IT'S A FUNNY THING about the Phillies: They have lived in the October cauldron for four seasons now but they have usually managed to avoid the worst of the heat.
The Phillies have front-run in almost every series in which they have played. The two series they lost - that first one against Colorado in 2007 and last year's World Series to the Yankees - were disappointments tempered by the reality that a lot had been accomplished along the way.
This series is different, though, different year, different expectations. Lose Game 1 - behind Roy Halladay, at home, when favored to win not only this series against the San Francisco Giants but to win the whole thing - and the temperature begins to rise. It is the simple reality.
The Phillies' response? Cool, surgical, persistent, adaptive.
For a lot of that, they can thank Roy Oswalt.
With Oswalt looking like Oswalt again on the mound, and with a sudden willingness to play small-ball and manufacture runs, and with slumping Jimmy Rollins providing the emphatic punctuation with a bases-loaded double off the rightfield wall in the seventh inning, the Phillies evened the National League Championship Series at a game apiece with a 6-1 victory.
"You've got a little more adrenaline going when you go out there," Oswalt said. "But you still have to treat it as a game, and that's what it is. You can't get caught up in the moment of trying to get the momentum back on your side. You have to pitch your game. From the beginning, I told myself, 'All you can give is 100 percent.' If it ain't good enough that night, go try to get it next time."
The Giants undoubtedly will leave town saying that they accomplished what they needed to accomplish in the first two games, which is true enough. But the Phillies, under pressure after Game 1, have grabbed this thing back. Confronted with their first Game 1 loss since that 2007 series against Colorado, they have regained, well, they have regained that look. You know, the one where they appear to be more machine than men - and more about wearing down the opposition than anything else.
"We were down in the series, but we weren't going to panic," Ryan Howard said.
The key to the thing was Oswalt, which everybody kind of understood all along. As soon as the pitching matchups for the series were set, the absolute importance of Game 2 just screamed at you from the page. The Phillies had not hit Jonathan Sanchez well at all, and it was likely going to be a long night against him. In response, Oswalt was going to have to be Oswalt again, and especially after his rusty outing in the first round of the playoffs against Cincinnati.
And, well, Oswalt gave the Phillies everything they needed, eight innings of three-hit baseball, to be specific. The only run he allowed was on a home run to Cody Ross, his third of the series. And what Oswalt did more than anything was build a calm framework on a tense night, a framework within which the Phillies' struggling offense could begin to do its business. That's true even if he did run through a stop sign in the seventh inning and score a frantic run.
"He had a little chip on his shoulder," Shane Victorino said of Oswalt. "I'm sure he wanted to come out and make a statement. I'm sure he was a little disappointed with his first outing. But that's Roy. He loves to win. He's a born winner."
The Phillies did not suddenly begin to tear the cover off the ball against Sanchez. But what they did was make him work and - don't tell anybody - actually did some small-ball manufacturing. They got a run in the first inning on an error and three walks. They got a second run in the fifth inning on a double by Victorino, a long fly ball to right by Chase Utley that moved Victorino to third, and a sacrifice fly by Placido Polanco. Then they blew it open in the seventh as they got into the Giants' bullpen, with Rollins rocketing the double that cleared the bases.
The result is that the Phillies look like themselves again. The heat and pressure did nothing but energize them. Their hands remain full but the machine is again operating.
And it was Roy Oswalt who calmly flipped the switch.
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