Paul Hagen: Early finish gives Phils a breather

Shane Victorino gets to third base safely on Chase Utley single in the third.
Shane Victorino gets to third base safely on Chase Utley single in the third.
Posted: October 13, 2009

DENVER - Believe it or not, there just might have been an interest group more unhappy to see the Phillies eliminate Colorado last night than the Rockies and their fans.

That would be your Los Angeles Dodgers.

The best possible scenario for the Phillies' next opponent would have been for this National League Division Series to go down to the wire. For both teams left standing to have to expend their top two starters and empty out their bullpens. For the survivor to show up tattered and tired for Game 1 of the National League Championship Series on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium.

Instead, the Phillies staged a frantic rally for a wild, crazy, thoroughly entertaining, had-to-see-it-to-believe-it, 5-4 win at Coors Field that vaulted them into the next round and knocked the Rockies out of the playoffs.

The Dodgers swept the Cardinals. They've had a chance to rest and regroup and rework their rotation.

If the Phillies had lost last night - and they were trailing, 4-2, going into the ninth - they would have had to play a winner-take-all game at Citizens Bank Park tonight. They would have had to use Cole Hamels a day after Cliff Lee started. They would have had to turn right around and fly back to the opposite coast for a workout tomorrow. They most likely would have been weary and jet-lagged.

"It's always important to finish as soon as you can," pitching coach Rich Dubee said, dripping with champagne. "This will give us the opportunity to do what we want to do. It would have been difficult [to play again today], but that's what the postseason is all about."

He conceded, however, that having the extra day of rest is important.

"This is a lot better," he said. "This is what happened last year with Cole. We wrapped up all those series early. When it winds up like that, you've got things the way you want them."

Pitching plans

The Phillies haven't announced their NLCS rotation, but every indication is that Hamels will get the Game 1 start.

Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ and Pedro Martinez would all be options for Game 2 and then Cliff Lee could come back with an extra day of rest in Game 3.

The Dodgers also have been mum, but the extra time off means that manager Joe Torre can use any of his starters. The first three probably will be Clayton Kershaw and former Phillies Randy Wolf and Vicente Padilla, although not necessarily in that order.

The blew route

There already has been a lot of conversation during the postseason about possible missed calls by umpires. Two controversies involving judgment calls on the same play during the Phillies' winning rally in the ninth inning of Game 3 Sunday night only intensified the debate.

To recap: Jimmy Rollins was on second base with one out of a tie game. Chase Utley hit a slow roller in front of the plate and was called safe at first. Rollins moved to third on the play and scored the decisive run on Ryan Howard's sacrifice fly.

The trouble was that replays showed - and home plate umpire Jerry Meals later acknowledged - that the ball should have been called foul, since it bounced up and struck Utley before rolling into fair territory. And the Rockies continue to believe that the throw from closer Huston Street beat Utley and that first baseman Todd Helton's foot maintained contact with the bag, even though first-base umpire Ron Kulpa saw it differently.

"That's not why we lost," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said before last night's 5-4 elimination loss at Coors Field. "I think we need to move on. I think that was yesterday. We can't do a damn thing about it. There are other things we can do better than belabor the point about umpiring and this, that and whatever."

Tracy might have felt differently had he known he'd be on the field twice in the first inning last night and again in the third, questioning calls at all three bases.

In the top of the first, a replay appeared to clearly show that Ryan Howard hit into a doubleplay. First-base umpire Angel Hernandez ruled that he beat the relay throw. In the bottom of the first, second-base umpire Tim Timmons ruled that Lee's throw to second beat Dexter Fowler for a force play. In the third, with Shane Victorino on first, Utley singled to right. The throw from Carlos Gonzalez arrived at third well ahead of Victorino, but umpire Gerry Davis said third baseman Garrett Atkins missed the tag. In the latter two instances, replays were inconclusive.

Charlie Manuel said he isn't in favor of using replay beyond its current scope, which is to take a second look at boundary plays involving home runs.

"Once you start opening it up . . . then I think that's going to cause a lot of problems," the Phillies manager said. "They can always miss calls. They've been missing calls ever since there's been baseball, a hundred something years or whatever."

Did you notice

* That while the Phillies used the same lineup in each game, Tracy had a different alignment in each of the four games?

* That Lee gave up singles to the first two batters . . . then didn't allow another hit until Yorvit Torrealba singled to open to fifth?

Oops

A baserunning mistake by Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki helped snuff a rally in the sixth. It was a play that could have been costly in what turned out to be a close loss.

Tulowitzki had just doubled to drive in Todd Helton, pulling Colorado within a run. Atkins followed by smoking a line drive right at third baseman Pedro Feliz, who easily doubled off the runner. Not a good play when you're the potential tying run in scoring position with less than two outs.

Risky business

Victorino had already singled and homered against Rockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez when he stepped to the plate in the seventh. So, with a runner on second, two outs, Colorado trailing by one and the big righthander already at 121 pitches, it seemed like a big gamble for Tracy to leave his pitcher in at that point.

It seemed like an especially bad idea when the first pitch was ripped foul.

It worked out, though, when Victorino, grounded back to the pitcher to end the inning.

Victorino, not known as a patient hitter, had worked an eight-pitch at-bat against Jimenez in the first, homering to right on a 3-2 fastball.

Numerology

2.57: Earned run average for the Phillies' bullpen in the NLDS.

4: Straight home postseason losses for the Rockies, including two to the Red Sox in Games 3 and 4 of the 2007 World Series.

4: Straight postseason series wins for the Phillies.

6: NLDS RBI for Ryan Howard, tying him with Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez for the most in the first round of the playoffs. *

Send e-mail to hagenp@phillynews.com.

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