I can’t sleep. The Phillies just gave away game 4 in the National League Championship Series and now trail 3-1. Philadelphia certainly has the horses to win three straight, but they’ll first need to move past Wednesday’s crushing defeat in time for Thursday’s game. I know I can’t.
The Giants and Phillies boast strong starting pitching. Offensively, the Phillies are superior on paper but have struggled immensely to get the big hits when needed. Game 4 was a perfect example of the Phillies leaving runners on base and missing countless opportunities to put the Giants to rest. Let’s review some of the notable events, err lack thereof.
The most obvious was Carlos Ruiz being gunned down at home plate in the top of the 5th. With one out and the meat of the order coming to bat, there’s no excuse to have a runner thrown out at home in that situation. Part of me wants to blame Sam Perlozzo. (Ok, most of me.) The other part of me wonders if Ruiz stopped for coffee and a donut between second and home plate. Seriously, Ruiz runs well for a catcher, so there’s no reason he shouldn’t have scored there. What’s worse, if you look at the tape, Chase Utley is coaching Ruiz where to slide – low and away. Did Ruiz listen? No. He awkwardly stumbled right into Buster Posey. Ignoring Utley’s coaching is one thing; not punishing the opposing catcher is bad baseball – and totally inexcusable too. Ruiz should have bull-rushed Posey like a defensive end. Who knows, maybe Posey drops the ball, or maybe it affects him for the rest of the game and he doesn’t rack up 4 hits and win the game for San Francisco. Whatever. It was a blown play in so many ways it still makes me want to cry. You can’t leave runs on the field in the postseason. The Giants certainly don’t.
A few batters after Ruiz was thrown out at home, Jimmy Rollins stepped in and battled nicely with the bases loaded and two outs. It was a great at bat. He fouled off several tough pitches and looked poised to come through with a clutch hit. And then out of nowhere, he swings at an awful pitch in the dirt. Devastating. The Phillies had already captured the momentum with a great opportunity to distance themselves by 3, 4, or even 5 critical runs. Instead, the lead stayed at 2, and even that was due to a wild, wild pitch. (I’ve never seen one clear the backstop before.)
In the bottom half of that same inning, Joe Blanton gave the Giants back a run, killing whatever momentum the Phillies still had. As a pitcher, you have to know that surrendering a run right after your team wrestled away the lead is deflating. What Joe Buck and Tim McCarver missed in the inning was Victorino’s mishandle on that run-scoring single. It was a small, inconspicuous mistake, but a costly one nonetheless. Victorino cleanly fielded the ball but bobbled it as he took it from his glove. That extra second really hurt the Phillies. A clean transfer would have gotten Andres Torres at home. Instead the ball arrived as Torres touched home. It was still a perfect throw, but a half second late. Again, it was another opportunity for a game-changing play that wasn’t made. The Giants have made these plays all series while the Phillies have consistently let them slip away. It’s no coincidence then that the Giants are a game from the World Series and the Phillies are one game from an offseason of questions and lousy Sixer basketball.
And finally, the horrendous, and I mean absolutely horrendous, at bats by Ruiz and Ben Francisco in the top of the 8th. Undoubtedly, those were two of the ugliest at bats you’ll ever see in professional baseball. I thought I was watching a scene from Rookie of the Year. To recap the at bats, imagine yourself at the plate. The pitcher throws you a slider tailing away from you– and I mean AWAY, like almost a foot off the plate. Now pretend the pitcher throws you that same pitch, over and over and over again. And yet, you swing every time like your bat grew 6 inches in the 17 seconds since the last pitch. It was breathtakingly stupid. I felt like I was watching Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb botch another 2 minute drill. I couldn’t talk. I just stared at my TV as if Joe Carter hit another walk-off. I may not sleep for weeks.
Oh, and let’s not forget the lousy managing by Charlie Manuel. I know, it’s taboo to question old Char-lay, but I’m going to anyway. First, why isn’t Victorino trying to steal as the leadoff runner and no outs in the top of the 7th? Small ball wins in the playoffs. Philadelphia’s batters aren’t hitting well enough to use “taking the bats out of their hands” as a valid excuse, either. Secondly, why not Brad Lidge in the 9th? The Giants went with their closer and I think it turned out pretty well for them. You have to play to survive in that type of game. Surviving means exhausting all your weapons and THEN resorting to whatever is left when desperation necessitates it. Yes, hindsight is 20/20, but throwing Roy Oswalt out in the 9th was a bad call before he threw his first pitch. Lastly, after Jayson Werth ties the game with a double in the 8th, why do you let the incredibly awful Rollins swing away? I don’t care who he is and what he’s done, he’s bad/injured right now. Bunt Werth to 3rd and put the go-ahead run 90 feet from home with one out.
The Phillies are supposed to be the postseason veterans. They have the winning pedigree and loaded roster. They’re supposed to come through in the clutch. After 4 games, Philadelphia has been outpitched, outhit, and out-managed to the point that they remind me of the overwhelmed 2007 Phillies, not the playoff tested versions we’ve grown accustomed to in 2008 and 2009. Now, a three game winning streak is the only remedy for their situation. Lucky for them, a notable Doctor could provide relief on Thursday night. Of course, that’s assuming the Phillies don’t find more ways to blow it.