One for all, all for one: Phils get it done
While lineup's heavyweights struggle, others fill gaps
LOS ANGELES -- Jimmy Rollins is hitting .118 in the National League Championship Series. Ryan Howard is hitting .188. And yet, the Philadelphia Phillies, without much production from two of their main men, are on the verge of advancing to the World Series. What's going on here?
The simple answer is often the best one: The rest of the Phillies are pretty good, too.
With Rollins, the catalyst of the Phillies offense, and Howard, one of the best run-producers in baseball, both off their form, you might fairly expect that the 3-1 edge would belong to the Dodgers. But no, it's the Fightin' Phils who are on the doorstep of the NL pennant.
They are at this point because they are getting contributions from all over the roster. The Game 4 comeback was a classic example; a tying two-run homer from center fielder Shane Victorino, who now has 11 RBIs in the postseason, and then a winning two-run homer from Matt Stairs, in just his third at-bat of the postseason. Given the circumstances, the Phillies' depth is both admirable and necessary.
"Without a doubt that shows that we are a team and that we've got the guys that sit on our bench and we've also got the guys that play regular that don't get a lot of recognition, that also shows that they can play and they can deliver," said manager Charlie Manuel on Tuesday, before the Phillies' workout at Dodger Stadium.
"But also when we talk about team, that's what makes up our team. And that's why everybody, the 25-man roster, that's why everybody plays a role. It's very important that they do their role. And sometimes when a star player on a field, especially when it comes to offense, if he's not hitting the ball good, well, then, one of those guys picks him up. That's what makes the team go."
This is still an explosive lineup. Two home runs turned the tide in Game 1 of the NLCS. Two more home runs made the difference in Game 4. When Dodgers manager Joe Torre was asked on Tuesday what factors went into the Phillies' success in this Series, that power was one factor for Torre and the Phillies' bullpen was the other.
"Their bullpen has done a great job," Torre said. "Their bullpen has done a great job and we've done a good job with the middle of their lineup. But they live by the home run. Again, batting average doesn't mean anything if all of a sudden, bang, you have a two-run homer, bang, you have a two-run homer.
"We knew going in that they were an explosive ballclub and they could jump back into the game at any time. But I think overall that our pitching is handling a good part of what they do. But look back to Game 1, the two home runs, we lose the ballgame.
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.|
The Phillies bullpen was the best in the NL by the numbers in the regular season. Nothing has changed here. Closer Brad Lidge continues to be spotless. After going 41-for-41 in regular-season save opportunities, he has gone 5-for-5 in the postseason and has saved every Philadelphia victory in the Championship Series.
But the cast between the starters has also been impressive, particularly the primary setup man, Ryan Madson. The Philadelphia bullpen has both quality and quantity, and it is one reason this club has a better postseason shot than last year's team. When Manuel was asked if the improved bullpen was the biggest difference from last year, he responded:
"I think basically it is, definitely our bullpen. And also, I think the second time around definitely has something to do with it. Each year is different, but I would say the big thing is our bullpen."
The other quality that sets this team apart is what makes them the Fightin' Phils. All three of their NLCS victories required them to come from behind. That's generally a very tough task in the postseason, but this club has made it a matter of routine.
You don't compile a record like that without character, both individual character, and collective character.
"I think from Day 1 we always talked about how we play 27 outs, "Victorino said. "With this team, it's the character, We pull for each other. Not every night is there going to be one guy carrying the team or a superstar. The team is full of them. You've got Chase [Utley], Ryan, you've got Jimmy. You've got guys that are MVPs, best at their positions. But it takes 25 guys collectively to win a ballgame.
"It's what it's all about. You play as a team and you go out there as a team and you win as a team."
This Phillies team, a true 25-man effort, has scrapped and clawed and fought, all the way through a division championship, a Division Series triumph, and now, three-fourths of the way through a Championship Series. They have earned their way here, and now they need to earn one more victory to become the Fightin' Phils in the World Series.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.