San Francisco Giants starter Matt Cain got the better of his matchup with the Phillies Cole Hamels, spearheading his team to a 3-0 victory. The Giants rode Cain's terrific effort and more clutch hitting from the red-hot Cody "Babe" Ross to grab a 2-1 lead in the NLCS.
After the NLCS pairing was set, there was much punditry about how the Giants were the only team in the National League—and perhaps all of baseball—who could match up with the Phillies’ Big Three.
After three games, these three points are clearly taking shape:
The Giants' Big Three have matched up well with the Phillies' vaunted H20 and most importantly have overmatched the Phillies supposedly high-powered offense.
While the top three starters are a close match for one another, this series may well be decided on the matchup of the #4 starters in Game Four tomorrow night—veteran Joe Blanton of the Phils versus rookie phenom Madison Bumgarner of the Giants.
The Phillies need to either cool off Cody Ross or have a hitter or two resemble the batting stroke of the amazing Babe Ross.
Matt Cain seemed to have the Phillies off-balance all game as he yielded just two hits in seven innings of work. The big right-hander did walk three and plunk two others but the Phillies never seemed to have him on the ropes.
The Phillies offense—which showed some signs of life in Game Two—did not manage to connect for any extra base hits. In the four innings that the Phillies did advance a runner into scoring position, Cain was able to get the needed strikeout (Raul Ibanez in the fourth) or groundouts (Chase Utley in the third and fifth; Shane Victorino in the seventh) to end the inning.
Meanwhile, Cole Hamels was pitching well but without any offensive support, or much defense for that matter. Hamels was perfect through three innings, but had the misfortune of facing Ross with runners on first and third and two outs in the fourth.
Ross put the Giants on the board with a sharp single to leftfield that scored Renteria, who had led off the inning with a single. Aubrey Huff then hit a grounder that just eluded second baseman Utley's outstretched mitt to plate Pat Burrell. It was clearly a hit, but a play that Utley often makes.
The Giants scored an insurance run in the fifth, although their 2-0 lead must have looked like 12-0 the way the Phillies were laboring at the plate. Erstwhile Phillie, Aaron Rowand—seeing his first action of the NLCS—laced a double to lead off the inning. After striking out Cain and retiring Renteria, Hamels induced Freddy Sanchez to hit a one-hopper that somehow fooled the normally reliable Utley. The ball bounced off Chase's right arm and into rightfield, allowing Rowand to score.
If 2-0 seemed like 12-0, 3-0 must have resembled a three touchdown lead. The Phillies were sent down 1-2-3 by reliever Javier Lopez in the eighth, and Jimmy Rollins almost took closer Brian Wilson over the wall in the ninth but had to settle for a long single. To typify the futility of the two-time defending NL champions on an otherwise beautiful day in San Francisco, Raul Ibanez followed Rollins' near-homer with a game-ending 4-6-3 double play ball.
So what does all of this mean? The Giants, to borrow tennis parlance, held serve in a game that was probably more important to them than to the Phils. Now, skipper Charlie Manuel will apparently take Joe Blanton (9-6, 4.82) out of storage to oppose the 21 year-old Bumgarner (7-6, 3.00), who won the NLDS clincher in Atlanta.
If the Phillies win Game Four, they tie the series at 2-2, and have their ace Roy Halladay for one more game in San Francisco before heading back home.
If the Giants win, they take a 3-1 lead with their ace Tim Lincecum pitching at home with a chance to shock the baseball world and win the series in five.
No matter what Blanton gives them in Game Four, Phillies Nation is praying that their offense--whether carried by Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth or their own version of Babe Ross--finally shows up.
Two notes on Matt Cain. Although he just turned 26, he is the longest-tenured Giant. He also entered the game with an 0-3 career record, and a high ERA versus the Phillies. So much for that precursor.
Barry Bonds got a huge ovation when he was introduced (in uniform) before the game. AT&T Park may be the only ballpark in America that Bonds would not have been booed off the field.
The last time the Phils were blanked in a postseason game was Game 5 of the 1983 World Series when Scott McGregor started for the Orioles.
For my money, the singing of both the national anthem and God Bless America (seventh inning stretch) were as lame and ineffective as the Fightins' bats.
Despite a great flyover and a majestic U.S. flag, someone named Ben Gibbard, from some indie band called Death Cab For Cutie, sleepsang his way through the national anthem, while Zooey Deschanel gave us a flaccid, brutal God Bless America.
A tough night for Phillies and music fans.