Philadelphia Phillies' Best Team Ever Heads Home for a Long, Cold Winter
Without the benefit of a Farmer's Almanac or sophisticated meteorological computer modeling, it is clear that it will be a long, cold winter in Philadelphia.
The San Francisco Giants ensured that when they defeated the Philadelphia Phillies last night, wresting away the National League Pennant that the Phillies had held for two years. Regrettably, the Phillies helped the Giants' cause, continuing their trend of failing to generate runs in the postseason.
Last season's playoffs star hitter Ryan Howard stood frozen, unable to pull the trigger on a Brian Wilson 3-2 cutter that barely touched the bottom edge of the strike zone. After a pregnant pause that suspended an entire fanbase, home plate umpire Tom Hallion rung up Howard to end the Phillies' two-year NL reign.
That strikeout, which left two runners stranded, will be replayed for generations to come. It aptly symbolizes the Phillies' disappointing 2010 postseason performance.
Despite their high profile and seemingly high power offense, the Phillies simply could not push runs across the plate. They could not come through with big hits or even score runners from third. All they needed to do was put a ball in play, and they failed.
The night started with great promise, as the Phillies seemed to finally find their missing mojo. Chase Utley's ringing double into the right field corner and Jayson Werth's warning track sacrifice fly gave them a 2-0 lead in the first.
Then, it was radio silence the rest of the way. The Phillies reverted back to 2010 form, unable to push another run across the dish with the entire season on the line.
The first inning evoked deja vu that hearkened back to the 2008 and 2009 championship teams. It appeared as if the bats had broken out of their slumber and the Phillies were primed to play to expectations.
2010 postseason reality quickly kicked back in, however, when a "shoulda-woulda-coulda" top half of the third allowed the Giants to even the score. Utley whiffed on grounder that appeared within his reach. Shane Victorino couldn't quite hang on to make a Willie Mays-esque catch. Placido Polanco threw away a swinging bunt.
Then, a promising bottom half of the inning began with a walk and yet another hit batter. After Utley flipped the ball back to the mound after it drilled him just below the neck, Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez went ballistic.
Isn't the batter who took the heater in the spine the one entitled to be annoyed?
Sanchez's actions touched off a bench-clearing scrum that allowed valuable time for Jeremy Affeldt to get loose in the pen. After the field cleared, Bruce Bochy replaced the rattled Sanchez with Affeldt, who promptly extinguished the rally.
The Giants' hurlers worked themselves into trouble over the balance of the game, but Phillies hitters could never cash in.
The Phillies seemed ready to break through with two outs in the fifth, when Howard lined a double to left center with Rollins on first. Third base coach Sam Perlozzo somewhat shockingly held Rollins on what would have been a close play--one in which the speedy shortstop typically crosses the plate with the certainty of death and taxes.
In the sixth, the Phils were knocking on the door again when Raul Ibanez doubled to left and was moved over by a Carlos Ruiz bunt. After working a 2-0 count, pinch hitter Ben Francisco missed a couple hittable pitches before taking a called third strike. The looping curve ball seemed to be high and wide, but as Howard discovered later, with two strikes, swinging at anything close was advisable in this game.
After both teams took turns leaving men on base for a long stretch, Juan Uribe jumped on Ryan Madson's first pitch fastball with two outs in the eighth and lofted a high fly ball to right that had just enough carry to reach the seats. The Citizens Bank Park crowd was suddenly silenced as the Giants took a 3-2 lead.
Bochy called on Thursday's losing pitcher Tim Lincecum. After surrendering singles to Victorino and Ibanez with one out, his night was done. Brian Wilson trotted in with his crazed closer act and got extremely lucky when Carlos Ruiz lined into a double play.
Brad Lidge loaded the bases in the ninth but got Wilson to bounce out to maintain the one run deficit. The stage was set for one last ditch effort to rally to keep the Phillies season alive.
With one out, Rollins walked, but it was erased on Polanco's fielder's choice. Utley worked another walk, putting the Phillies 2010 season into the hands of their cleanup hitter, who had yet to record an RBI in either playoff series.
Howard lingered in disbelief after being rung up, while Wilson celebrated himself with his signature ritual. Giants players rushed to the center of the field to celebrate their large upset and a trip to the "Fall Classic."
The winningest team in baseball, the odds-on favorite and the Phillies' most talented team ever, had fallen short of its goal and expectations.
A season so full of promise was prematurely over. A marvelously talented and highly appealing team was exiting the big stage before the final act.
All that remains is a cruel winter of wondering what went wrong and what could have been for the Phillies players, coaches, front office, and fans.
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