All season the Phillies have lived and died by the long ball. The post-season has been no different. Trailing 2-0 in the sixth inning of the NLCS opener, the Phils capitalized on a throwing error by Rafael Furcal to put Shane Victorino on second base with no outs. Chase Utley followed with a two-run shot to right centerfield and two batters later Pat Burell hit what turned out to be the game-winning home run to left.
The Phiilies continue to score their post-season runs in single innings, but the score-keepers only care about the final totals, not how they got there. Who's to say it would be preferable to score runs by other means when the Phils pushed this year's post-season record to 4-1? As Cole Hamels put it, the game of baseball is about home runs these days.
Utley had seen his share of post-season struggles prior to last night's game, but one sensed a new urgency when he singled to centerfield in the first inning. Utley may betray few outward emotions, but there can be little doubt he deeply understood how momentus the occasion was for him, playing for the NL championship against the team he rooted for as a boy, the team that also tried to sign him out of high school. So, when he came up in the sixth with Victorino on second he was looking to move the runner over to third. Utley rarely swings at the first pitch, but he jumped on a flat sinker from Derek Lowe and moved the runner right past third to go. While he was at it, he came along for the ride. Much is always expected of Utley. More often than not, he delivers.
Burrell, who struggled mightily down the stretch of the regular season and in the first three games of the playoffs versus Milwaukee has now hit three home runs in his last two games, two of them game winners. His turn-around could not have come at a more crucial moment for him or his team. If these playoff games are to be his last in a Phillies uniform, Burrell seems intent on creating positive lasting memories for all parties.
The game began on a shaky note for Phils' starter Cole Hamels, who surrendered a first inning run on a booming double by Manny Ramirez that hit the most distant part of fair territory in the Bank without clearing the fence. His double high off the centerfield wall was hit much further than either Utley's or Burrell's home runs, but those are the breaks. Hamels would surrender one more run in the fourth inning in going seven strong innings. Ryan Madson pitched the ninth and Brad Lidge closed the game out. Both relief pitchers gave up some hard or long outs, but they got the job done.
* * * * * * * *
The Fox team of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver is truly awful. I tried turning off the sound and putting on 1210 radio, but there was a significant delay between the video on the television and the audio on the radio so I gave up and largely left the sound off. When I did occasionally lift the MUTE restriction, I was treated to things like McCarver saying Utley came up in the sixth guessing first-pitch fastball (it was a sinker by all accounts including, significantly, the guy who threw it) and in the eight inning his announcement that Ryan Madson had "the best changeup on the team" after a fellow named Hamels had just thrown seven innings filled with pretty fair ones himself.
Buck, meanwhile, makes a home run sound just slightly more exciting than draining pasta.
Their routine makes me long for the TBS team that called the NLDS against Milwaukeee. (See post below.)
* * * * * * * *
We are going to here a lot of complaints about Citizens Bank Park this series and beyond, no doubt many emanating from the West Coast in the next few days. It is worth remembering that the visiting team is entitled to a minimum of 27 outs in all games played there and it's up to them to avoid hitting as many of them to centerfield as they can. In the first inning, as noted above, a ball was hit to the deepest part of the field while in the final inning, at least two balls were hit more or less to the deepest parts of the park. Mssrs. Utley and Burrell had the presence of mind to pull the ball in their opportunities.