In the words of columnist Rich Hofmann, who had the misfortune of organizing the responsibilities of six Daily News writers during Game 1 of the National League Championship Series: "They're not going to do this to us all series, are they?"
Well, Rich, if the Phillies' four-game win over the Rockies in the NLDS and their perilous 8-6 win over the Dodgers last night are any indication, then the answer is yes. But this Phillies team has always made its identity in the ends and not the means, and while they may not be fans of the path of least resistance, they certainly made yet another postseason statement against the Dodgers.
Heading into this game, the numbers suggested that the NLCS might hinge on the performance of both teams' bullpens. Last night's action offered suggested there is some Truth in that sentiment, although not the type of Truth most predicted. Dodgers lefty specialist George Sherrill, who entered the night having allowed just two runs in 30 outings since a July trade with the Orioles, walked two batters and then allowed a three-run home run to Raul Ibanez in the eighth inning. It was a pivotal blast, particularly after the Dodgers rallied for two runs against Ryan Madson in the eighth. But Brad Lidge recorded his third save in the last three postseason games, and the Phillies walked away the winners of Game 1 in their fifth straight postseason series.
Here are some answers to some questions you might have:
1) Why didn't Manuel leave Chan Ho Park in to pitch the eighth? The veteran righthander was electric in his one inning of work, inheriting a man on second and then retiring Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Casey Blake in order. The fastball he used to strike out Kemp clocked in at 96 miles per hour, and his slider showed no rustiness from the 29-day layoff he had in between appearances (Park suffered a hamstring strain in mid-September and missed the NLDS). Furthermore, he had allowed just five hits in 26 career at-bats against the three Dodgers hitters due up in the eighth. After the game, Park, who threw 15 pitches in the seventh, said he felt like he could have pitched another inning. But Manuel said that with a four-run lead and Madson ready in the bullpen, he wasn't going to take any risks with Park.
"I wasn't going to leave him in there to throw 35, 40 pitches," Manuel said.
2) Ryan Howard, Mr. October, hit a two-run double off of Clayton Kershaw in the fifth -- Why was Kershaw still in there? Only Joe Torre knows -- giving him eight RBI this postseason and 18 in his career, a new Phillies record. Carlos Ruiz, call him Senor Octubre, went 2-for-3 and hit a three-run home run, giving him six RBI this postseason. Mike Schmidt had the previous career postseason RBI record with 16.
3) Manuel on Sherrill, whose 0.65 average was tops among NL lefty relievers: "That was the first time I've ever seen him not have his command." Interestingly enough, Ibanez is now 2-for-2 in his career off of Sherrill.
4) Just like they did in two regular season games against Clayton Kershaw, the Phillies line-up patiently waited for the talented yet erratic 21-year-old lefthander to self-destruct. With two out in the fourth inning, they were still waiting, as Kershaw retired 10 of the first 12 batters he faced, throwing first-pitch strikes to 10 of them while routinely getting ahead in the count.
But in an otherwise innocuous bat against Ryan Howard, things changed. First, Kershaw delivered a 2-2 fastball that Howard motioned at, prompting both Kershaw and first baseman Casey Blake to take a couple of steps toward the home dugout, thinking the inning was over. But home plate umpire Randy Marsh ruled Howard checked his swing, and third base umpire Ted Barrett concurred. Then, Kershaw delivered a good-looking 3-2 slider at Howard's knees, only to have Marsh call it a ball.
Ironically, it was one of the last good pitches Kershaw threw. Jayson Werth hit a hard line drive right at Manny Ramirez in left field to end the inning, but the Phillies went on to score five runs in the fifth, thanks in large part to a three-run home run by October-sensation Carlos Ruiz and three wild pitches by Kershaw that led to a two-run double by Howard.
5) As was the case in his outing in Game 2 of the NLDS, Hamels' final line looked a lot worse than his performance suggested. Unlike Kershaw, he appeared in control for the duration of his outing, with two significant exceptions: a 2-1 fastball that he left over the plate in the second inning, resulting in a leadoff home run by James Loney, and a 2-0 change-up that Manny Ramirez crushed for a two-run home run in the fifth.
On Loney's home run, catcher Carlos Ruiz set up outside, but Hamels left the ball in over the plate. Ramirez, meanwhile, never would have come to the plate in the sixth inning had Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley converted what at first looked to be a routine double play. But after Rollins fielded a one-out ground ball by Andre Ethier, he took a few precious seconds to dig the ball out of his glove for the flip to second, after which Utley rushed a throw that sailed over Howard's head at first.
Instead of an inning-ending double play, one run scored and Ramirez came to the plate with a runner on second base. Two pitches later, he blasted a 2-0 change-up into the bleachers in left field to cut the Phillies momentarily-comfortable lead to 5-4.
6) Pitching coach Rich Dubee told me before the game that he was comfortable using starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter-turned-reliver J.A. Happ as a situational lefty. That confidence came to roost in the sixth inning, when he brought Happ on to face Jim Thome with men on first and second and two out. Happ walked Thome, but got Rafael Furcal to ground out to end the threat and preserve a 5-4 lead.
7) If you had to give a game ball to one player, who would it be: Raul Ibanez, Carlos Ruiz, Chan Ho Park, Ryan Howard, J.A. Happ, Brad Lidge, or, as a collective, the Phillies bullpen?