The Phillies have played 26 postseason games over the last two season. In all 26, they entered with either a series lead or tie. Tonight, that changes.
In a pivotal Game 3 at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies jumped out to a 3-0 lead but couldn't hold on, as Cole Hamels and the Phillies bullpen allowed the Yankees to score eight runs in the fourth through eight innings en route to a 8-5 loss. Now, the Phillies face arguably their most pressure-packed postseason game since they took the field in Denver in 2007 trailing the Rockies two games-to-none in the NLDS.
Look at it one way, and they are very much alive. After all, one of these two teams was going to finish Halloween night trailing 2-1. In Game 4, they'll face Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia, whom they defeated 6-1 in Game 1.
Look at it another way, and their loss Saturday night gave the Yankees a victory whose importance far outweighs the one-game lead they now enjoy.
True, the Phillies have beaten Sabathia three times over the last two years, twice in the playoffs. But they didn't exactly dominate him in Game 2, scoring two runs in seven innings before the Yankees' bullpen allowed them to put the game out of reach. And they'll have to buck several trends if they are to beat him for the second time in five days.
Sabathia lost eight games during the regular season. He recorded back-to-back losses just once. In the eight starts that followed his eight losses, the big lefty went 7-1 with a 2.15 ERA. The Yankees lost back-to-back games in which Sabathia pitched just twice this season -- on April 27 and May 2 against the Tigers and the Angels, and on June 6 and 11 against the Rays and the Red Sox.
True, Sabathia will be pitching on three days rest. But he did so in the ALCS and held the Angels to one run on four hits and one walk over eight innings. In four career regular season starts on three days rest, Sabathia is 3-1 with a 1.01 ERA.
This time around, he won't have Phillies ace Cliff Lee to suck the life out of his teammates. Sabathia will be squaring off against Joe Blanton, who allowed four runs in six innings in a Game 4 start in the NLCS. Blanton pitched well in the World Series last year, allowing two runs in six innings against the Tampa Bay Rays.
But unless Blanton holds his opponent scoreless, something he did three times during the regular season, the Phillies will have to hit. They did so at times in Game 3 -- Jayson Werth hit two solo home runs and Pedro Feliz doubled with one out in a three-run second inning -- but for the most part they were the beneficiaries of poor command on the part of Pettitte, who walked one run home, and shoddy defense on the part of the Yankees defense (the Yankees failed to field a sacrifice bunt attempt that would have represented the second out of the second inning, loading the bases to set-up Jimmy Rollins' bases loaded walk and Shane Victorino's sacrifice fly.
The Phillies' three lefty sluggers, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez, combined to go 0-for-12 with seven strikeouts. Utley and Howard struck out with a man on second in the first inning. Utley struck out looking with men on first and second to end the second inning.
Had the Cole Hamels pitched his entire outing the way he pitched his first three-plus innings, the offense would have been enough. But after cruising through the early part of the game, retiring 10 of the first 11 batters he faced, Hamels ran into one of the walls that have so often plagued him during this disappointing season. After a borderline 3-2 fastball to Mark Teixiera was called a ball with one out in the fourth inning, he struggled. He threw a fastball down the middle that Alex Rodriguez hit to the opposite field for a two-run home run. Hamels got out of that inning, but imploded in the fifth against the bottom of the Yankees order. A curve ball that he threw just twice during the first four innings proved to be his undoing. Four of the first 10 pitches he threw in the fifth were curves, one of which Nick Swisher crushed for a leadoff double, and another of which Andy Pettitte hit into center field for an RBI single that set the stage for a big inning.
Manuel lifted Hamels after just 69 pitches -- after Pettitte's single, he allowed a single to Derek Jeter and a two-run single to Johnny Damon, then walked Teixeira.
A solid bullpen effort might have staunched the bleeding. But J.A. Happ and Brett Myers allowed solo home runs and Chad Durbin allowed one run in one inning of work.
For one of the few times this postseason, none of Manuel's moves seemed to work.
- Veteran righthander Chan Ho Park, the Phillies most dominant multiple-innings reliever during the regular season, did not appear in the game.
- In the sixth inning, with two out and a runner on first, he pinch-hit Eric Bruntlett instead of Ben Francisco, who was 2-for-5 with a walk in his career off of Pettitte.
- In the ninth inning, he allowed the right-handed hitting Pedro Feliz to face Yankees set-up man Phil Hughes, rather than the left-handed hitting Greg Dobbs, whom the team said had shaken his flu bug and was available for work. Feliz grounded out. The next batter, Carlos Ruiz, hit a solo home run that proved to be meaningless.
For the first time in this series, the Yankees were clearly the better team. As a result, the Phillies trail 2-1.We have heard countless times about the mental fortitude that exists in the home clubhouse. On Sunday night, it will face perhaps it's biggest test yet.