn't know what to do. I didn't know how to drive in that stuff."

But two years later, he found himself contemplating the bizarre possibility of playing baseball in "that stuff" -- and one of the most important games of his career, to boot.

"If that happens, I don't know what I'm going to do," he said Friday. "I might just call timeout and start playing in the snow. Then I'll give my glove to [Chris] Iannetta and come inside and watch on TV."

Well, fortunately, that's all a moot point now. Isn't it? There's no snow in the forecast for Sunday night. But let's just say you won't mistake the climate for July in Miami, either. The prognosis is for temperatures in the mid-30s and enough breeze to push wind chills into the 20s.

So hey, pass the sunscreen.

"I don't think it's going to be real easy for Philly to come into Colorado and win," Rockies outfielder Ryan Spilborghs said. "Colorado is not an easy place to play, especially if you're not used to it. We feel really comfortable playing in Coors Field. We enjoy the cold. And we enjoy our fans."

But we should point out here that Philadelphia hasn't recently been confused with Maui, either. So if there's some kind of cold-field advantage, we can't find it.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Rockies have gone just 6-8 over the last two years in temperatures in the 40s and below, while the Phillies have gone 4-2 (5-2 if you count the balmy 2008 World Series).

Neither team, meanwhile, played a home game all year when the game-time temperature was in the 30s. The Rockies did get to play ball on an inspirational 36-degree day at Wrigley Field on April 13 -- and got exactly one hit in a 4-0 loss. The Phillies, on the other hand, haven't started a game when temperatures were in the 30s since April 8, 2003. For the record, they did beat the Braves, 4-3, on that lovely 37-degree evening.

And Sunday night could be even colder than that. But maybe, Phillies pitcher Brett Myers suggested, that might not be all bad.

"If you hit a guy," he quipped, "he won't need to ice it to keep the swelling down. He'll already be iced."

But amid all the yuks and one-liners, maybe the biggest storyline Saturday was that this postponement sabotaged what might have been the final start in the Hall of Fame career of the great Pedro Martinez.

He wasn't originally in line to start this game -- not until his manager, Charlie Manuel, managed to rip through all the other starting pitchers on the roster in Games 1 and 2. So after Game 2, Pedro looked up at his locker, found himself surrounded by cameras and microphones, and decided: "I think I'm the last man standing."

And how right he was -- temporarily. Manuel said Friday that he wanted to keep Joe Blanton in the bullpen for now. And the manager wanted to make sure Happ was OK after getting drilled below the left knee by a Seth Smith line drive Thursday. But Happ looked limber enough during Friday's workout that Manuel tentatively penciled him in to start Game 4 on Sunday.

Once Game 3 got shifted to Sunday, however, it gave the Phillies the option to start left-handers in all five games of this series. And by taking advantage of that option, they made a decision that had to disappoint Martinez, who admitted Friday that he was "excited" to make it back to the great Octoberfest.

It's five years now -- since Game 3 of the 2004 World Series -- since he has climbed up on the grand October stage. And had he started Sunday, it would have been exactly 10 years to the day since the most unforgettable postseason performance of his life -- six hitless innings in relief in Game 5 of the 1999 ALDS, despite a still-throbbing shoulder.

But that was a long, long time ago -- and one major shoulder surgery ago. So who knows how those wind-chill factors would have affected him this October? Not even he.

And now that he's 37, there are questions about his health and durability, since he's pitched only four innings in the last 27 days. And he's never started a postseason game when the game-time temperature was lower than 49.

The last time he pitched with the thermometer registering in the 30s, though, it worked out better than you might think. That was April 17, 2003, in Boston, when he spun seven innings of two-hit shutout baseball against the Rays on a day when the game-time temperature was 33 degrees. So he knows what it's like to pitch inside a walk-in freezer.

But that was a long, long time ago -- and one major shoulder surgery ago. So who knows how those wind-chill factors would affect him this October? Not even he does.

"It's something new for me," he said Friday. "It's something new for everybody. This kind of weather, you don't see every year in the baseball game."

And for that, friends, we can all be grateful.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com