Phil Sheridan: Phillies' offense betrayed Manuel

Posted: October 09, 2009

Cole Hamels was having his own personal "Heidi" game. The bullpen gate was like the door of a clown car. You had no idea who was coming out next. The Phillies used five starters, if you include celebrity pinch-runner Cliff Lee.

So it was the pitching that cost the Phillies the home-field advantage in their division series against the Colorado Rockies, right?

Not exactly. For all the prank calls to the bullpen phone, you can reduce this to an ineffective start by the erstwhile ace, Hamels, and a truly worrisome performance by a prodigious lineup that let itself get shut down by Rockies starter Aaron Cook.

All of Charlie Manuel's machinations were based on the belief that his team could overcome the four-run lead Hamels spotted the Rockies. It was the offense that betrayed Manuel, not the bullpen.

The offense and a couple of fundamental defensive lapses, that is.

"If we go out and play the game the right way, the way that we know how, we'll be fine," rightfielder Jayson Werth said.

He was talking about what is now a best-of-three series that opens with a pair of games in Denver that might as well be televised on the Weather Channel. But Werth could have been talking about what the Phillies didn't do in Game 2. Because they didn't play the right way, they squandered the chance to take a commanding two-game lead.

Ryan Howard hesitated too long after Hamels' first-inning pickoff of Carlos Gonzalez, allowing the Rockies' leadoff man to reach second. Gonzalez advanced to third and scored on a fielder's choice.

What proved to be the winning run scored when Joe Blanton threw to third on a sacrifice bunt. Going after the lead runner, instead of taking the sure out, allowed Dexter Fowler to come to the plate with one out instead of two. He hit a sacrifice fly to give Colorado a two-run lead.

When Werth hit a solo homer in the eighth, that run became the difference in the game.

"We were right there," Werth said. "We gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game. That's all you can ask for when you get down."

That brings us neatly to the real issue. The Phillies were terrible in the early innings for the second game in a row. Players from both sides acknowledged that the television-dictated starting times were a factor. For the first few innings, the pitchers were throwing from the sun into the shadows.

"Hitting's hard enough as it is," Chase Utley said. "When it's difficult to see, obviously it makes it more difficult to hit. Both teams have to go through it. That's part of playoff baseball."

Rockies catcher Yorvit Torrealba joked that he closed his eyes to hit his game-turning two-run home run because he couldn't see the ball, anyway. But Torrealba's hit came after the shadows of the grandstand had moved beyond the mound, making the ball a little easier to pick up.

In Game 1, it was the Phillies who jumped on the opposing starter, Ubaldo Jimenez, once the shadows reached the mound. This time, the Rockies got to Hamels while the Phillies continued to flail at a starter with a 4.16 earned run average, a 37-year-old with a sore quad, and a reliever with an ERA of 5.52 this season.

"When we got behind," Manuel said, "I definitely felt like we were still in the game, and I felt like we had a run in us. You've got to try to catch up. . . . I felt like we had to hold them. We had a hell of a chance to come back in the game."

So Manuel managed like it was a must-win game.

"That's what he's supposed to do," Jimmy Rollins said. "It's a situation where every game counts. First one to three wins the first round. You do everything you can to keep the game manageable until your offense puts you ahead."

Except the Phillies' offense fell short, stranding the potential tying run at second base in the bottom of the ninth.

That left the team in an odd situation. After Manuel managed to win at all costs, the Phillies had to file the game away as just a minor speed bump on their road back to the World Series. After all, they lost one game in each of their three series last October.

But they never lost at the Bank and they never gave up the home-field advantage. Game 3, scheduled for a wintry mix tomorrow night in Denver, now becomes the true must win. The Phillies do not want to face a possible elimination game, on the road, in unknown conditions, on Sunday.

That's why Manuel put his chips on red yesterday. His pitchers were merely the chips. It was the Phillies' offense that landed on black.


Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

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