Shane Victorino, flyin' into October

Roy Halladay, Carlos Ruiz hug at the end of the game.
Roy Halladay, Carlos Ruiz hug at the end of the game.
Posted: October 07, 2010

IF RYAN HOWARD is Mr. September and Carlos Ruiz is Senor Octobre, Shane Victorino deserves a playoff nickname, too.

Victorino's cagey at-bats and baserunning in the first and second innings yesterday chased Reds starter Edinson Volquez, gave Roy Halladay a lead and framed the righthander's no-hitter. It also made Victorino the Phillies' postseason hits leader. His 35 are two better than Mike Schmidt's career total, and Victorino did it in 33 games, three fewer than Schmidt.

"It means a lot," Victorino said. "It's something special. I want to keep adding on to that. If you don't win, it doesn't mean anything."

Without Victorino, maybe the Phillies don't win last night. Maybe Volquez lasts more than five outs; maybe he settles and controls his fastball and deals his changeup and tosses a curve and pitches like the guy who can dominate.

But there was Victorino, so Volquez didn't.

Victorino doubled in the first inning, stole third, then scored on a sacrifice fly.

His bases-loaded, full-count, two-out single in the second made it 4-0, which, of course, was more than Halladay needed.

That Victorino did it against Volquez, a righthander, made the evening sweeter. Victorino is a switch-hitter but he hit only .235 against righthanders this season, the main reason his average dipped to .259, worst of his five seasons.

"Especially in those situations," Victorino said, "that means a lot."

Three pitches into his at-bat in the first inning, Victorino found himself behind, 1-2. Volquez fired two fastballs, 96 and 97 mph. Victorino slapped both foul.

He used a similar swing on the next pitch - an 83 mph changeup. He kept it fair, softly, down the leftfield line.

"I tried to stay back as long as I could," Victorino later told manager Charlie Manuel.

Jonny Gomes was nowhere near the line, and the ball slowly rolled to the corner. Victorino easily made it to second base.

It was nearly as easy to make it to third.

On Volquez' first pitch to Chase Utley, Victorino - the "Flyin' Hawaiian" - saw that Volquez' delivery was typically predictable and slow, just a touch over 1.6 seconds, and began to salivate:

"I said, 'If he shows that same move again, I'm going to go.' "

He danced maddeningly off second base as Volquez prepared to deliver his second pitch, then broke early. Utley said he saw Victorino break, and did not swing. Catcher Ramon Hernandez had no chance.

Victorino scored three pitches later on Utley's fly ball to deep rightfield. Jay Bruce's strong throw was three steps late.

In the second inning, Victorino stepped in with the bases loaded and a 2-0 lead, thanks to early battles by Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez and an RBI single from Halladay, the killing blow, really.

Volquez had walked Ruiz to start the rally, then, after Halladay, he had walked Jimmy Rollins. He fell behind Victorino 2-0, fought back to 2-2, had the count go full, and Victorino, again, fouled off two pitches - a changeup, then a fastball. The eighth pitch of the at-bat was a 96-mph heater that Victorino gently stroked up the middle, ending Volquez' night at 56 pitches.

"I'd seen what he had. And he'd walked Jimmy. He had a lot of pressure on him," Victorino said. "I got something I could lay out into centerfield."

Chasing Volquez was important.

"At any given point, he can get on a streak where he's unhittable," Victorino said. "He can just shut you down."

Which was not much of a problem for righthanders against Victorino this season - at least, not until lately.

"Over the last two series of the season, Shane got into a comfort zone on the left side of the plate, and he got a couple of hits off offspeed stuff," hitting coach Greg Gross said.

None of those hits had come against Volquez. Victorino was 0-for-5 in his career with three strikeouts against him.

"Everybody knows he's a guy who can throw up to 97, and he's got one of the better changeups you're going to see," Gross said. "You can't get off the fastball because he can throw it right by you. What you try to do is make sure that when you see the offspeed pitch, that it is up."

In the first inning, it was up, and Victorino was locked in - as he has been early in the Phillies' playoff runs.

In 22 Division Series and League Championship Series games, Victorino is hitting .321 with six homers, 21 RBI, 15 runs scored. He has stolen seven bases and been caught once.

"That is impressive," said Gross, who played with Schmidt. "Mike was a very good player. Shane seems to be one of those guys when this is the time of year when he's the hottest. Pete Rose was that way. The playoffs and World Series - he seems to be the best."

Why?

"He gets fired up," Manuel said.

Ruiz, meanwhile, gets cool. So cool, he's willing to share.

"Hey," Ruiz said, "he can be Mr. October, too."

Up next . . .

Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels sat next to each other and watched in awe as Roy Halladay stamped his name again among baseball's great pitchers.

"We were thinking, 'This isn't what we did when we debuted in the postseason,' " said Hamels, who will start Game 3 Sunday in Cincinnati.

Nobody ever has. Hamels pitched decently but lost to the Rockies to start 2007 postseason. Oswalt pitched very well against the Braves without a decision.

Both sat, agape, as they witnessed Halladay exceed his perfect-game performance.

"Way better. Way better," Hamels said. "If you look at the swings the guys took today? In the perfect game, we made some big plays . . . [Last night], he didn't miss a single spot."

Hamels marveled at what he knew could come in Game 4 in Cincinnati when Halladay would pitch again: "This is a spectacular game. But the next time you see him out there, it's going to be back to business. Like nothing ever happened."

As for how he and Oswalt hope to follow Halladay: "I haven't even thought about that."

He and Oswalt are human, he figured. Last night, Halladay, who scuffled some after the All-Star break, had regained the form that made him baseball's best pitcher this season, Hamels said:

"Basically, 'The immortal's back.' "

Ordered

Shane Victorino, who led off in Jimmy Rollins' three injury absences, last night batted second, without controversy. Rollins led off, because Placido Polanco missed the game with back soreness. Had Polanco played and hit second, Victorino would have led off, Charlie Manuel said, and Rollins would have batted probably seventh, where Victorino batted when Rollins was healthy. *

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