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NLDS: Rocktober, Baby
Of the 21 teams that have lost the first two games of a best-of-five series at home, only one ever came back to win the series -- the 2001 New York Yankees, who rallied to beat the Oakland A’s. Make that one out of 22 teams, as the 2007 Phillies joined that list last night by getting swept by the upstart Colorado Rockies.
Proving once and for all that the Coors Field humidor has changed the face of Colorado baseball, Phillies starter Jamie Moyer and Rockies rookie Ubaldo Jimenez were locked in a scoreless duel through four and a half innings last night. With one out in the bottom of the fifth, Rockies catcher and eighth-place hitter Yorvit Torrealba singled off Moyer and was bunted to second by Jimenez. That brought would-be series MVP Kazuo Matsui (there are no official MVPs in the Division Series) to the plate with two outs. Matsui lifted a flare to the left field gap, but left fielder Pat Burrell took a dreadful route to the ball, cutting in too sharply and reaching out and falling to his left as the ball skipped by him to the wall. Torrealba scored and Matsui had a triple. The ball might have dropped in front of Burrell even if he had taken a better route, and Moyer got Troy Tulowitzki to pop out to strand Matsui at third, but with the catcher Torrealba running, there’s a chance that Burrell could have kept the run from scoring, or even thrown Torreabla out at home had he kept the ball in front of him. Instead, the Rockies led 1-0 and needed just nine outs to win the series.
Jimenez had been spectacular up to that point, allowing just a first-inning single to Ryan Howard and a pair of walks, retiring 11 straight at one point, and facing the minimum after the Howard single, thanks to an inning-ending double play in the fifth. One of Jimenez’s weaknesses, however, is an occasional loss of control, and Jimenez’s string of 11 straight retired ended when he walked Carlos Ruiz in the fifth inning. In the top of the sixth, Jimenez started Moyer out 3-0 before pouring in strike one and watching Moyer top what would have been ball four to first base for the first out. Jimenez then walked Jimmy Rollins, who promptly stole second, then walked Chase Utley.
With Rollins’ successful steal of second, Torrealba had failed to throw out 33 of the last 35 men who had attempted to steal on him. Trailing 0-1 with a pair of excellent baserunners on first and second (Rollins had stolen 41 bases in 47 attempts on the season, Utley was nine for ten), Jimenez struggling to find the strike zone, and just one out in the inning, the double steal was in order in the hope of getting Rollins to third so that the game could be tied on a productive out from Burrell. If nothing else, Burrell, who drew 114 walks during the regular season, should have been looking to work the suddenly wild Jimenez into a favorable count and perhaps load the bases for Howard.
As Burrell strode to the plate, Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca visited the mound and Jeremy Affeldt and Ryan Speier began to get loose in the Rockies’ bullpen. Jimenez was officially on the ropes, the Phillies’ season had life.
Jimenez’s first pitch to Burrell, a fastball in on the hands, would have been ball one, but Burrell, perhaps trying too hard to compensate for his misplay in the previous half inning, swung and popped the pitch up to shallow left field. Two outs. Rollins still on second. Jimenez regrouped and got Howard to ground out to end the inning, and, though Shane Victorino would homer on a hanging slider to tie the game in the next inning, the Phillies never appeared as close to a victory as they did in the sixth inning, and the last eight men the Phillies sent to the plate were retired in order by the stellar Colorado bullpen.
The Rockies broke the tie in the eighth with three straight singles off lefty J.C. Romero. Righty pinch-hitter Jeff Baker delivered the decisive blow to score Garrett Atkins with the series-winning run.
Despite being a Rockies fan, Bugs and Cranks’ Mark Townsend also saw Game 3 as a missed opportunity for Philadelphia:
Baker’s heroics were undoubtedly aided by Charlie Manuel’s inexplicable decision to leave his lefty, J.C. Romero, in to pitch to him. There are few things I can tell you for sure about Jeff Baker as a hitter, one of those few things is that he hits 50 points higher against lefties for his career. I’m a firm believer that playing the percentages is overrated. However, that didn’t seem like a good time to challenge them.
The big story in Philadelphia this morning is the failure of the Phillies offense, which was the best in the National League during the regular season, but scored just eight runs in the three-game series and hit a collective .172/.274/.366. Five of the top stories in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s sports section this morning either reference or are entirely about the Phillies’ offensive failings, though Up in the Rockies’ Tom Stephenson points out that, "the Phillies offense didn’t go completely silent; they hit five homers in the three-game series. The only problem for them was that all five of the homers came with nobody on base, and they accounted for five of the eight runs the Phillies scored in the series."
Ruiz was Philadelphia best hitter in the series, going 3 for 9 with a double and a walk. Howard was the only other Phillie with three hits, but he had three more at-bats than Ruiz, drew no walks, and struck out seven times, going down looking against Manny Corpas in the ninth inning of each game. Ruiz’s double and Rollins’ triple, both of which came in the second inning of Game 2, were the only Philadelphia extra-base hits that came with men on base (in fact, the only other extra-base hits by the Phillies in the entire series were those five solo homers). Those two hits gave the Phillies their only lead of the series, which lasted all of one inning.
The flip side of that is the tremendous performance of the Rockies’ pitching staff, which had a 2.33 ERA and allowed just 16 hits while striking out 26 in 27 innings. While Matsui, who went 5 for 12 with a double, two triples, and a grand slam, was the individual star of the series, the Rockies pitchers are the reason their team will make its first-ever appearance in the National League Championship Series, where they’ll face another young, underrated, largely home-grown team from the NL West, the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Beer Leaguer’s J. Weitzel is gracious in defeat, and Jonk at The Good Phight is already planning next year’s roster, but I’ll give the final word to Bad Altitude's Mark T.R. Donohue, who was at Coors Field last night, broom in hand, and suggests Gogol Bordello’s "Steart Wearing Purple" as the official theme song of Rocktober.
posted by SI.com | View comments |
Thanks for writing an article about the Phillies' failures. We sure haven't read any of those.
Thanks for writing an article about the Phillies' failures. We can NEVER read too many of those! :)
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