NONE OF THE other sports does lyrical the way that baseball does lyrical, and in a world that is a lot more Kanye than Keats, there is still nothing quite like the Ode to the Pitchers Battle.
The number of words that have been committed to describing the beautiful tension of a scoreless baseball game in the seventh inning in October is in direct proportion to the number of people in the stands who feel they have to pretend they prefer 0-0 to 6-6. Just this week, the number of words written in anticipation of tonight's Game 1 National League Championship Series matchup between the Phillies' Roy Halladay and the Giants' Tim Lincecum has exceeded all else, and by a wide margin.
Of course, if it is like many of these things, the gods will end up handing the baseball, and the outcome, to the fun, flawed human beings in the bullpens for a decision.
The bullpens. Oh, right.
"After the fifth inning, I really try to start to lock in on my own stuff," Phillies closer Brad Lidge said yesterday, at an NLCS media availability where reporters mostly went other places in search of stories, and where a decent percentage of the questions asked to him contained the words "Roy" and "Halladay."
"I start stretching, seeing the starter's pitch count, so that the rest of the guys in the bullpen know where things are," Lidge said. "I think experience in our bullpen is pretty deep for everybody, so it helps us get mentally ready. They know what they need to do.
"I think it will come down to the bullpens a lot. I think there are probably going to be some low-scoring games early, but both teams are very capable of scoring a lot of runs late. If the starter is just cruising through the game and then he has to come out, that's when the other teams feel more comfortable. They come alive."
It has been like that forever. Regardless of the buildup, the bullpens are almost always where the results are rendered. Since 2000, there have been 337 postseason baseball games. Five of them saw only one reliever pitch for the two teams combined. Nine more saw only two.
The typical playoff game has six relievers pitch. In 13 of the 35 postseason games the Phillies have played during their ongoing run, the teams combined to use eight or more relievers overall.
So what does that all have to do with Phillies-Giants? Well, by overall regular-season numbers, the Giants' bullpen has been more effective and closer Brian Wilson converted 48 out of 53 save opportunities. In the first round of the playoffs, both Wilson and Sergio Romo blew save opportunities. By late-season numbers, there really isn't much from which to choose between bullpens and between, say, Wilson and Lidge. The Phillies' relievers did come together in the last weeks of the season.
"I feel that we really know ourselves," Lidge said. "We kind of all got together at the same time, toward the end of the year. You always have motivation and stuff, but, at the end of the year, we all realized it's time, and we have to pick it up. We started doing just that . . .
"We know where we were in 2008. We know we were a little off last year. But, right now, I feel like we're back to that form. Everybody knows what they need to do. Nobody needs to do more than that. We have a great, deep bullpen where guys don't need to throw more than just their inning, or even just their hitter or two."
We all know Lidge's story - pristine in 2008, flawed in 2009, unsteady early in 2010, a real concern. But he has gotten healthy and learned to pitch with a reduced fastball as the season has progressed, and he again looks confident on the mound. It has been a while.
"There's definitely something to where I feel mentally - and I feel great physically, too," he said. "My fastball isn't quite as hard, but because my mechanics have been good this year and I've stayed more under control, I'm actually getting more movement on it this year. I think I'm maybe hiding the ball better, based on some of the swings I'm getting.
"I definitely feel very confident and relatively calm out there. I think maybe more than 2008. It had been a couple of years since I had been there in 2008. But now we've been fortunate to get there each year. You kind of get into your routine and lock it in."
With that, the bullpens prepare for their part in the decision. And the truth is, every bullpen is the capital of the Republic of Youneverknow - which is why we watch until the end, long after the poetry has been written. *
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