For a good portion of his abbreviated Game 2 performance, Roy Oswalt seemed as out of sync as the golfing-knickers uniform he favors.
In a ballpark where he's been king of the hill, against a team he's ruled malevolently, Oswalt never found a comfort zone and occasionally couldn't locate the strike zone either.
The Phillies righthander - 9-0 lifetime at Citizens Bank Park, 23-3 against Cincinnati in his career - sputtered against the Reds, allowing single runs in four of the five innings he lasted. And the lone inning the Reds didn't score off him began with a pair of singles.
Oswalt, of course, was saved from his first postseason defeat when the Phils rallied from a 4-0 deficit to out-ugly Cincinnati, 7-4.
It was a rare off night for Oswalt as a Phillie.
To be fair, Roy Halladay didn't do any favors for his H2O mates - Oswalt and Cole Hamels. How do you follow the second no-hitter in postseason history?
Whatever drama lingered from Halladay's masterpiece dissipated quickly. It took Oswalt just four pitches for Oswalt to surpass Halladay's hit and run totals.
Reds leadoff hitter Brandon Phillips belted his fourth pitch into the left-field stands on a wayward, 2-1 slider.
Oswalt appeared to be having trouble spotting his fastball, and his slider and change-up were spotty. The Reds, glad to see anyone but Halladay, pounced on Oswalt early. And only his southern-fried stubbornness kept the Phils in striking range.
When sportswriters had pressed him about his domination of the Reds, Oswalt tried to explain that none of his 23 wins had come against this 2010 version.
In fact, two of those three defeats came earlier this season when he was still in Houston, 4-2 on April 29 and 7-0 on July 24, his last Astros appearance.
"The team changes so much," Oswalt said Wednesday. "There's really no way to explain it from when I first started. There's not a guy left on that team, I don't guess, that played then. So it changes so much. . . . A few times I actually gave up a few runs against them and my team came back and scored me a few. I pitched on the days that we scored some runs and some days I was able to shut them out. Really wasn't one direct thing, I don't guess."
Oswalt, and several other pitchers on this night when the ball seemed as hard to handle as a Tony Luke's cheesesteak, didn't get much help from a Phils defense that had been the best in baseball through the second half of the season.
Chase Utley's two throwing errors in the second, and Oswalt's walk of Drew Stubbs, got the Reds a second run in the second inning.
It looked like his night would be nowhere near as long as his trademark red socks when he allowed singles to Phillips and Orlando Cabrera, the first two Reds hitters in the third. But for the only time all night, he resembled the pitcher who had the lowest ERA in the National League after Aug. 1 (1.41), getting Joey Votto on a long fly ball to left and then striking out Scott Rolen and Laynce Nix.
But Jay Bruce led off the fourth with a home run into the upper deck in right field. And in the fifth, a Phillips double, sacrifice bunt, and Votto's sacrifice fly made it 4-0.
It was a performance that belied his mastery in South Philadelphia.
"I don't know. For some reason the mound here, the way the park is set up, I feel like I'm standing next to the hitter when I'm throwing," he said. "Feels like - it don't feel like the regular 60 feet. Feels like I'm throwing 55 feet.
"You go into some parks and you feel like you're throwing long toss to the catcher, and you go into some parks and you feel like it's a little bit shorter. And this park feels like it's a little bit shorter."
Unfortunately for him, what was shorter Friday was his outing, the five innings equaling his shortest start as a Phillie - and that Sept. 28 game at Washington was a tune-up.
But a shot of him in the Phils' dugout afterward revealed a contented look, as if he knew what was coming.
"When I got over here I felt like these guys can score three or four any time in the game," he said. "If I can just stay in the game long enough and outpitch the other starter, I feel like I can win the game every time out."
And even sometimes when he doesn't outpitch the other guy.
Contact Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.