Ryan Howard and Yorvit Torrealba have at least one thing in common.
Neither can get the ball down to second in time, or with reasonable accuracy.
The Phillies took advantage of Torrealba’s miserable steal numbers in Game 1, swiping three of four bags against the Colorado catcher. In a bit of irony, Howard was the only one thrown out. And that includes a successful steal by Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee.
In the first inning of Game 2 though, the Rockies took advantage of the scouting report on Howard – which would note that he struggles to pull the ball from his glove on pickoffs, or double-clutches the throw.
He’s also been known to sail them into centerfield.
So after Carlos Gonzalez led off the game with a single, he grabbed a big lead and dared Phillies starter Cole Hamels to pick him off.
Hamels obliged, but Howard’s methodical throw, and double-clutch, allowed Gonzalez to easily beat his throw to second. When the ball was thrown back to Hamels, he snapped it into his glove in disgust.
A note to Hamels: Part of being an ace is being unflappable. It’s handling the twists and turns of the game by stepping up your game, not showing up your teammates when they make a mistake. Howard’s power has covered for your mediocre starts plenty of times. Even if your display wasn’t meant as a slight to him, it certainly looked that way to any fan watching.
Gonzalez was then sacrificed to third by Dexter Fowler, then scored when Todd Helton nubbed a ground ball up the first line.
Howard came close to cleaning up his mistake in the bottom of the inning when he drilled a long drive to left with a man on that curled foul. He subsequently struck out.
The run was the only one scored for the first three innings, before Hamels hung a pitch that – you guessed it – Torrealba deposited into the leftfield seats with two outs and one on. Colorado led, 3-0, and went on to a dramatic 5-4 win that evened the National League Division Series at one game apiece. Game 3 is Saturday in Denver.
After Hamels allowed another run in another long inning, he was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the fifth and then headed to be with his wife who had gone into labor.
Rockies starter Aaron Cook, who has pitched brilliantly in two starts since missing most of September with a right shoulder strain, allowed baserunners in each of the first five innings, but none reached second.
That changed in the sixth. Shane Victorino chopped a grounder that forced an errant throw by Rockies second baseman Clint Barnes. Chase Utley laced a 1-1 pitch to right, Howard followed with a double down the rightfield line and Cook headed to the dugout.
Colorado reliever Jose Contreras struck out Jayson Werth, but Raul Ibanez spanked the first pitch he saw into centerfield, scoring both Utley and Howard, and the Phillies trailed by just a run.
Pitching in relief of Hamels, Joe Blanton retired the Rockies in order in the fifth. But Ryan Spillborghs led off the seventh with a double down the leftfield line that just eluded a sprawling Ibanez. Blanton then tried to get Spillborghs at third when Barnes bunted, but the throw was late.
That opened up a huge inning. Blanton was replaced by J.A. Happ. Happ was hit on the knee by pinch-hitter Seth Smith’s liner, loading the bases and leading to his exit. Scott Eyre came in to face Carlos Gonzalez, who was 3-for-3 in the game.
Eyre struck out Gonzalez on three pitches, then got Dexter Fowler in a 1-2 hole before leaving a meaty pitch that Fowler lifted to right, scoring Spillborghs from third.
Eyre went 0-2 on Todd Helton, then got him to pop up, limiting the damage to one run.
The Rockies loaded the bases with one out again in the eighth against Brett Myers, but Myers induced a force to home. Antonio Bastardo, one of the surprise roster additions, then struck out Jason Giambi to end that.
Jayson Werth’s two-out, eighth-inning solo shot pulled the Phillies to 5-4.
In the ninth, Rockies closer Huston Street got pinch-hitter Ben Francisco on a groundout, then walked Matt Stairs on a full count. With only Paul Bako left on the bench, Cliff Lee pinch-ran for Stairs. Miguel Cairo, another surprise roster addition, flied to right.
Jimmy Rollins singled to right. Lee stopped at second. That brought Shane Victorino, already with three hits in the game, to the plate.
Victorino lined to second. And the Phillies, who had not lost a home playoff game since the last time they met this team in the postseason, had lost homefield advantage.