If there was ever a game where home field advantage was at its best, it was last night on a surprisingly warm, October night in Philadelphia. The Phillies didn't hit all that well, but did what they have done all year: hit home runs and used their home field to their advantage.
I think the biggest moment of the game, that is going rather unnoticed, occurred during the first inning after Andre Ethier ripped a double to left center field. Manny Ramirez stepped up and crushed Cole Hamels' fastball to deep center.
Manny thought it was gone, Ethier thought it was gone, the Dodgers thought it was gone, and the hearts of the Phillies fans stopped for a brief second.
To the amazement of everyone, the ball hit the very top of the wall that stands 409 feet from home plate and the Dodgers were only able to take a 1-0 lead. Manny was later stranded on third and Hamels and the Phillies escaped.
In any other ballpark, especially in L.A., Manny's ball would have cleared the wall with ease, but not in Philly.
Ironically, the home run hit by Phillies' left fielder Pat Burrell in the three run sixth inning would not have made it out of any other parks but their own. That hit provided the game-winning run and gives further evidence of why home field advantage can make a big difference.
Overall, it was a very well-played game and both pitchers were superb. The bullpens were dynamite, but the Phillies, as they have done all year, counted on homeruns to make up the difference—and they did.
As a Dodger's fan, I expected the Phillies to win game one or, if they lost game one, at least go on to win Game Two. Any team that is worthy of winning a playoff series should typically win the series opener at home.
As I watched game one I took a few notes on things I learned.
First, Raphael Furcal played decent in the Cub's series, but didn't look like his normal self tonight. He made a crucial error in the sixth inning that led to Chase Utley's two run homer, but it was another play that really had me concerned.
Furcal ordinarily has great range on ground balls. Tonight he back-handed a hard hit grounder off the bat of the slow running catcher Carlos Ruiz and he could hardly get enough on it to make it to James Loney on first. Ruiz was safe and Dodger fans have something to be worried about.
Second, Derek Lowe lost his composure and seemed uncomfortable on the mound tonight. I am not sure if the Phillies were getting Lowe's signs while occupying second base, but something was out of the ordinary.
Third, Lowe threw too many sliders! Despite being a sinker ball pitcher, Lowe is very reliant on the slider. That pitch allowed Burrell's home and Lowe may have to rethink his strategy.
Fourth, I don't think Russell Martin is ready to be the clean-up hitter for L.A. He is a great player and has a bright future, but I really like him in the two hole. The problem is, though, Ethier thrives in the two hole as well, leaving L.A. with a slight dilemma.
Fifth, Blake Dewitt is a great ballplayer. Some of his defensive plays tonight were dazzling. I love the way he plays and carries himself. He is the future second basemen in L.A.
Sixth, the Dodgers can't afford to make mistakes; the Phillies rely on the home run ball and can, ultimately, change the game with one swing.
Seventh, Greg Maddux's relief appearance means he won't get a start in the series. Game four, unless the Dodgers are down 3-0 in the series, will probably see the 20-year-old left-handed phenom Clayton Kershaw pitch.
Lastly, if the Dodgers lose game two, their odds of winning the series drop to around 25 percent. Game two is a must win. Brett Myers is a head case and if the Dodgers can put up some runs early, he may falter.
Tomorrow's game should be low-scoring again due to stadium shadows because of the late afternoon start, which still does not make sense to me.
Why would the Phillies and Dodgers play the early game and the Red Sox Rays late? Both of the AL teams are on the East coast and have more East coast fans, whereas the NL has one West coast team. For MLB ratings sake, why would you play the only West coast team at 1:00 PM Pacific time and play the two East Coast teams late?
I guess it makes as much sense as making the Houston Astros play a "home" game amidst their playoff run in Milwaukee.
Tomorrow's prediction: 5-3 Dodgers win. Chad Billingsley goes seven innings and gives up two earned, with nine strikeouts.