It’s a funny thing about the Phillies: they have lived in the October cauldron for 4 seasons now but they have usually managed to avoid the worst of the heat.
The Phillies have front-run in almost every series in which they have played. The two series they lost -- that first one against Colorado in 2007 and last year’s World Series to the Yankees -- were disappointments tempered by the reality that a lot had been accomplished along the way.
This series is different, though; different year, different expectations. Lose Game 1 -- behind Roy Halladay, at home, when favored to win not only this series against the San Francisco Giants but to win the whole thing -- and the temperature begins to rise. It is the simple reality.
The Phillies’ response? Cool, surgical, persistent, adaptive.
With Roy Oswalt looking like Roy Oswalt again on the mound, and with a sudden willingness to play small-ball and manufacture runs, and with slumping Jimmy Rollins providing the emphatic punctuation with a bases-loaded double off of the leftfield wall in the seventh inning, the Phillies evened the National League Championship Series at a game apiece with a 6-1 victory.
The Giants undoubtedly will leave town saying that they accomplished what they needed to accomplish in the first two games, which is true enough. But the Phillies, under pressure after Game 1, have grabbed this thing back. Confronted with their first Game 1 loss since that 2007 series against Colorado, they have regained, well, they have regained that look. You know, the one where they appear to be more machine than men -- and more about wearing down the opposition than anything else.
The key to the thing was Oswalt, which everybody kind of understood all along. As soon as the pitching matchups for the series were set, the absolute importance of Game 2 just screamed at you from the page. The Phillies had not hit Jonathan Sanchez well at all, and it was likely going to be a long night against him. In response, Oswalt was going to have to be Oswalt again -- and especially after his rusty outing in the first round of the playoffs against Cincinnati.
And, well, Oswalt gave the Phillies everything they needed -- eight innings of three-hit baseball, to be specific. The only run he allowed was on a home run to Cody Ross, his third of the series. And what Oswalt did, more than anything, was build a calm framework on a tense night, a framework within which the Phillies’ struggling offense could begin to do its business.
The Phillies did not suddenly begin to tear the cover off of the ball against Sanchez. But what they did was make him work and -- don’t tell anybody -- actually did some small-ball manufacturing work. They got a run in the first inning on an error and three walks. They got a second run in the fifth inning on a double by Shane Victorino, a long fly ball to right by Chase Utley that moved Victorino to third, and a sacrifice fly by Placido Polanco. Then they blew it open in the seventh as they got into the Giants’ bullpen, with Rollins rocketing the double that cleared the bases.
The results is that the Phillies look like themselves again. The heat and pressure did nothing but energize them. Their hands remain full but the machine is again operating.
And it was Roy Oswalt who calmly flipped the switch.