After taking out the Brewers in four games, the Phillies move on to the NLCS where they face the Dodgers. That's the good news. The bad news is the games will be on FOX. Of course, for a championship-starved Philadelphia fan, it's a small price to pay. I can put up with Jeanne Zolasko and Tim McCarver for a shot at a ring...if I have to.
The Dodgers have been dubbed the NL's team to beat, despite winning only 84 games in the regular season. Yes, they knocked off the 97-win Cubs, but is this baseball or boxing? Just because the Dodgers KO'ed the NL's best regular season team does not mean they automatically assume its place. Besides, I can't quite bring myself to give the Dodgers all the credit for beating the Cubs. I mean, come on, it's the Cubs. Baseball's lovable losers. Is anyone really that surprised they collapsed in October? Didn't think so. So let's put that Dodgers love-fest on hold for now.
Of course, all of that "team to beat" talk can be thrown out the window as we get prepared for Game 1. Cole Hamels takes on Derek Lowe, which sounds unbalanced, but Lowe has had his best season as a starter since 2002. That included a ridiculous September, in which he allowed just two earned runs in 30+ innings. In his one playoff start, he allowed two runs in six innings. For whatever it's worth, Lowe's road ERA is 4.42, compared to 2.30 at home, so the Phillies should be grateful the Dodgers didn't save him for Game 3.
8:25: And we're underway. Larry Bowa introduced the Dodgers lineup, which is a little upsetting. The least Bowa could have done is mentioned that he's a former Phillie. Oh well. Hamels gets Rafael Furcal to ground out, but Andre Etheir slaps the ball into the gap in left center for a double. Now Manny Ramirez steps in with a runner in scoring position. Gulp.
8:26: Manny comes oh-so-close to taking Hamels deep, but it hits the highest part of the highest wall in the park and Manny has an RBI double, despite taking time to admire his shot out of the batter's box.
8:28: Hamels bounces back by striking out Russell Martin on three pitches. All the more reason to pitch around Manny. The Dodgers don't have anyone else worth worrying about.
8:34: James Loney works a walk and he and Manny advanced on a passed ball, but the Phillies escaped further harm as Matt Kemp flies out to right. Not the best start, but it's only a 1-0 game.
8:37: Harry Kalas delivers the Phillies starting lineup. Hooray! Best thing FOX has ever done.
8:40: Two quick outs for Rollins and Victorino, but Utley gets the Phillies going with a base hit up to center field. Now Howard comes up with the tying run on first.
8:43: Howard slaps the 3-2 pitch to the right side of the infield, but it's snared and he's thrown out to end the inning. Would've been nice to tie the game, but it looks like the Phillies are seeing Lowe well enough.
8:50: That was fast. Hamels plows through the bottom of the Dodgers lineup for a perfect inning, striking out Casey Blake and Lowe in the process. Good to see him bounce back.
8:57: Burrell smashes a line drive into left for a single, and now Werth steps in. If you take away the speed difference and Werth's facial hair, aren't Burrell and Werth the exact same player? Well now they have one more thing in common. They both got out on Werth's ground to second. 4-3 double play.
9:00: Feliz draws a walk as Phillies fans everywhere question why he is starting. Granted, Dobbs is a lousy fielder, but wouldn't it be better to have his bat in the lineup? Apparently Charlie Manuel doesn't think so. The walk doesn't do much good, however, as Ruiz makes the third out on a routine grounder. Two questions about that: 1) Why is Ruiz starting over Coste? Neither is a great hitter, but Coste is clearly better. 2) If you MUST start Ruiz, why not bat Hamels 8th? He's hit better than Ruiz this year.
9:05: Hamels gets a first, quick out, but Ethier strikes again, as he hits a hard grounder that ricochets off Howard's glove for a single. Now Manny is up again with a runner on. Let's hope Hamels has learned his lesson.
9:07: Hamels not only learned his lesson, he may have taught Manny one. Manny whiffed on two straight pitches, then popped the next one up to short.
9:12: The last out wasn't so easy to come by, despite Manny not being involved. Martin walked and Loney took the first two pitches out of the strike zone, before Hamels recovers and strikes him out with the next three.
9:17: Quick inning for the Phillies, going down in order. Victorino at least makes things interesting as he gets tangled up with Lowe after Lowe just barely beats him to the bag for the third out. Maybe that will mess up his pitching rhythm. Probably not, but on the off-chance it does, you heard it here first.
9:21: Kemp hits one barely fair down the right field line that bounces into the seats for a ground-rule double. Tim McCarver points out that Red Sox fans may remember that play because it's about where Jason Bay hit his double in the ALDS. Yes Tim, exactly the same. Different teams, different ballpark, different league, but other than that, yeah, same play.
9:25: Blake advances Kemp with a grounder to short and DeWitt brings him home with a sacrifice fly. Lowe grounds out to end it, but the Phillies now trail 2-0. There's still plenty of time left, but the frustration is beginning to mount.
9:31: As Lowe pitches to Utley, McCarver speculates that Lowe might have hurt his throwing hand during his at-bat last inning. It wouldn't be the first time Hamels injured a pitcher. Remember Bartolo Colon during the Red Sox series? He swung so hard at Hamels' changeups that he injured his back. Suffice it to say, it was hilarious. So far Lowe looks fine, as Utley goes down on strikes.
9:35: Howard and Burrell go down. This is looking like all those Hamels regular season starts where the offense decides its presence is optional because the ace is on the mound. Let's hope it arrives before it's too late.
9:44: Hamels has an easy top of the fifth, retiring Furcal, Ethier, and Martin. Manny gets a single off him, but that's the only blemish of the inning. No harm done.
9:50: The Phillies get their third hit, as Ruiz slaps a single to right with two outs. It probably won't amount to a run with Hamels batting now, but at least it turns the lineup over for the next inning.
9:51: Then again, maybe it will do some good. Hamels laced a single into right and the Phillies have two on for Rollins. Huge at-bat here.
9:55: So much for that. It looked like the Phillies finally had Lowe on the ropes, but Rollins lofts the 3-2 pitch into Manny's glove and the Dodgers keep the score at 2-0.
10:00: Another quick inning for Hamels, aided by an impressive diving stop by Rollins that starts a 6-4-3 double play. Despite his early inning struggles, he's thrown only 92 pitches through six, meaning he should be good to go through seven, perhaps even eight innings. Even if they lose, the Phillies bullpen shouldn't be overly taxed for Game 2.
10:05: The Phillies catch a big break as Victorino grounds to short and Furcal's throw is too high for Loney. Victorino rounds first and is into second to start the inning.
10:07: Tie game! Utley makes Furcal's error count, blasting a two-run shot over the left field wall! That's just the third fly ball of the game, and one Lowe would like to have back.
10:11: Pat the Bat is...clutch???? Bizarro Pat Burrell strikes again, destroying Lowe's last pitch of the night and giving the Phillies a 3-2 lead! Wow.
10:16: Chan Ho Park into the game for the Dodgers to face Werth, who I am now calling Pat Burrell 2.0 ("We can rebuild him. Make him stronger, faster than he was before.") Werth skies a fly ball to center for the second out of the inning. Feliz then grounds out to end it, but what an inning! Phillies lead 3-2 after six!
10:24: Hamels takes care of business in the top of the seventh. He's now thrown 105 pitches and is due to bat next inning, so he is likely done for the night. That means we could be in for a scary eighth inning, with most likely Ryan Madson facing Manny. We can't squeeze one more inning out of Hamels? Please?
10:30: Greg Maddux comes in to pitch the bottom of the seventh. Yes, future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux. I don't get it either. Ruiz greets him with a grounder to the left side of the infield. Furcal gets to it and fires, but is off target again. Loney stretches and reels it in, but Ruiz beats it out. Ah, so that's why he's in instead of Coste. That extra iota of speed.
10:33: The Phillies opt to bunt with Ruiz on first and none out, so instead of keeping the pitcher in or using a legitimate pinch hitter, they bring in So Taguchi to act as a bunt specialist of sorts. Taguchi fails mightily in this capacity, popping out to Loney, who makes an impressive sliding catch. Rollins then ends the inning, hitting into a 4-3 double play. DeWitt made a phenomenal tag and throw to get Rollins. And now we move on to what will surely be a tense eighth inning. Fingers crossed.
10:38: Good start for Madson, as he strikes out Ethier with a changeup for the first out. Now Manuel comes out to discuss their strategy on dealing with Manny. My advice? Don't throw him a strike. Why play with fire?
10:40: And that's why I'm here watching and not in the dugout. Manny rips it but right to Feliz, who snares it for out number two. Martin then hits a hard grounder to Feliz, but it nicks his foot and eludes the glove, earning Martin a single.
10:42: Madson gets the job done, as Loney chops a grounder to second for the third out. With Lidge set to pitch the ninth and the Dodgers' 6-7-8 hitters due to bat, it's looking pretty good for the Phillies. Let's just hope it's Lights-Out-Lidge and not Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn that comes into the game.
10:49: Victorino, Utley, and Howard go down in order. Who needs insurance when you have the best closer in baseball? Um...let's hope the Phillies don't. Lidge has been, well, perfect so far this year, but a little extra wiggle room would have been nice.
10:53: Relief left fielder Eric Bruntlett replaces Burrell and here we go. Lidge on to pitch the ninth. He gets Kemp on a deep fly ball to right-center for the first out.
10:56: Two outs. Blake is retired on another deep fly ball, this one to dead center. One out away and Blake DeWitt is the batter.
10:58: DeWitt flails at and misses strike three. Ruiz scoops it up and fires to first and that's the ballgame! The Phillies take Game 1 of the NLCS 3-2!
Tonight's game was just great, all-around. Hamels wasn't as dominant tonight as he was against the Brewers, but he allowed just two runs over seven innings. You can't ask for much more from your ace. Once again, the Phillies score all their runs in one inning, striking for three in the sixth. Derek Lowe was thoroughly dominant to that point, but Furcal's error was the break the Phillies needed, and Utley made him pay. Maybe Utley's home run rattled Lowe, or maybe Burrell is just a clutch hitting machine all of the sudden. Either way, Burrell came through yet again with his monster home run. The one-run cushion was all the team needed, as the bullpen got the job done once again.
The Phillies couldn't ask for a better way to start the series. Now on to Game 2: Myers vs Billingsley. You never know what to expect from Myers, but he had a strong outing against the Brewers. The two faced off on August 25th and the advantage went decidedly to Myers, who pitched seven scoreless innings in a 5-0 Phillies win. Let's hope history repeats itself tomorrow afternoon.