Saturday, October 9, 2010
Conventional wisdom heading into last night's game seemed to suggest that Roy Halladay's historic Game One masterpiece might have provided a devastating psychological edge in the Phillies-Reds NLDS series.
The thinking was that the Reds might be demoralized to the point of believing they had no chance in the series, especially as they were staring at the back two-thirds of "The Big Three." And, conversely, the Phillies would be brimming with the necessary confidence and energy to overwhelm their rivals.
Brandon Phillips put a quick end to that notion, clubbing a 2-1 offering from Roy Oswalt into the left field bleachers to open the game. One swing of the bat and the mood seemed to change in the Reds dugout and throughout the stadium.
Suddenly, "The Bank" was quiet and so were the Phillies.
It was as if Halladay's no-hitter had counted for more than a single win. Both the players and the crowd seemed flat.
Cincinnati proceeded to build its lead over the first five innings. A pair of Chase Utley throwing errors provided one run, Phillips double was the catalyst for another, and Jay Bruce's thunderbolt into the second deck made it 4-0.
In contrast to Halladay, Oswalt struggled from start to finish and never really settled in. His command was off and he was largely unable to locate his curve anywhere near the strike zone, bouncing many in the dirt.
Consequently, Reds hitters could narrow their focus to jump on anything straight. To Oswalt's credit, he battled and kept the game close.
The Reds appeared to be playing loose, while the Phillies looked tight.
Oddly, everything then seemed to reverse itself at the contest's mid-point. The game served as great testimonial to the cliches about playing all nine innings and never giving up.
The early game heroes suddenly became the goats. And, one of the Phillies players who appeared headed to a postgame of answering difficult questions, transformed into the catalyst for victory.
With some generosity by their opponents, the Phillies began scratching their way back into the contest in the bottom half of the fifth.
Gold Glove second sacker Phillips, who was a triple away from the cycle after his first three plate appearances, booted a ball to prolong the inning. Then seven-time Gold Glove winner and Philly fan favorite Scott Rolen booted another ground ball to load the bases.
Up stepped Utley, who's game resume included a flyout and strikeout to go along with his two errors.
The Phillies second baseman began his atonement by ripping a liner to right to cut the lead to 4-2.
In the sixth, a pair of walks wrapped around two hit batters narrowed the lead to 4-3. It was a painful and scary run as Arthur Rhodes drilled Carlos Ruiz in the knee cap and 6' 8" rookie Logan Ondrusek beaned Ben Francisco in the head.
The turnabout was completed in a wild home half of the seventh inning. And, keeping with the plot, it was Utley who set it all in motion.
Facing rookie flame thrower Aroldis Chapman, replete with a gaudy diamond necklace signifying his large free agent contract, Utley took a 100-mph fastball and an 88-mph slider for strikes.
Apparently in keeping with the Reds game plan to move hitters off the plate and perhaps intimidate them, Chapman's 101-mph fastball at Utley's head backfired when it was ruled to have grazed his hand. Baseball's consummate gamer had found a way on base.
After Howard was blown away by three triple digit heaters, Jayson Werth hit a chopper to third and Utley hustled to beat the attempt to force him at second.
Next, Jimmy Rollins lined a ball to right that Bruce apparently lost in the lights for a two base error. Utley frantically raced home and Werth followed when Phillips dropped the relay throw for another error.
The Phillies plated another run with the aid of a Raul Ibanez hit to exit the seventh with a 6-4 advantage. They extended it to 7-4 in the eighth when Utley singled, stole second, and scored on Werth's base hit.
Meanwhile, the Phillies bullpen maintained focus on firing balls in the strike zone and shutting down the Reds high powered offense. Jose Contreras, Ryan Madson, and then Brad Lidge all worked scoreless frames to nail down the win.
Baseball fans had just witnessed an amazing plot twist like few they had seen before.
And, the Phillies had just proved that turnabout is fair play when it comes to baseball's postseason.
Early appearances were deceiving as perhaps the expected Phillies confidence and experience ultimately prevailed— while a surprisingly loose Reds team seemingly became a bundle of nerves befitting a club making its first postseason appearance in 15 seasons.
For Chase Utley, his day went full circle to provide real-time vindication. Roy Oswalt will have to wait for his next start.