Utley's error opens door for LA
Fateful inning helps Dodgers even NLCS with Phillies
LOS ANGELES -- Garry Maddox, the Phillies' "Secretary of Defense," dropped a fly ball in the 1978 National League Championship Series that gave the Dodgers a 4-3, 10-inning victory and the pennant.
One Philadelphia newspaper's banner headline the next day blared: "The Day Garry Maddox Dropped the Pennant."
Could another blunder at Dodger Stadium 31 years later have the same effect?
Chase Utley hopes not.
If the Phillies lose the pennant this October to the Dodgers, they may look back at Utley's throwing error in a bizarre eighth inning Friday afternoon that paved the way for a stunning 2-1 setback.
To compare Utley's error on a sure-thing double play to the Maddox miscue might be a stretch.
The Phillies flew home Friday night with the series tied, 1-1. There's plenty of baseball left and the next three games will be at Citizens Bank Park.
But had they been able to shut down the Dodgers in the eighth, they would have been up 2-0 and Los Angeles would have been in the deepest of holes. Now, one of these two teams must win three of the next five games.
Maddox's error came in a tense 10th inning in what, for the Dodgers, was the deciding game in the then best-of-five NLCS.
But as I watched the eighth inning unfold in the 90-degree sunshine Friday, I couldn't help but think back to that Saturday afternoon in 1978. It was also a hot, sunny day.
In the bottom of the 10th with the score tied at 3, reliever Tug McGraw retired the first two Dodgers batters, but then walked Ron Cey. Dusty Baker lofted a fly to center that Maddox appeared to lose in the sun. He started back on the ball, then charged forward, and the ball glanced off his glove.
Now Cey was on second and Baker on first. Bill Russell, the next batter, lined a single to center. Maddox charged, but the ball skipped past him, enabling Cey to score the winning run. Had Maddox fielded the ball cleanly, he had a play on Cey at the plate.
The Phillies rode a 1-0 lead and Pedro Martinez's four-hit pitching into the eighth on Friday.
With Chan Ho Park pitching, Casey Blake ripped a single to left field. Ronnie Belliard was safe on a bunt single. Russell Martin, who initially tried to bunt, drilled a 3-2 grounder to shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who tossed to Utley for the forceout on Belliard. But the throw to first base sailed past Ryan Howard, allowing pinch-runner Juan Pierre to score the tying run.
The Phillies' bullpen imploded, with Scott Eyre allowing a pinch-hit single to Jim Thome. Reliever Ryan Madson loaded the bases when he walked Rafael Furcal. J.A. Happ walked Andre Ethier, forcing home the second and winning run.
"It was just a bad throw," said Utley as he was mobbled by reporters in the Phillies' clubhouse.
In the Dodgers' clubhouse, Martin said, "Honestly, I hit the ball and started running as hard as I could. As soon as I saw Ryan Howard come off the bag, that's when I realized something was going to happen. As soon as I hit it, I said to myself, 'Dang it, there's a double play.' I got lucky."
Dodgers skipper Joe Torre said he believes Belliard charging into second may have had something to do with Utley's poor throw. The second baseman also had a throwing error on Thursday night during the Dodgers' three-run fifth inning.
"Last night, it didn't look like [Utley] had a grip on the ball," Torre said. "Errors are part of the game. I mean, I'd certainly like to have his problems. He's pretty special."
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said Utley "is better than that. Those mistakes that you make like that happen sometimes. I know they play a part in the game and so does he. But at the same time, I've got a lot of faith in him. He's the one guy in the world that will work on it and correct it."
The best-of-seven series has turned on Friday's eighth inning, but in reality the fact the Phillies could do little against former teammate Vicente Padilla and the Dodgers' celebrated bullpen was as much a culprit in the loss.
The Phillies built their lead on Howard's fourth-inning homer, just the third hit Padilla had allowed.
The top three batters in Philadelphia's lineup -- Rollins, Shane Victorino and Utley -- were just 1-for-12, with Utley's first-inning single the only hit. Overall, they managed just four hits and stranded two baserunners.
Friday's was such a crushing loss it may have lingering effects when the series resumes on Sunday.
"I don't agree with that," said Manuel. "Not really, because I look at our team and we've been resilient about the last three years. I know this was a tough loss, and it's a big loss in a way.
"At the same time, our team --- we've bounced back before, and we'll bounce back again. "
Manuel stopped in the middle of a sentence when he said: "This series is by no means ..."
What he was trying to say is it's not over yet, but changed that to, "It's going to be a tough series."
The Dodgers, who had the best 2009 record in the National League, are on a roll with momentum.
If the defending World Series champs cannot stall that, we all may look back to that weird eighth inning as the turning point.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.