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Will resurgent Phils bullpen be difference in NLCS?

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Jon Paul Morosi

Jon Paul Morosi is a National MLB Writer for FOXSports.com. He previously covered baseball for the Detroit Free Press and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He began his journalism career at the Bay City Times in his native Michigan. Follow him on Twitter.

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LOS ANGELES

For a moment, at least, let's set aside Clayton Kershaw's three-wild-pitch fifth inning. Ditto for James Loney's rare home run, Cole Hamels' mediocre start, and Manny Ramirez's two-run shot into the left-field pavilion. After the twilight drama, what did we have at Dodger Stadium on Thursday evening? A 5-4 Philadelphia lead entering the sixth. With 12 outs to play on either side, we knew the bullpens were probably going to determine which team walked away with a victory in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.
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So, I expected the Dodgers to win. Yes, I was among those who figured Los Angeles would take this game — and this series — because Joe Torre had a better bullpen than Charlie Manuel. Well, like the Dodgers, I am now 0-for-1. The L.A. bullpen allowed three runs. The Philly bullpen allowed two. Brad Lidge got the final out — for the third time this postseason — and the defending champions shook hands after an 8-6 win. The Dodgers had the majors' best bullpen ERA during the regular season (3.14). Lidge had the most blown saves (11). But there's a reason that the stat sheets are filled with zeroes when autumn baseball begins. The reputations you had in August and September become irrelevant. And in the Philadelphia bullpen, timidity has given way to confidence. "It's October," Lidge said in the winning clubhouse. "As long as you're lucky enough to get into the postseason, everything kind of clicks over. I feel physically great right now. I feel very fortunate for that. I think that when our bullpen is healthy and going on all cylinders, we're the best one. We proved it last year. "I think we had a rough season. I had a rough season. But once the postseason rolls around, it's all different." So we've noticed. Lidge is healthier, now that his right knee sprain (which resulted in a June disabled-list stay) has quieted. As a result, his mechanics are better. His good fastball is back. His leg kick is higher. His frame of mind has probably enjoyed a similar rehabilitation. I'd wager that no postseason pitcher in baseball relished the "0.00" beside his name more than this guy. Lidge went 48-for-48 in save opportunities last year. He's 3-for-3 so far this postseason. And he doesn't seem too concerned with what happened in between. "The control that I really haven't had all year on my pitches is there right now," Lidge said. "In the postseason, there's a different level of focus you have to have. I think a lot of times that kind of helps me. Physically, I feel good now, too. ... For a while this year, I had to compromise a lot of things." No more. After equivocating for a few weeks, Manuel reinstalled Lidge as his fulltime closer when the postseason began. And that decision is looking pretty prescient right about now. "This guy's faced a tremendous amount of adversity, and he's handled it as good as anybody I've ever been around," Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "There's an abundance of talent still there. There were periods this year when he didn't throw the ball well. There were periods when he was snake-bitten. Balls found holes. Stuff like that. "But he's been consistent about hanging in there, consistent about his preparation, and he's come up very big for us lately. Once we got into (the playoffs), that eased a lot of tension. He got a second breath of air." Now, I'm obligated to tell you that Lidge didn't execute 100 percent of his pitches on Thursday. He allowed a leadoff single to Matt Kemp and admitted throwing a slider to Casey Blake that was a little higher than he wanted. But because Lidge's slider has more bite — another recent development — Blake couldn't elevate it. He sent a scorching one-hopper to the right side, and Chase Utley turned it into a double play. Dodgers left-hander George Sherrill wasn't so lucky. With Philadelphia still holding its 5-4 lead entering the eighth, Sherrill walked the first two batters he faced. Then he spun a first-pitch slider to Raul Ibañez, who crushed it into the seats. Phillies 8, Dodgers 4. And yet the most memorable relief outing of the night may have belonged to Phillies right-hander Chan Ho Park. A strained right hamstring had prevented Park from pitching since Sept. 16 — precisely one month ago — and he was still rehabilitating the injury while his teammates defeated Colorado in the NL Division Series. Dubee wasn't even sure that Park would be ready for the NLCS until several days ago. But at perhaps the most important moment Thursday night — runner on second, none out, one-run game in the seventh — Manuel called on Park. Now, understand that there is a lot of history between Park and the Dodgers — most of it good. He left his native Korea at age 20 to sign with the Dodgers in 1994. He is still close with former Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley, whom he described Thursday as a father figure. The best years of Park's career were in Los Angeles, before he left to sign that megadeal with the Texas Rangers. He came back to the organization last year and threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings against Philadelphia in the NLCS. But the Dodgers didn't re-sign him, and the defending champs did. ("I was a little bit disappointed that they didn't offer anything," Park said.) So, he took his warm-up tosses in the other bullpen Thursday night. Then he performed better than most anyone could have anticipated: Ramirez, Kemp and Blake went down in order, with Park's fastball humming along at 95-96 miles per hour. "Electric," Dubee said. "I don't know how it looked good, because I didn't feel good," Park said. "I pitched better than I felt. Unbelievable." "The guy knows how to pitch," said Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier, who was left stranded at second in the fateful inning. "We had a lot of good hitters going up there, but he found a way to get it done." Lidge lauded his teammate, saying Park looked "as dominant as anybody in baseball out of the pen." Lidge later joked that the explanation for Park's great outing after all the lost time might be a "good Korean ancient herb." Right. "I guess what I'm trying to say," Lidge concluded, "is he looked fantastic." He did. That was true of all the Philadelphia relievers, except Antonio Bastardo and setup man Ryan Madson. Manuel's bullpen wasn't perfect, but it fared better than Torre's. That was enough to help the Phillies win Game 1 — and enough to make a lot of people wonder if they have this series all wrong.

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