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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Phils One Game Away from Series!

Remember the name Matt Stairs. Some day he could be the answer to a trivia question about Philadelphia sports. The 40-year old, picked up late in the season as an extra left-handed bat off the bench, crushed an 8th inning 2-run home run to put the Phillies up 7-5 and gave them the win in Game 4 of the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Phillies hold a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, and are just one victory away from going to the World Series.

The home run capped a 4-run rally by the Phils. Shane Victorino, who was thrown at in the previous game, tied the game with a 2-run homer of his own. Victorino, who lost his grandmother the same night Charlie Manuel lost his mother, continues to be huge for the Phillies in the playoffs.

Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard all showed signs of life at the plate. Rollins started the game with a base hit, and Utley and Howard each had an RBI in the first inning. Rollins was great on the bases in the first, dancing off the base on what seemed like every pitch, and running on the pitch Jayson Werth singled on to easily make it first and third. LA pitcher Derek Lowe seemed a bit rattled by Rollins’ activity on first. It would have been nice to see a huge inning, but I’m sure Phils fans happily took the 2-0 start.

It didn’t last long as Joe Blanton gave up a leadoff double, but he kept the damage to one run. One of several things I disagreed with Fox broadcasters Tim McCarver and Joe Buck on was the walk of Manny Ramirez with one out and the leadoff guy still on second. Ramirez is having an unbelievable series. Walk him every chance you get, and if the bases aren’t loaded, I think you have a chance.

In fact, Ramirez gave the Dodgers a 3-2 lead with a double in the top of the fifth with men on first and second. Obviously I can’t prove it, but I absolutely thought they should have walked him. If it was second and third they would have walked him to the open bag. What’s the difference? None. Walk him.

I thought Charlie Manuel had blown this game in the sixth. Howard walks and Pat Burrell gets a single to start the inning first and second with nobody out. Shane Victorino then bunts?? Are you kidding? He’s been big in the playoffs; why sacrifice him? Then Manuel pinch hits for Gregg Dobbs - whose been big in this series - with his defensive replacement Pedro Feliz? Terrible. Feliz flied out.

It gets worse. Carlos Ruiz walks, and Manuel sends So Taguchi, who has done nothing in months, to the plate for Blanton. They were saved by a wild pitch that at least allowed Howard to score and tie it before Taguchi’s inevitable fly out.

Chad Durbin, in because Blanton was hit for, promptly gave the gift run back with a leadoff homer in the bottom of the inning to Casey Blake. A double and a walk followed, and Ryan Madson was in. A Howard throwing error, which Phils fans should be having nightmares about, on a sacrifice bunt allowed a run to score from second, setting up second and third with no outs. A lineout and a Ramirez walk loaded the bases with one out.

Chase Utley came through big time. He coupled a nice grab on a line drive with a dive to get the force on the runner trying to get back to second. Inning over. Game still in reach. Utley still “the man.”

Utley went 3 for 5 with an RBI, and Howard was 1 for 4 with a walk, 2 runs scored, a RBI, and zero . . . count ‘em, 0, notta, goose egg, . . . strikeouts. Rollins added a walk and a steal to his leadoff hit, but helped strand Dobbs on second with no outs in the second. (Blanton didn’t even try to bunt for some reason in the inning.)

After the fireworks from Stairs and Victorino, Lidge came in for a 4-out save. Had made it a little interesting in the 8th. Ramirez again doubled . . . hello? WALK THE GUY! . . . and a strikeout/wild pitch made it first and third. He struck out James Loney to end the threat, and went 1-2-3 in the ninth. That allowed us to avoid asking why the hell Eric Bruntlett was trying (and failing) to steal in the ninth with Rollins up.

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