Spin forward: Early lead key vs. Philly
Dodgers would be hard-pressed to rally against Lidge-led bullpen
LOS ANGELES -- Suddenly, Joe Torre has an idea of how other teams used to feel.
For years, Torre held a weapon that made his teams seem invincible in postseason play. Not only did he have the peerless Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning, the former Yankees manager had a slew of shutdown arms in front of Rivera -- guys like Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanton. If the Yankees of the late '90s had you down after six innings, they had the game in hand.
Now Torre's Dodgers are looking at that dynamic from the other side. Just like the Brewers before them, the Dodgers are learning that if you don't get ahead of the Phillies early, you're not going to beat them late. So that will be the paramount challenge for Los Angeles as the National League Championship Series switches to Dodger Stadium -- get, and hold, a lead before it's too late.
Just as with those Yankees teams, the closer gets the attention, but the bullpen is more than one guy. Brad Lidge hasn't blown a save since 2007, but his support crew is outstanding, as well -- headed by Ryan Madson and J.C. Romero.
"Your goal is to keep [Lidge] out of the ballgame," Torre said. "The only way you can do that is at the very least tie the game going into that part of the game, the ninth inning. ... It took very little managing when you got to the ninth inning with Mariano out there."
The Phillies have simply shut it down in the second half of the game. Including the postseason, they're 69-10 when they lead after six innings, 71-9 when they lead after seven and a staggering 84-0 when leading after eight.
Lidge is a dark-horse candidate for the National League Cy Young Award after a brilliant season. He went 41-for-41 in save chances (plus 4-for-4 thus far in the playoffs). He posted a 1.95 ERA and allowed two homers all year.
Romero, meanwhile, is an outstanding matchup lefty, and manager Charlie Manuel is willing to let him see a right-hander here or there. And righty setup man Madson has thrived in the seventh and eighth, pitching more than an inning on numerous occasions and getting both left- and right-handed hitters out.
"Ryan's really stepped up," said Phils pitching coach Rich Dubee. "He's become much more comfortable doing that and he's been fabulous for us. He's been as solid as you would want in September and in these playoffs, and I think his confidence is probably as high as I've ever seen it."
Even unsung middle men Clay Condrey and Chad Durbin have done excellent work.
It adds up to a limited number of chances for the Dodgers to win a game. In Thursday's Game 1, they didn't hit against Phils ace Cole Hamels, so even three runs off Derek Lowe were enough to get the lead into the hands of the Philly bullpen. Game 2 on Friday might have been even more galling, as the Dodgers did get to Brett Myers -- but Chad Billingsley came unglued.
So in a sense, it's big and obvious -- hit early, and get good starting pitching. But nonetheless, those big and obvious things haven't been there at the same time. And the task gets even tougher starting on Sunday, because it's tougher to score runs on anybody at Dodger Stadium than it is at Citizens Bank Park.
On the other hand, there are also smaller, subtler things the Dodgers can do. First, they'll have a better chance of countering the matchups in the late innings if they split their left-handed hitters. And if they are able to return to their Division Series offensive mode, when they made the Cubs' pitchers work extremely hard for every out, they'll have a better chance of seeing the softer middle of the Philadelphia 'pen, rather than the fierce back end.
Whatever it takes. They just need to get the lead to their own bullpen before the Phils can do the same.
"It does a lot for a team's personality," Torre said, "when you know if you can put a point up there that you have somebody who can shut the door. And [Lidge] has done that against us, and he's done it all year, obviously. He's been perfect."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.