Phillies hope Doc offers jolt in pivotal start
Struggling crew must match upstart Giants in intensity
SAN FRANCISCO -- If the Phillies have any hopes of getting back in the National League Championship Series they should peek in the other dugout and see what's making the San Francisco Giants so successful.
The Giants stormed to a 6-5 victory in Game 4 on Wednesday night, snapping a 5-5 tie in the ninth inning, and now are just one win from going to the World Series for the first time in eight years.
By now, everyone knows the Giants are built around pitching and defense. That's true, but what I'm seeing is a hungry, energetic collection of both young and veteran players who are having the time of their lives.
The Phillies need some of that.
San Francisco may possess a team of destiny, but it entered this best-of-seven NLCS an obvious underdog. After all, the Phillies were coming off two consecutive World Series appearances, four consecutive NL East titles and the best record in the Major Leagues.
The Giants have had to prove themselves this October, convincing the baseball world they're a formidable opponent for Philadelphia. Nobody's wondering about that today.
The Phillies, on the other hand, have looked complacent. They have always been able to push aside lesser opponents even when the Phils' backs are to the wall. They breezed by the Reds in the Division Series, sweeping Cincinnati in three games.
With a highly publicized troika of aces -- Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt -- at the top of their rotation, how could the Phillies miss returning to the World Series?
Well, the Giants have beaten all three. They took care of Halladay in Game 1, stung Hamels in Game 3 and made a loser of Oswalt, who was pitching the ninth on Wednesday night in relief, a desperation move by Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel.
The Phillies have built a reputation of resiliency, being able to turn their fortunes around at the darkest moments -- the 11th hour, so to speak.
On July 21, Philadelphia was seven games behind Atlanta in its division, but tore through September with the best record in the Majors to claim the NL East title.
Their backs will once again be against the wall on Thursday night, as they try to fight off elimination and a winter of wondering what went wrong.
Halladay will face Tim Lincecum in an epic pitching matchup, a repeat of a much-hyped Game 1 that didn't live up to expectations as the Giants and Lincecum won, 4-3.
"We've got Halladay going tomorrow against Lincecum," Manuel said. "And I'd say if we like to play with our backs against the wall, it's there now. They were asking me today about us liking to play with our backs to the wall. I think we're going to get a chance."
Manuel stood firm, refusing to start Halladay on Wednesday night, instead sending journeyman Joe Blanton to the mound. Now, for the Phillies to hold off the Giants in Game 5 at AT&T Park, Halladay faces the most important start of his life.
"You know Lincecum is almost unbeatable at home," former Giants manager Felipe Alou told me Wednesday morning. He would have used Halladay instead of Blanton.
In the end, that really didn't matter, because when Manuel lifted Blanton in the fifth inning, he had the lead.
What did the Phillies in was their inability to hold the lead and keep momentum, plus too many wasted opportunities.
That's what I like about the Giants.
When Philadelphia's offense finally came to life in the fifth inning against rookie Madison Bumgarner, it scored four runs and took a 4-2 lead.
Blanton coughed up a run in the bottom of the inning, but should have had a better fate. After he walked Andres Torres, Edgar Renteria slapped a grounder to third baseman Placido Polanco, a sure double-play ball. Polanco bobbled the ball, getting only the runner at first, with Torres stopping at second. With two down, Aubrey Huff singled to center, scoring Torres. Blanton was finished.
Manuel has been using smoke and mirrors most of the season with his middle relievers. On Wednesday night, Chad Durbin was totally ineffective as the Giants scored twice to take a 5-4 lead.
"When we took the lead [at 4-2], we had momentum on our side, and all of a sudden we go back out there and they take it right back away from us," said Manuel. "The sixth inning kinda got away from us."
Manuel attributed some of his club's inability to hold the lead on costly walks. What I saw was the Giants refusing to waste at-bats, working the count and either walking or waiting for a pitch they could hit.
In the eighth, the Phillies tied the score at 5 on leadoff doubles by Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth. Werth represented the go-ahead run, but was stranded on second when Jimmy Rollins popped out and both Ben Francisco and Carlos Ruiz fanned.
Another wasted opportunity.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy said at no time during this series has his team thought about being the underdog.
"All we do is think about going out there and giving it the best we got, try to play our best game and win that game.
"What's important is what you believe, and we're here because we're a good team. We have tremendous respect for the Phillies. We know we have to play our best ball to beat them."
Halladay, who pitched a perfect game on May 29 and a no-hitter in Game 1 of the Division Series, has never made a more important start during his storied career.
For the Phillies to win, there will be little margin of error and Halladay must go deep in the game.
The fact Manuel used Oswalt to pitch the ninth says much about his bullpen.
"We still have that confidence," said Halladay, referring to what the Phillies have accomplished. "It's just a matter of going out and doing it.
"And doing it as team, getting everything kind of put together at the right time."
Which is the only way the Phillies will be able to stay alive in this series.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.