SAN FRANCISCO -- In professing his faith in Jimmy Rollins the other night, Charlie Manuel said ``I'll go down with you."
Down two games to one to the San Francisco Giants in the National League Championship Series after a 3-0 loss in Game 2, Manuel now faces another test of faith: Rather than utilize Roy Halladay's willingness and ability to pitch on short rest, he will give the ball to the well-rested but statistically less impressive Joe Blanton, as he planned to before the game.
``I've thrown Game Fours before, so it's nothing new," Blanton said before yesterday's loss squeezed the Phillies margin for error in this series.
Oh, yes it is. Blanton's Game 4 starts have come with the Phillies ahead in the series, not behind.
Whole different animal.
Oh, and the Phillies have never won a postseason series after dropping the first game.
One stat that is in Blanton' favor: Blanton finished the season with 13 consecutive starts without a loss, compiling a 6-0 record with a 3.24 earned run average.
Blanton will be opposed by San Francisco Giants 21-year-old lefthanded rookie Madison Baumgarner, who won the clinching game of the Giants National League Division Series against the Braves, allowing two earned runs in over six innings of work. Baumgarner was 7-6 during the regular season, but like Blanton, his best work came at the end.
As did that of Cole Hamels, who took a no-hitter into the fourth inning yesterday despite rarely getting his first pitch in for a strike. Giants starter Matt Cain routinely found the zone with his first pitch, but the Phillies had two baserunners on in both the third inning and fourth inning and produced nothing.
The Phillies were five-for-25 with runners in scoring position in their three-game sweep over the Reds. They were 0-for-18 before Placido Polanco singled in Roy Oswalt in the four-run seventh inning Sunday night. Rollins followed with a bases clearing double.
Today they were 0-for-5 over the six innings Hamels pitched, forcing the lefthander to try and be as untouchable as he was nine days ago against the Cincinnati Reds.
He wasn't. The Giants nicked away at Hamels in the fourth, as his control became a bigger issue. Edgar Renteria, like Cody Ross a career gnat to the Phillies, sliced a single to rightfield to begin the fourth. Freddy Sanchez sacrificed him to second. Buster Posey struck out on a 3-2 fastball up in the zone, but Hamels walked Burrell on five pitches, then fell behind Ross 2-1. Ross turned on the next pitch for s single down the leftfield line, Aubrey Huff found another hole between second and first to drive in Burrell and the Giants had a 2-0 lead.
Suddenly it felt like 2009 again.
Aaron Rowand, making his first postseason start, ripped a double to left to start the fifth, but Hamels retired the next two batters and appeared out fo further trouble when Freddy Sanchez shot a ball towards Utley at second. Utley never quite got in front of it, the ball hopped high and off his shoulder, and Rowand raced home with the Giants third run.
Utley was charged with an error that was later changed to a hit.
It seemed like a big run at the time. It wasn't, not with the way Cain was pitching, or the Phillies were hitting. They had three hits all game.
The Phillies were the team to beat this postseason because of their three marque starters and an offense that seemed to be awakening as the season ended. Those starters have been outpitched in two of the first three games, and that offense, save Jimmy Rollins' double the other night, has shown little signs of life.