It was the type of situation that is supposed to spell doom for the Phillies. With the game tied in the bottom of the 10th inning on July 9, Reds reliever Arthur Rhodes walked out to the mound to try to record the next three outs against a lineup that was supposed to be vulnerable against lefty relievers such as himself. Instead, he allowed a leadoff double to Raul Ibanez, then a two-run walkoff home run to Ryan Howard as the Phillies capped off a wild, 9-7, come-from-behind win that started with a six-run, game-tying rally in the ninth.
Three months later, Rhodes and the Phillies' lineup are back in the spotlight as the Reds visit Citizens Bank Park for today's start of the National League Division Series. This time, though, Rhodes has plenty of company. Joining him in the Reds bullpen are flame-throwing Cuban import Aroldis Chapman and rookie starter-turned-reliever Travis Wood. Together, their primary goal is shutting down Howard, Ibanez and fellow lefty Chase Utley.
"That's going to be the thing," Howard said yesterday after the Phillies' workout at Citizens Bank Park. "Myself, Chase, Raul - we know that teams are going to throw a lot of lefties at us. We have to be ready to try to contribute the best we can when we're facing those guys. We may not be able to get big hits every single time, but we can try to work good at-bats off lefties. Work a walk. Get a base hit. Trying to see as many pitches as we can, so maybe the next guy coming up can get a better read."
They had mixed results last season. Against the Yankees in the World Series, the Phillies went 0-for-8 with five strikeouts against lefty specialist Damaso Marte. Four of those at-bats, and three of the strikeouts, came with runners in scoring position. They had better success against lefty Phil Coke, who allowed an RBI double to Howard in Game 1 and home runs to Utley and Ibanez in Game 5.
This series, they will look to replicate the success they had against Rhodes during the regular season. On June 29, Rhodes allowed three runs without recording an out as the Phillies pulled out a 9-6 victory in the 10th inning. Two of the biggest hits during that rally were a leadoff double by Howard and an RBI double by Ibanez.
Still, Rhodes is one of the NL's top relievers. He held lefties to a .214 batting average with three home runs in 84 at-bats, and was even better against righties (.182, one home run in 110 at-bats). Wood, meanwhile, took a perfect game into the ninth inning against the Phillies on July 10 and finished the regular season holding lefties to a .146 average and .446 on-base plus slugging percentage.
Chapman, who signed with the Reds this year after defecting from Cuba, has never faced the Phillies. The 22-year-old throws a fastball that sits around 100 miles per hour (he hit 105 on the radar gun this season). Although he has appeared in only 15 games since his call-up in August, Chapman has pitched well, posting a 2.03 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings.
Lefthanded pitching isn't the kryptonite it once was for the Phillies. As a team, they actually hit better against lefties (.269 average, .767 OPS) than righties (.256/.736) this season. Howard hit .264 with 12 home runs in 193 at-bats against them after hitting .207 with six home runs in 2009.
"There's been patches when you feel even more comfortable hitting against lefties than righties at times," Howard said. "That's from seeing them a lot. I'm sure we'll see a bunch of lefties coming out of the bullpen."
Catcher Carlos Ruiz and lefty reliever J.C. Romero both worked out yesterday afternoon and were proclaimed "good to go" by manager Charlie Manuel. Ruiz was hit with a pitch on the left elbow during the Phillies' 8-7 loss to the Braves on Sunday, which caused considerable pain and swelling. Romero left the same game with stiffness in his lower back that he blamed on his sciatic nerve.
The right foot
The Phillies have not lost the first game of a playoff series since 2007, going 6-0 over the last two seasons. The performance in opening games is a big reason why they have advanced to the last two World Series.
"I think that we understand how important the first games, especially in a five-game series, are," Manuel said. "And I think the fact that we were successful in the last 2 years, I think that helps us."
The Phillies opted to keep 10 pitchers on their NLDS roster, which enabled them to carry seven bench players, including rookie outfielder Domonic Brown and veteran lefty pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs. Righthanders Kyle Kendrick, who started 31 games, and Danys Baez did not make the cut, although they will travel with the team . . . The national anthem will be performed by country singer Catherine Raney, cousin of Tim McGraw . . . Former Phillies lefty Scott Eyre, a member of the World Series teams in 2008 and 2009, will throw out the first pitch . . . John Hirschbeck will be the crew chief, backed by Bruce Dreckman, Sam Holbrook, Ed Rapuano, Gary Cederstrom and Rob Drake. *