Phillies-Rockies: Plate Discipline Deserts Colorado in Game One
They say that sometimes you can predict the outcome of a baseball game strictly from the first batter to take his hacks.
When Dexter Fowler swung at Cliff Lee's first pitch of the game, flying out weakly to right field, it was a sad portent of things to come for the red-hot Rox in their eventual 5-1 drubbing at the hands of the NL East Champions.
Though the outcome does not seem so terrible when glancing from afar, the Rockies needed a two-out ninth inning double from Troy Tulowitzki to avoid the shutout, but still could not keep Cliff Lee from tossing a complete game in his first career postseason appearance.
Through nine nearly spotless frames, Lee needed just 113 pitches to retire the Rockies while allowing just six hits.
The former Indians ace retired 16 batters in a row at one point, and 21 of 22 before Carlos Gonzalez laced a ninth-inning single.
Now, Cliff Lee is a quality pitcher, one of the best in the game judging from the 2008 AL Cy Young Award on his mantle, but the Rockies' gameplan against the southpaw left more than a little to be desired.
Think Napoleon's approach before the Battle of Waterloo.
Lee is one of the better strike-throwers in the game, racking up just 10 walks in 79.67 innings in his time in the National League, but the difference between Lee (1.67 BB/9, .261 BA against) and, say, Carl Pavano (1.79 BB/9, .294 BA against), is that Lee throws quality strikes, especially for strike one.
Though Lee might start you off with a fastball, it's not of the "get me over" variety. It's surgically placed on the corners of the plate, daring opposing batters to try to steal a base hit on his pitch.
Talk about an exercise in futility.
Lee pinpointed his fastball, cutter, and curveball all day, leaving the Rockies batters befuddled, flailing at pitches early in counts, and leaving Lee's total pitches low enough to let him finish his playoff debut.
The problem with the Rockies' swing-first-ask-questions-later approach is two-fold.
One, the Rockies have struggled against left-handed pitchers in 2009, especially on the road (an 8-16 record in the regular season), and the Phillies boast two of baseball's best in Lee and Game Two's starter Cole Hamels.
And two, the Phillies bullpen has had some major issues down the stretch, with their situation at closer continuing to be decided on a game-by-game basis.
With the Rockies fishing for Lee's first pitch on a consistent basis in Game One, the Phillies' strong suit (starting pitching) was able to supersede their glaring weakness (bullpen), thus leaving the Rockies in a hole too deep to claw their way out of.
Ubaldo Jimenez cruised through the first four frames before experiencing his usual One Bad Inning in the fifth, departing three batters into the sixth inning.
Brad Hawpe looked like a fresh-faced rookie, looking particularly uncomfortable in his at-bats against Lee, and also committing an ugly error in the fifth frame.
The Rockies need to show a more disciplined approach against Hamels in tomorrow afternoon's affair, or they might find themselves on the wrong end of an 0-2 deficit heading back to Coors Field.
A win tomorrow, and the momentum in the series shifts back towards Colorado, but a loss could nearly put the kibosh on the Rockies' hopes of advancing in the postseason.
And that's an outcome that nobody in a Rockies uniform wants to admit to after just one postseason affair.
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