Myers puts Phils on NLCS doorstep
PHILADELPHIA -- The turning point? No, it wasn't Shane Victorino's jaw-dropping grand slam in the second inning. No, it wasn't Prince Fielder's feeble groundout in the eighth with two men on in a three-run game. No, here was the turning point of Philly's 5-2 Game 2 victory (Recap | Box Score): Starting pitcher Brett Myers -- at the plate -- staring down CC Sabathia during an epic at-bat in the fateful second inning, the white-towel waving fans roaring after every pitch. There was Myers, fighting off a killer 79-mph slider. There was Myers, swatting away a 97-mph heater. Finally, after nine pitches, there was the hurler with the .059 batting average watching a 96-mph fastball buzz below his knees for ball four. Four pitches later, Jimmy Rollins also walked. Four more pitches later, Sabathia hung an 82-mph slider over the plate, and Victorino launched it over the yellow W.B. Mason sign in left field. The faithful here, who haven't had anything to cheer about in October since 1993, exploded. Citizens Bank Park shook.
And so, the Brewers head home to Milwaukee down 0-2 after watching their invincible ace get lit up in his worst outing since he arrived in Milwaukee as The Savior in early July. There will be plenty of discussion over whether the Brewers have been reckless with their big lefty -- Tom Boswell of The Washington Post recently suggested that they are "exploiting" their ace -- but whether it was fatigue or nerves, Sabathia never looked comfortable on the mound, throwing just nine of 21 first-pitch strikes over his 98-pitch, 3 2/3-inning outting. Sabathia is not new to October meltdowns (he was lit up for eight runs in 4 1/3 innings of Game 1 of last year's ALCS against Boston). And on Thursday evening, he looked flustered in front of the raucous Philly mob, frequently pounding his first into his glove while continuously yakking at himself. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel's assessment: "He threw more changeups and breaking balls than I expected." He paused, then said with a grin, "That's all I'll say because he might pitch against us again."
A day after Cole Hamels' virtuoso performance in Game 1, Myers, meanwhile, was brilliant after a rocky first inning. ("I was a little excited before the game," Myers said.) He looked like the pitcher he was in August, when he was 4-1 with a 1.65 ERA and made teams look silly with a devastating curveball. The Phillies should be just as thrilled with what they saw out of their closer, Brad Lidge, one night after he left Phillies fans reaching for the Dramamine. Lidge pounded his fastball against Brewers hitters and worked a flawless 12-pitch inning. "Today was a little out of character for me," Lidge quipped after the game. He added, "I threw less sliders tonight. The fastball felt great coming out of my hand, so we just used it as much as we could." The dominant closer, at least for one night, was back.
Milwaukee's season now comes down to its Game 3 starter, Dave Bush, a Philly native who saw his first game at Veterans Stadium in 1986 at age 7. (He and Lenny Dykstra's son were a year apart in high school, where the two were good friends. "I remember being heartbroken at the end of the ['93] World Series," Bush said.) Before Game 2, Brewers skipper Dale Svuem called the former Wake Forest star "since the All-Star break, our second-best pitcher." And he's right: Bush, who posted a 3.27 ERA in August and September, is the Brewers' best pitcher not named CC. He has been tough at home (3.50 ERA over the season versus 5.15 on the road) and has better stuff than veteran Jeff Suppan, who was passed over for the start.
But the Phillies are at the doorstep of the NLCS even though their biggest boppers, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Pat Burrell, have gone a combined 2-for-15 in the series. They've seemingly barely broken a sweat in their two wins, thanks to a pair of back-to-back dominant outings from their starters -- a pair of performances that suddenly have the Phillies looking like true World Series contenders, a team with potentially lights-out pitching to complement the most potent offense in the National League. Said Lidge: "We want to take care of them as soon as possible. You don't want to give a team like that any life."