ST. LOUIS – They scored two quick runs. Their lucky squirrel re-appeared. Fortune offered itself to the Phillies in Game 4 of the National League Division Series last night, chased them a bit, but like that crazy squirrel, they kept running from it.
David Freese knocked in four of the Cardinals' five runs with a double and home run off Phillies starter Roy Oswalt, and St. Louis starter Edwin Jackson recovered from the shakiest of starts to pitch six strong innings, propelling St. Louis to a 5-3 victory and a Game 5 showdown with the Phillies Friday night at Citizens Bank Park.
That’s twice now in this series that the Phillies have offered one of their aces a lead to work with. And they’ve lost both games, scoring just twon runs after the first inning in both.
Do they relax? After all the heartache of last year, and the previous one?
And yet there does seem to be a lack of focus in their at-bats, and discipline.
The Phils struck early, scoring two in the first inning. They might have scored more if not for yet more dubious umpiring. Jimmy Rollins bounced a double over the centerfield wall on Jackson’s first pitch. Chase Utley ripped a triple just inside the first-base bag and Hunter Pence plated him with a sharp single to left. But after Ryan Howard patiently worked from an 0-2 count to full, home plate umpire Angel Hernandez rung him up on a pitch that looked outside and second-base umpire Chad Fairchild called out Pence after he clearly slid under the tag. One pitch, two calls, and a big first inning had been averted.
The Cardinals got one back immediately on Lance Berkman’s two-out double into the gap. His fourth hit in six at-bats against Oswalt -- his good friend and ex-teammate -- scored Skip Schumacker, who continued his torrid hitting in this series with a one-out single. Berkman reached third after Shane Victorino slipped as he turned to throw back to the infield. But Matt Holliday, starting in leftfield for the first time in this series, grounded to Rollins, and the Phillies held their lead.
Both pitchers settled down in the second, retiring hitters quickly. Jackson struck out Ibanez, retired Polanco on a weak popup and struck out Ruiz. Oswalt struck out Yadier Molina and David Freese, then induced a groundout from Jon Jay. Same for the third, both men surrendering obligatory singles to each team’s hottest hitter (Rollins, Schumacker), then stranding them at first.
That all changed in the Cardinals' fourth. Spooked by Berkman’s success perhaps, Oswalt issued a five-pitch walk to him, then sailed an inside pitch off the hands of Holliday to put two on with no out. Molina advanced Berkman to third with a drive that Pence caught on the run in deep right, and Oswalt had an escape hatch with David Freese at the plate.
But Freese ripped an offspeed pitch to the leftfield corner, scoring both runners and pushing the Cardinals ahead 3-2 and underlining the effect iffy umpiring can have on any series, and especially a short one. Jackson allows an average of more than one hit per inning, but only once in his last six regular-season starts of this season had he allowed more than two runs.
Still, it was only 3-2 when the squirrel re-appeared near the Cardinals dugout in the fifth inning. ``Rocky’’ streaked across home plate as a pitch from Roy Oswalt was delivered to Schumacker. Already with two hits in the game and five in seven at-bats during the series, Schumacker flew out on the next pitch, pulled a hamstring running to first, and was then removed in favor of Ryan Theriot as the Cardinals took the field.
Utley walked to begin the Phillies sixth. With him running, Pence slapped a ball to deep short that would have been a tight play at first. But when Utley kept running towards third, Pujols charged toward the throw and gunned the Phillies second baseman down at third. At the very least, a runner in scoring position was removed. Ahead 3-0, Ryan Howard chased a low 3-1 pitch, then flew out to center. Shane Victorino grounded out to end the inning.
Howard had one more chance to be the hero in his hometown, coming to plate as the tying run after the Phillies had pushed across a run in the eighth. Facing Marc Rzepczynski, Tony LaRussa’s last available lefty, Howard went down on three straight pitches.
So we’re back to Philadelphia for a deciding fifth game, a game that will pit the Cardinals ace, Chris Carpenter, on normal rest against the Phillies ace, Roy Halladay, on extra rest. Cliff Lee will also be available, and Ryan Madson will again be capable of two innings of work. Home field, extra rest – it’s a slight advantage for the Phillies.
But nothing you can’t squirrel out of.