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Posted: Sunday October 26, 2008 1:16PM; Updated: Sunday October 26, 2008 1:16PM
John Donovan John Donovan >
INSIDE BASEBALL

Can the Phils actually win the World Series hitting this way?

Story Highlights

The Phillies are hitting .061 in three games with runners in scoring position

Still, they lead the Rays 2-1 in the Series after a clutch 5-4 win in Game 3

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PHILADELPHIA -- The theory behind why some players hit well with runners in scoring position and some don't is that good hitters hit no matter what the situation. It's as simple as that. There is no magic "RISP" rag that players can rub onto their bats to make them hit when it counts. There is no clutch-hitting hormone that begins to flow in a hitter's brain when the proverbial ducks are on the pond.

If a player is a good hitter, he's generally pretty good with runners in scoring position. Which might lead the casual observer to believe, while watching the first three games of this sleep-deprived World Series, that the Phillies are really bad hitters. Historically bad.

Well, that wouldn't be the first faulty conclusion that someone has come to in this odd, yet somehow oddly endearing Series. No, as bad as Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard and Chase Utley and the rest of the Phillies have been so far in the Series hitting with runners in scoring position -- for the record, through three games, it's .061, and a lucky .061 at that -- many of them actually were fine at it during the regular season.

And that brings us around to the big question at hand: Can the Phillies -- who still lead the Rays in the best-of-seven Series, two games to one, despite their RISP troubles -- win the whole thing hitting like that?

(OK, there are many more questions than that in this weird World Series. Such as, "How can Major League Baseball, with a straight face, start a game at 10:06 p.m.?" And, "What is it exactly that Tampa Bay's Game 3 starter, Matt Garza, is wearing on his chin?" And then, "Did Rays manager Joe Maddon just use the word 'ameliorate' to a bunch of sports writers?")

Really, though: Can the Phillies, who host the Rays in Game 4 on Sunday night, actually win the World Series hitting .061 with runners in scoring position?

"We've got to do a better job executing," admitted shortstop Rollins after the Phillies' 5-4 win over the Rays in Game 3, another night filled with missed opportunities that, in the end, didn't come back to bite Philly. "But tonight, things worked out for us. A win cures a lot of things."

In Game 3, the Phillies found one way around their stumbles with runners on is to simply not wait for guys to get into scoring position. The Phils had three solo home runs Saturday. Works every time.

Still, if the Phillies hope to keep beating the Rays, you have to figure that they're going to need to knock in a few more of those men that they get on base. During the regular season, the Phillies weren't nearly this bad. They weren't great -- 15th in the majors, sixth in the National League -- but they were passable, hitting .263 with runners in scoring position. It's a lot better than .061.

"I think it's a matter of the guys [needing to relax], and definitely we've got to cut down on our swing some," manager Charlie Manuel said the other day. "We're swinging hard. That's a sign of trying too hard and trying to do too much."

Here's a short example of how not to do things, courtesy of the Phillies in Game 3:

• First inning, after Rollins (who hit .318 with RISP in the regular season) led off the first World Series game in Philadelphia since 1993 with a single and Jayson Werth walked, the runners moved up on a wild pitch by Garza. Utley (.271 with RISP in the regular season) promptly grounded out to first base. It scored Rollins, so it was a productive at-bat for Utley. But it's still a mark on the wrong side of this ledger.

• Then, that same inning, with Werth on third base, Howard (.320 with RISP in the regular season) struck out and Pat Burrell (.234) popped to center. The Phils were 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position five batters into the game.

• In the eighth, after Werth led off with a walk and stole second, Utley struck out, making it 0-for-4 for the Phils. And the only reason their mark didn't get worse was Werth was inexplicably picked off second base before Howard struck out to end the inning.

To that point in the Series, the Phillies were 1-for-32 with runners in scoring position (.031). The only hit was an infield single off the pitchers' glove that didn't even score a run. And then came the ninth inning of Game 3, in which the Phils found another way around their problems hitting with runners in scoring position.

A little bit of luck. And maybe a little divine intervention.

After a hit batter, a wild pitch, an error and a couple of intentional walks filled the bases with nobody out, catcher Carlos Ruiz -- who passes for a hitting hero in this Series, and who hit .240 with RISP during the regular season -- wound up with one of those big swings that Manuel was talking about, this one against a 95 mph fastball from Tampa Bay reliever Grant Balfour. He connected, too, with a so-called hit that traveled all of, oh, maybe 30 feet or so down the third-base line.

"When it came off his bat, we were just like, 'Awwwww,'" said Rollins. "But thank God for the rain, because it just hit and stayed on the ground."

It was the Phillies' first hit of the series with runners in scoring position that actually scored a run. And it was a game-winning hit at that.

"Did he get a hit for that?" Rollins asked afterward. When told that the official scorer indeed award Ruiz a hit -- rather than, say, scoring the play a fielder's choice when Rays third baseman Evan Longoria tried vainly to get the ball to home plate -- Rollins smiled. "It isn't always spectacular. But it works."

Whether that walkoff swinging bunt gets the Phillies untracked when it comes to runners in scoring position remains to be seen. But it has given the Phils a lead in the series, and it has shown that the Phillies are capable of hitting with runners in scoring position.

And in this Series, capable might just be enough.

"In the end," said Eric Bruntlett, who scooted down the line with Game 3's winning run, "all that matters is finding a way."

 
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