Phillies' bats don't live up to billing in NLCS
Offense not up to task in big spots vs. Giants' stellar pitching
PHILADELPHIA -- At 11:38 p.m. ET, runners on first and second and the Giants up, 3-2, Ryan Howard watched a third strike whiz by and it was over. The stunned Phillies limped off for the winter; the giddy San Francisco Giants moved on to the World Series.
When Howard was called out on strikes Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park, it was so typical of why the Phillies came up short in the National League Championship Series.
They failed miserably when it counted most.
The Giants, who entered this best-of-seven tournament as a decided underdog, rode their solid pitching and underrated hitting to the NL pennant. They meet the Texas Rangers, another unexpected survivor, in the World Series beginning Wednesday night at AT&T Park (7:30 p.m. ET on FOX and Postseason.TV).
It's interesting that two of the most powerful teams in the Major Leagues, the Yankees and Phillies, will be sitting home when the Fall Classic opens. Baseball's Goliaths have been knocked out by the Davids.
Ironically , Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Howard -- the two highest-paid players on their respective teams -- were called out on strikes to end their team's seasons.
The Phillies were trying to become the first NL team since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals to play in the World Series three consecutive years.
But as this series unfolded, the Phillies' glaring weaknesses of 2010 could not be hidden.
Saturday night alone, with their backs to the wall and down three games to two, the Phillies were 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position. They repeatedly had chances to put the Giants away and came up short.
Howard, who struck out three times Saturday night, fanned 30 times in his last 56 at-bats dating back to the 2009 World Series.
He became the first cleanup hitter since the Yankees' Mickey Mantle in the 1962 World Series to not drive in a run in a seven-game series.
And with the game on the line in the ninth inning Saturday night, Giants reliever Brian Wilson struck out Howard on a 3-2 slider. Game, set, match.
Howard is not paid $25 million a year to keep the bat on his shoulder.
Give the Giants' pitching credit.
When starter Jonathan Sanchez was lifted after walking Placido Polanco and hitting Chase Utley to start the third, the Phillies seemed poised for a big inning. The Giants had pulled even at 2-2 thanks to Aubrey Huff's RBI single and a sloppy Philadelphia defense in the top of the frame.
But from the moment Sanchez left, the San Francisco bullpen -- five pitchers in all -- kept the Phillies from scoring.
With the bases loaded and two out in the fifth, Shane Victorino hit a soft tapper to the mound. End of threat.
In the sixth, with Raul Ibanez on third, one out and virtually any contact needed to score the run, pinch-hitter Ben Francisco looked at a third strike.
Carlos Ruiz lined into a double play with two runners on and just one out in the eighth after Juan Uribe's opposite-field homer off Ryan Madson vaulted the Giants on top, 3-2.
There was still hope for the sellout crowd of 46,062 when, with two out in the ninth, Howard came to the plate. Virtually any extra-base hit from the Howard of old would have sent the Phillies to a Game 7 on Sunday night.
Instead, the slugger looked at a third strike and a pall fell over the stadium.
"I think when you look back at our team, that would probably be the downside of our club -- we were very inconsistent in our hitting, and at times we didn't score enough runs," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.
When the Phillies went to this postseason with Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt at the top of their rotation, they were in an excellent position to return to the World Series.
But even with that pitching, it was impossible to camouflage the lack of offense.
"I don't think we ever got our offense clicking," said Manuel. "It always went up and down. We hit a hot streak, especially after Houston swept us earlier in the year. From that period on, we started winning a lot of games. But we weren't blowing people out and weren't really hitting like we can. It seemed like we never put up runs like I know we can."
In the end, it came down to Howard's strikeout.
"I saw the pitch," he said. "I thought it was down. [Home-plate umpire Tom Hallion] kind of hesitated making the call, and that was it."
Manuel said when Howard came back from his ankle injury, he never regained his swing.
"Did I ever find my swing?" he responded to inquiries from reporters. "My swing never left."
When it was mentioned what Manuel said, Howard replied: "I guess I didn't find it. I mean, if you hit 31 home runs and 108 RBIs, you must have found something."
He said it was just a matter of coming up short.
"I guess it was frustrating, but at the same time, we were still kind of getting by. We know we're a good hitting team and an explosive offense, but it just wasn't there. It's hard to explain that.
"We have to give it to the Giants. [Tim] Lincecum went out and threw well, Matt Cain threw well -- you just have to give those guys credit."
Yes, the Giants had outstanding pitching, and that should do them well against the Rangers, who ousted the Yankees.
In the end, I believe the Phillies' approach -- or lack of same -- to San Francisco pitching had more to do with the outcome than the Giants' arms.
The Phillies were vulnerable and the Giants didn't hesitate for a moment taking advantage.
They earned their trip to the World Series; the Phillies didn't.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.