Burrell awakens to sink Brewers
MILWAUKEE -- The old skipper saw the new hero in the middle of the visitor's locker room at Miller Park. "Hey," Dallas Green growled as he grabbed Pat Burrell by the shoulder, moments after the Phillies' 6-2 in Game 4 of the National League Division Series. "I was waiting for that," Green said, then laughed. "I told everyone: I was waiting for that!"
That was Burrell's big afternoon: three hits, including two home runs. It was Burrell's third-inning blast that gave Philadelphia a 5-0 lead and all but punched Philly's ticket to their first NLCS since '93. These Phillies may have started the season as a homer-happy team that lived and died by its superstar sluggers, but after their impressive series win over the Brewers, they suddenly have the look of a team built for October. "I think that happened over the course of the season," says Phillies general manager Pat Gillick, who has now led four different teams (Phillies, Mariners, Blue Jays, and Orioles) to the LCS. "I think there's no doubt we have become more of a postseason-type team: winning with good pitching and good defense. Seems like on the offensive side, we like to score our runs in one inning and forget about it for a while."
Really, it was only a matter of time before the NL's biggest slugging offense came alive, as it did on Sunday afternoon. Entering the game, the Phillies had scored runs in just three of 27 postseason innings. Jeff Suppan was tapped for the Game 4 start because of his reputation as a Big Game Pitcher (he had a 3.00 ERA in nine postseason starts), but the matchup against the Phillies was a terrible one for the 33-year-old restauranteur. Suppan pitches to contact and is prone to giving up the long ball, and in Game 4 was facing a Philly offense -- ranked first in the NL during the regular season in home runs and second in runs and slugging percentage -- stacked with big time left-handed power. It was, however, right handers Burrell and Jayson Werth who delivered the knockout blows of the series, with back-to-back home runs that silenced the Miller Park faithful (and sent many checking the Packers score on their cell phones).
Brewers manager Dave Sveum will be second guessed for walking Ryan Howard (with a runner on third and two outs) in the game's fateful inning to pitch to Burrell, who in 28 plate appearances against Suppan had reached based 16 times. But, as Sveum said, the decision was a no-brainer. "The goal coming into this series is not let Howard hit two-pointers against you," Sveum reasoned. "It's not that difficult of a decision. Burrell came into the series hitting .170 against righties the last 30 days."
Burrell's hot bat will make it difficult for Joe Torre to give Howard the Bonds Treatment in the NLCS. The slugger stepped up to the plate 16 times in the Division Series and fives times he walked -- three times intentionally. The Phillies should be thrilled that they waltzed into the NLCS despite a quiet series from both their first baseman and Chase Utley (a combined 4-for-26). But the most important thing we learned from this series is that the Phillies can pitch, too. Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, and Game 4 starter Joe Blanton allowed a total of nine hits and three runs, while striking out 20 in a combined 21 innings. Rather than heading back to Citizens Bank Park for a Game 5, Philly can now start Hamels in Game 1 against the Dodgers.
Charlie Manuel's early thoughts on the series: "Of course they've got Manny Ramirez and they've been on a tear. And I think overall their pitching definitely has improved and they've got some of their pitchers back, but I think we can score runs on them. I think if our guys pitch the way they have here, especially Myers and Hamels, I don't see no reason in the world why we can't stay right with them."
Meanwhile, the party's over in Milwaukee, where a long winter awaits with CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets on their way out. Sveum says the NLDS taught him some lessons. "We live and by by the home run," said Sveum, whose Brewers scored nine runs over the four game set, "and hopefully we pop them when we get people on base. But once again, we scored on a home run and one other run. We've got to change that. We've got to start learning how to manufacture runs and do things and put the ball in play and have really good at bats going into next season."
For Philly, the party's just started, and the comparisons between the '80 Phillies and the '08 Phillies have begun. "I see a lot of similarities," says Green. "We were hungry, these guys are hungry. We've seen the last few days the pitching and the defense are there. We had [Steve] Carlton, they have Hamels. But there's no doubt: these guys are going to have to bring their A-game."