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Phillies Pound Cardinals, Win NLDS Opener

Four batters into Game One of the NLDS, it just wasn’t looking like the Phillies’ game. Lead-off hitter Rafael Furcal singled to open the frame, then stole second base in a flash. After Roy Halladay struck out Allen Craig, he tip-toed around Albert Pujols¬†with a walk to bring up Lance Berkman with runners on first and second with one out.

Halladay has been notoriously ineffective early in games this year. He held hitters to a sub-.700 OPS in all innings between two and eight with a combined seven home runs. In the first inning, however, hitters compiled a .717 OPS with four home runs during the regular season. The trend continued as Berkman smoked a first pitch fastball that just missed going into the second deck in right field, putting the Cardinals up 3-0 early.

Against Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse, the Phillies displayed uncharacteristic impatience at the plate. The Phillies went down in order in the first two innings, seeing just six pitches apiece. If the first two innings were to be taken at face value, it was going to be a long night for Phillies fans.

Fortunately, Halladay settled down quickly. Skip Schumaker singled to lead off the second, but that would be the last base runner the Cardinals would have against the defending NL Cy Young winner all night. Halladay had pinpoint precision, using his vast array of pitches to generate weak ground outs when he wasn’t missing bats entirely.

The Phillies scratched across a run in the fourth on an opposite-field RBI single to left by Shane Victorino. At the time, it was a vital hit as Lohse appeared to be on cruise control. It was in the sixth inning, though, that the floodgates opened.

Jimmy Rollins singled to lead off the inning. After Chase Utley struck out, Hunter Pence singled up the middle to put runners on first and second with one out for Ryan Howard. Howard was looking to redeem himself after last year’s finish to the NLCS against the San Francisco Giants, when Howard struck out looking against closer Brian Wilson.

Howard worked Lohse as well as anybody had to that point. Lohse worked out of the strike zone, trying to get Howard to offer at a bad pitch, but Howard laid off the bait. With the count 3-2 and nowhere to put Howard, Lohse had to come near the strike zone. He threw two change-ups which were fouled off with a last-ditch effort. Lohse came back with a third change-up, but Howard was on the mark this time, sending the pitch deep into the stands in right field for the three-run home run, putting the Phillies up 4-3. Per FanGraphs, the home run increased the Phillies probability of winning by a whopping 45 percent.

Shane Victorino kept the inning going with a single to center. Lohse was visibly rattled at this point. He fell behind 2-0 to Raul Ibanez, then tried to come back with another change-up. Ibanez, who has been remarkably inconsistent this season, put good wood on the ball, sending Lohse’s offering over the fence in right field for two insurance runs. The Phillies took a 6-3 lead with a five-run sixth inning, chasing Lohse with just one out in the inning.

Octavio Dotel came in and put out the fire, retiring both hitters he faced, but the Phillies were only getting started. While Halladay continued to mow down Cardinal after Cardinal, the Phillies’ offense continued to thrive against the Cardinals’ bullpen. In the bottom of the seventh, the Phillies strung together five singles, pushing across three more runs against relievers Marc Rzepczynski and Mitchell Boggs.

In the bottom of the eighth, the Phillies continued to tack on runs. With two outs, Rollins walked and Utley doubled, putting runners on second and third for Hunter Pence. Pence promptly hit a screaming line drive up the middle, scoring both runners for an 11-3 lead.

Halladay, having thrown 105 pitches, left after eight innings. He was replaced by Michael Stutes, getting his first taste of the post-season with an eight-run cushion. Likely dealing with butterflies in his stomach, Stutes walked Allen Craig to lead off the inning. Pujols followed with a single to left-center. After getting Berkman to ground into a fielder’s choice, Stutes allowed an RBI single to Adron Chambers and another single to Yadier Molina to load the bases, forcing Charlie Manuel to call upon closer Ryan Madson.

Madson didn’t stop the bleeding. Skip Schumaker swung at Madson’s first offering, a belt-high change-up on the outside corner, lining the pitch with noticeable slice to John Mayberry, Jr. in left field. Mayberry dove for it, but it was just out of his reach. Two runs scored and the Cardinals had runners on second and third with one out, giving them a glimmer of hope for a comeback. Madson rebounded, though, striking out John Jay with a 93 MPH fastball at the letters. Madson closed the door against pinch-hitter (and Game One scratch) Matt Holliday, striking him out on three pitches.

With an 11-6 victory, the Phillies took the opening game of a post-season series for the seventh time in their last eight post-season series dating back to 2008. With many questioning the potential of the Phillies’ offense entering the post-season, their performance in Game One ought to settle a lot of stomachs, even if it was against Lohse and an unimpressive bullpen. Cliff Lee will oppose Chris Carpenter, pitching on short rest, in Game Two.

Game graph courtesy FanGraphs.