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Mix-and-match relief working for Phillies

Mix-and-match relief working for Phillies

LOS ANGELES -- Rick Pitino once attempted to motivate his struggling Boston Celtics team by reminding them that Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish weren't going to be walking into the clubhouse to save the day.

Along these same lines, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel doesn't have to tell his defending world champs that Billy Wagner, Steve Bedrosian and Tug McGraw aren't going to be storming out of the bullpen whenever he needs some assistance during the postseason.

They've seen their relievers routinely walk the tightrope over the course of the past six months.

Still, with the benefit of a potent offense and the medicinal assistance of antacids, Manuel and the Phillies have thus far proven they can navigate their way back toward the World Series with a bullpen mix that includes a pair of 12-game winners, a rejuvenated demoted closer and one situational left-hander who spent a portion of September in the instructional league.

"The makeup of our bullpen is with the character that we have down there," Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "We've got great character. Nobody has an ego that says that they have to be the guy closing or the guy setting up."

On the way to claiming their 8-6 win over the Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on Thursday night, the Phillies stressed through the final four innings and saw their temporary closer record the clutch out that provided their rejuvenated closer the opportunity to gain the enhanced confidence that came courtesy of saving a third consecutive game.

"Right now, it's kind of back to where I know it's going to work," Brad Lidge said after tossing his scoreless ninth against the Dodgers. "I've got that feeling back again to where even if it's bases loaded, nobody out and we've got a one-run lead, I know that we're going to get that save somehow."

This isn't the same Lidge who posted a 7.21 ERA and blew 11 of his 43 save opportunities this year. Instead, it's the October reincarnation of the guy who was perfect last year and then saw his closer's role temporarily provided to Ryan Madson in September.

With a strange twist of fate, Lidge has actually been the one who has shut the door after Madson has incurred some trouble during both of the past two games.

CHARLIE'S ANGLES
Since Cliff Lee's complete game in Game 1 of the Division Series, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has had ample opportunity to maneuver his relief corps through the first five games of the postseason. A look at how the Phillies bullpen has contributed:
Game IP H ER ERA
DS 2 4.0 1 1 2.25
DS 3 6.0 5 2 3.00
DS 4 1.2 2 1 5.40
LCS 1 3.2 6 2 4.91
Total 15.1 14 6 3.52

Still proving that they aren't fully confident that Lidge has definitely turned the corner, the Phillies displayed the uncertainty of their bullpen by having both right-hander Joe Blanton and left-hander Scott Eyre warm up in the bullpen before the first pitch of the ninth inning was thrown.

"Lidge is always ... actually if we pin down one closer, it's always been Lidge," said Manuel after seeing his veteran right-hander lock down the all-important Game 1 victory in this best-of-seven series.

Despite the fact that he surrendered four hits and allowed two runs while attempting to protect a four-run lead in the eighth inning, Madson seemingly got the biggest out of the night when he got Manny Ramirez, who represented the go-ahead run, to direct an inning-ending groundout to third baseman Pedro Feliz.

"We got outs when we had to, and really I felt like Madson did a great job of getting Manny Ramirez out, but at the same time Madson had to go that far," Manuel said.

After Cole Hamels began to falter in the fifth inning and then was chased in the sixth, Manuel once again went into the mix-and-match mode that he's successfully utilized over the past week. Left-hander J.A. Happ, who ranks with Blanton as the top candidates to start Monday's Game 4, was brought in to face Jim Thome in the sixth inning.

Thome drew a walk to load the bases with two outs, but Happ then ended the threat with a Rafael Furcal groundout. Having pinch-hit in the pitcher's spot in the top half of the inning, the Phillies called upon rookie southpaw Antonio Bastardo to begin the bottom of the seventh against Andre Ethier's dangerous left-handed bat.

NL Championship Series
Gm. 1 PHI 8, LAD 6 Wrap Video
Gm. 2 LAD 2, PHI 1 Wrap Video
Gm. 3 PHI 11, LAD 0 Wrap Video
Gm. 4 PHI 5, LAD 4 Wrap Video
Gm. 5 PHI 10, LAD 4 Wrap Video

Bastardo, who was in the instructional league before being called up to make a relief appearance on Oct. 3, surrendered a leadoff double to Ethier and then gave way to Chan Ho Park, who retired three straight batters while making his first appearance since straining his right hamstring on Sept. 16.

"Park was real good, first of all," Manuel said. "He was throwing the heck out of the ball, and he hadn't pitched in a long time."

Park's exit prompted the entry of Madson, whose 31-pitch appearance could affect his availability in Game 2 on Friday afternoon.

If Madson is unable to pitch, the Phillies won't necessarily be an unfamiliar position. They've been piecing their bullpen together since the playoffs began and understanding that every move could have an effect on whether they're able to utilize either Happ or Blanton in a starter's role.

Still they've managed to capture four of the 11 wins needed to repeat as World Series champions, and along the way their bullpen has taken shape.

"We're fortunate that we have a lot of talent, a lot of playoff experience and a lot of experience late in games, I think because we do, we are able to mix and match late in the game," Lidge said. "That's a big advantage for anybody."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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