Quick, which Phillies pitcher is tied with Cliff Lee for the team lead in victories this postseason?
It isn't Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ, Pedro Martinez or Joe Blanton, who represented the other 4/5ths of the Phillies rotation for the last two months of the regular season.
Here's a hint: The same guy is the only Phillies pitcher not to allow a baserunner this postseason.
It isn't Chan Ho Park, Ryan Madson or Scott Eyre, the team's top three relievers during the 2009 campaign.
Nope, the player we're looking for is none other than Chad Durbin, the veteran righthander who appeared in five of the Phillies' nine NLDS and NLCS games, pitching four scoreless innings in the process. Over the next week, you will read plenty of stories previewing the Phillies' second straight World Series appearance, and you will read plenty of analysis detailing through the NLDS and the NLCS. You will read about players like Ryan Howard, who hit .355 with two home runs, seven extra base hits and 14 RBI in the first nine games of the postseason. You will read about Carlos Ruiz, Senor Octubre, who hit .346 with seven RBI and reached base in half of his plate appearances. You will read about Jayson Werth (five home runs), and Cliff Lee (2-0, 0.74 ERA in three starts) and Brad Lidge (3-for-3 in save opportunities, four scoreless innings).
But if you are looking for the unlikeliest hero of an unlikely bunch, what better place to start than a middle reliever who finished the month of August with a 5.17 ERA?
After he signed with the Phillies prior to the 2008 season, Durbin quickly became one of the stalwarts in the team's rejuvenated bullpen. He finished among the league leaders in innings pitched (87 2/3) and ERA (2.87) while providing the always-critical bridge to the eighth and ninth innings. But thanks to a combination of circumstances, Durbin entered this September facing a tenuous playoff future. He was sidelined for 19 days in late July and early August with a lat strain after spending much of the first three months of the season struggling with his command. In August, Durbin allowed six runs on six hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings pitched, with players like Tyler Walker and Chan Ho Park assuming more of the duties that he held last season.
But once August turned to September, Durbin thrived. He allowed just three earned runs in 15 2/3 innings during the final month of the season. And this October, he has been even better. Even during his successful September, Durbin walked 11 batters. This postseason, he hasn't walked one. In Game 3 of the NLDS< he inherited a 5-5 tie in the eighth inning and coaxed Garrett Atkins, Ryan Spilborghs and Clint Barmes into three straight weak groundouts, setting the stage for Howard's game-winning sacrifice fly in the ninth.
In Game 1 of the NLCS, he recorded just one out, but it was a big one -- a line-out by Russell Martin with men on first and second and one out in the sixth. But perhaps his biggest contribution came on Wednesday night, when he entered the game with two out and men on first and second in a game the Phillies led 6-3. At the plate was slugger Manny Ramirez, representing the tying run. Durbin attacked Ramirez inside, throwing four five pitches, the last of which the Dodgers' star nubbed weakly to the right of the pitchers mound. Durbin calmly picked it up and threw to first for the final out, than retired three dangerous hitters in the top of the sixth -- Matt Kemp on a strikeout, James Loney on a groundout, and Russell Martin on a groundout -- to quell the Dodgers' thoughts of a rally.
Will Durbin ever win a postseason MVP? No. Will his exploits overshadow those of Lee or Howard or Werth? No.
But in 11 postseason games over the last two seasons, Durbin has allowed just two runs, one of them earned. A bullpen that was supposed to be the Achilles heel of this Phillies team has suddenly established itself as one of the best of the 2009 postseason. And ever-so-slowly, things are getting back to where they were in October of last season. Yesterday, the bullpen allowed one run in 4 2/3 innings of relief. It started with Durbin and lefthander J.A. Happ and ended with Ryan Madson and Lidge.
And of all the positives the Phillies can take out of the first two rounds of the playoffs, the performance of Durbin and his colleagues just might be the most promising.