Phils' resiliency at forefront of NLCS
Victorino, Stairs lead club to third comeback win of the series
LOS ANGELES -- This was exactly the way Phillies manager Charlie Manuel had said it should be when he was asked about the knockdown, brushback, pitch-near-the-head controversy of Game 3.
"Just let that Louisville [Slugger] talk for you instead of running your mouth and you'll be all right," Manuel said.
The Louisville Sluggers spoke volumes on Monday night in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. They spoke on behalf of a resilient, tough-minded Philadelphia team that moved within one victory of the World Series with a 7-5 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Much of the known world had probably given the Fightin' Phils up for departed on Monday night, dropped into a 2-2 Championship Series tie, the postseason momentum hopelessly turned against them.
The Fightin' Phils themselves, however, were just getting started. It is true that they were on the verge of having a 2-0 Series lead completely erased. A pitching lapse here, a fielding lapse there, a lack of fully cashing in on scoring opportunities and they were down to the seemingly resurgent Dodgers, 5-3, six outs away from having the 2008 NLCS turn against them, maybe for keeps.
These two teams had played 11 times this year. The road team hadn't won even once. That was just the way it was. Maybe the Phillies could get it together when the Series moved back to Citizens Bank Park, but here at Dodger Stadium, it just wasn't happening for them.
Then, the blink of an eye later, the Phillies were up, 7-5. Not only did they turn an apparent defeat into victory, they ended up taking a 3-1 lead in this Series. They are poised on the very edge of the World Series with Game 5 scheduled for Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium.
This happened specifically because Shane Victorino hit a two-run home run off reliever Corey Wade, and pinch-hitter Matt Stairs hit a two-run home run off the Dodgers' flame-thrower closer, Jonathan Broxton.
It was a victory that epitomized what is best about this club. It required some major contributions from people who are not stars. And it illustrated once again the resilient quality of this group.
3-1 edge significant in NLCS
|With the Phillies' victory in Game 4, an NLCS stands at 3-1 for the 12th time since it became a best-of-seven series in 1985. Nine of the previous 11 teams went on to win its NLCS, with only the 2003 Marlins and 1996 Braves rallying from the 3-1 deficit to win three straight and take the series.|
|Year||Team up 3-1||Opponent||Final|
|NLCS winners in bold.|
"Actually, for the last two years I feel like if we stay after you -- and that's one of our biggest things -- we don't quit and we keep coming and we play all 27 outs," Manuel said. "And, I mean, that's kind of how it is."
That's exactly how it is. Victorino isn't generally mentioned in the same breath as his star-power teammates, but he is the kind of wall-to-wall effort player that is essential to its success. At the moment, he also leads the Phillies in 2008 postseason runs batted in with a remarkable 11 in eight games.
He had all sorts of reasons to avenge himself on the Dodgers. When he was in their Minor League organization, they had let him go not once, but twice in the Rule 5 Draft. And then in Game 3, when the Dodgers finally retaliated against the Phillies for a series of batters knocked down, brushed back or struck by thrown baseballs, Hiroki Kuroda threw a pitch that was altogether too close to Victorino's head.
But that wasn't what it was about, Victorino said, when he came up against Wade as the tying run in the eighth inning.
"Personally, no," he said, when asked about the revenge angle. "It's about going out there, trying to win the ballgame. My emotions obviously kind of got to me last night. But going into today's game, you turn the page and you forget about it.
"It was just going out there, trying to get a win and getting one step closer to the World Series. But it's still far from over."
That's true, but in a best-of-seven event, 3-1 is also far from 2-2. After Victorino homered, tying the game, Stairs was called upon to pinch-hit against Broxton, who had just entered the game, with two outs and one on.
Stairs may be about as far down the Phillies' depth chart as the law allows, but that is sort of the whole point. This was just his third at-bat of this postseason, and his first of the Championship Series. But when opportunity knocked, he answered.
His job is easier, Stairs said, because of the we're-all-in-this-together attitude of the Phillies' bench players.
"I think the biggest thing is, we all pull for each other," he said. "When the big boys aren't necessarily driving the ball out of the ballpark or whatever, at least we know we have a strong bench and the leadership of a lot of characters on the team that are pulling for each other."
Most hitters in this situation will say for public consumption that they were merely looking for a pitch to drive somewhere. Stairs, a droll sort of left-handed 40-year-old, who has had considerable success as a pinch-hitter, will say instead that he was trying to hit a home run.
"My whole career, even back in the early days when I signed with Montreal, my approach was to hit the ball out of the ballpark," Stairs said. "It carries over from batting practice. In batting practice, I try to hit every ball out of the ballpark. And I'm not going to lie to you, it's fun.
"I guess it's an honor to be at the top of the list of pinch-hit home runs. I'm not going to hit a single and steal second base, God knows that."
As usual, in the winning Philadelphia mix, there was successful relief pitching from Ryan Madson, who got the decision, and from closer Brad Lidge, who got the save. This was a four-out save, unusual for Lidge, but as Manuel said:
"I guess it's like the saying goes: You gotta try it just to see if it will work."
All in all, this was a breakthrough victory for the Phillies, changing the nature of the NLCS by being the team that was able to win a road game.
And, it was a victory that reflected their character. The Phillies have come from behind in all three Championship Series victories. That sort of thing doesn't happen by accident. The Fightin' Phils are on the doorstep of the World Series, because they are not only talented enough, but resilient enough to get this far.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.