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PHILADELPHIA -- Getting the right lineup on the field and then juggling starting rotations and bullpens and the many possible combinations therein ... it's pretty confusing stuff during heated postseason games. Then again, this time of year is what Colorado manager Jim Tracy and Philadelphia skipper Charlie Manuel live for, and figuring out this perplexing personnel puzzle is what they've been tasked with in the first two games of this National League Division Series.
In Thursday's Game 2 at Citizens Bank Park with his club desperately in need of a win to tie the series before heading back to comfy Coors Field, Tracy made a key flip-flop at the top of the Rockies lineup. And when the game got tight in the middle innings, Manuel and Tracy pulled off intriguing maneuvers with pitchers that led to Colorado's 5-4 win and could have larger implications for the rest of the series.
Switching the light on
The situation: The choice of a leadoff hitter for Game 2.
When filling out the Game 2 batting order, Tracy simply flips the No. 1 hitter, Dexter Fowler, and the No. 2 hitter, Carlos Gonzalez, from Game 1.
Gonzalez makes his presence felt from the very first at-bat of the game, singling, stealing second base (thanks to first baseman Ryan Howard not getting the ball out of his glove in time to pick him off) and scoring two batters later on a Todd Helton fielder's choice to give the Rockies a 1-0 lead. Gonzalez adds a single in the third inning and a double in the fifth, after which he astutely takes third on a Fowler sacrifice fly that scores Aaron Cook. The move also works for Fowler, who drives in what turns out to be the game-winning run on a sacrifice fly in the seventh.
It helps to have a dynamic player in the leadoff spot, and Tracy made the right call by putting Gonzalez there because the young outfielder is a star in the making. Gonzalez had two hits in Game 1 and is now 5-for-9 for the series.
"It was exciting. I led off for this team in the playoffs. My manager gave me the confidence and I didn't let him down." -- Gonzalez
To walk or not to walk?
The Phillies trail, 4-1, in the bottom of the sixth with one out and runners on second and third, with right-hander Jose Contreras having just replaced Cook and striking out Jayson Werth. Left-handed slugger Raul Ibanez is batting next, and he's 8-for-14 (.571) lifetime against Contreras with a homer, two RBIs and two walks, which makes him the best hitter in all of baseball with as many as 10 career at-bats against the veteran right-hander.
Tracy lets Contreras pitch to Ibanez.
Ibanez hits the first pitch he sees into center field for a single, driving in two runs and cutting the Rockies' lead to 4-3.
It's understandable that a manager might hesitate to intentionally put the tying run on first base, but given the fact that a bases-loaded situation creates a better inning-ending double-play chance and Ibanez had historically been so successful against Contreras, four straight balls to Ibanez -- and a righty-righty matchup with Pedro Feliz as the next hitter -- might have been a more effective move.
"You know, Ibanez got the hit to make it 4-3 and then [Contreras] turns around and gets the double-play ball. Obviously the thought process [was to] get the inning put down and not be trailing." -- Tracy
The Phillies trail in the seventh inning, 4-3, with a runner on third and none out.
Manuel removes possible Game 3 starter Joe Blanton from the game and brings possible Game 3 starter J.A. Happ in.
Happ throws four pitches to pinch-hitter Seth Smith before Smith rockets a line drive off Happ's lower left leg, forcing Happ out of the game. Reliever Scott Eyre comes in and allows a Fowler sacrifice fly two batters later that would prove to be the winning run. Happ is diagnosed with a bruise, but X-rays are negative.
Bringing Happ into the game most likely took him out of consideration for a Game 3 start on Saturday, which means playoff veteran Pedro Martinez or Blanton will get the ball Saturday night in chilly Denver. It's just plain bad luck that Manuel's decision literally took a hit almost immediately after it was made. Then again, Blanton only threw 19 pitches. Manuel could go with Blanton, right?
"I felt like we were still in the game, and I felt like [Happ and Blanton] weren't going to pitch very long, and I felt like we had to hold them. We had a heck of a chance to get back in the game. I felt like we give them a couple extra outs in the seventh inning and that run definitely came back and hurt us." -- Manuel