Game One in the Bag
Three big hits, eight runs.
Throughout the NLDS, the Phillies showed they can score runs without the use of the home run. Tonight against the Dodgers, they scored 75% of their runs via the long ball.
So much for small ball. Just typical Phillies baseball. You hang ’em, they bang ’em, as they say.
The action commenced in the top of the fifth inning after Raul Ibanez singled and Pedro Feliz walked. Catcher Carlos Ruiz took the opportunity to get the Phillies’ train rolling. Clayton Kershaw showed Ruiz only fastballs, so it was no surprise that the fourth pitch of the at-bat was deposited in the stands in left field for a three-run home run, giving the Phillies their first and only lead of the game.
Later in the inning, Chase Utley drew a two-out walk with Jimmy Rollins on second, bringing up Ryan Howard for that despised lefty-on-lefty match-up. To put it in the words of Meech.one from The Fightins:
Take your lefty/righty splits and shove them […]
Howard did in fact shove them… in the form of a two-out, two-run double that increased the Phillies’ lead to 5-1.
As was pointed out in the series preview,
The good news is that while Dodgers starters strike out more hitters, they also walk more — 3.45 per nine innings to the Phillies’ 2.48. We learned in the NLDS in Colorado just how important working the count and drawing walks can be.
The Dodgers did strike out six Phillies, but they walked seven, and four of the seven Phillies who walked came around to score.
The walks were critical in the eighth inning when Joe Torre brought in southpaw George Sherill to face two of the Phillies’ left-handers, split up by Jayson Werth. Ryan Howard and Werth drew easy five-pitch walks, which allowed Raul Ibanez the comfort of hitting with runners on first and second and nobody out. Sherrill’s first offering to Ibanez was a slider that didn’t slide. Ibanez scalded that slider beyond the stands in right-center, padding the Phillies’ lead to 8-4.
The Ruiz three-run home run and the Ryan Howard two-run double in the fifth inning proved critical as the Dodgers recouped three of the runs in the bottom half of the inning. Similarly, after Ibanez hit the three-run round-tripper in the eighth, the Dodgers took back two more on account of some poor pitching from Ryan Madson.
The Blue Crew applied relentless pressure: only in the third and fourth innings did the Dodgers fail to have a batter reach base. Overall, they had 14 hits and drew 3 walks. While Kershaw’s poor start and Sherrill’s shoddy relieving are easy culprits for the loss, they should also blame their inability to capitalize on those rampant run-scoring opportunities the Phillies’ pitching staff provided. They were 3-for-14 (.214) with RISP and left ten runners on base.
Madson aside, the Phillies’ bullpen did what they needed to do to bring the Phillies closer to the 27th out. Chan Ho Park in particular came up aces when the Phillies were staring down Andre Ethier at second base with no outs and a meager 5-4 lead. Park got Manny Ramirez to ground out weakly to the left side, keeping Ethier at second base. Unproductive out! Matt Kemp struck out on a well-placed 96-MPH fastball that was over the plate, but out of the strike zone. Finally, Casey Blake feebly grounded out to Chase Utley to end the threat.
It’s the Phillies bullpen — of course there won’t just be one nerve-wracking inning. Brad Lidge jogged out to the mound in the bottom of the ninth with a two-run lead. That’s before a pitch was thrown. Phillies fans were already biting their fingernails.
A ray of sunshine appeared, a heavenly choir sang, and the Phillies’ knight in shining armor strode to the plate in the person of Casey Blake. Among all the players who participated in Game One of the NLCS, Blake was the least productive going by Win Percentage Added. As bad as Kershaw was, the 21-year-old accrued only -.301 in WPA. Blake was -.354, and he would earn about half of that by grounding into the pitcher’s best friend: a rally-killing double play.
That made only two outs, though. Lidge had one more to go. Yet more opportunity for head- and heartache.
What is the most painstaking way to walk someone? That’s right: getting ahead 0-2 in the count, then losing him. Such was the case with James Loney, who drew a two-out walk after falling behind 0-2. That brought the tying run to the plate in the person of one Ronnie Belliard, or Manny’s Little Brother.
In a 1-1 count, Old Reliable, Lidge’s low-and-away slider, induced Belliard to pop up weaky to Jimmy Rollins.
Ballgame. Tally up the expletives, sighs, and fist pumps. Game One is in the bag.
According to the TBS broadcast, 14 of the last 17 teams who have won the first game of a League Championship Series have gone on to win the series and advance to the World Series. Huzzah!
Game graph above courtesy FanGraphs.