Phil Sheridan: Phils' small lineup change produced big results

Raul Ibanez congratulates Jayson Werth after he scored on Jimmy Rollins' double along with Chase Utley and Placido Polanco.
Raul Ibanez congratulates Jayson Werth after he scored on Jimmy Rollins' double along with Chase Utley and Placido Polanco.
Posted: October 18, 2010

Sometimes you can start a rock slide by knocking just a couple of pebbles loose.

Charlie Manuel likes it when the runs are rolling down on opposing pitchers like boulders. He has seen his regular lineup, these players hitting in their usual order, do that often enough that he's very slow to make significant changes.

So it was noteworthy Sunday afternoon when Manuel posted the lineup for Game 2 of the National League Championship Series. Chase Utley, whose name is permanently visible in the No. 3 spot on the dry-erase board in the Phillies' clubhouse, was moved up to the No. 2 spot. Placido Polanco, a consummate two-hole hitter, was moved down to Utley's usual spot.

The reasoning wasn't complicated. The Giants were starting lefthander Jonathan Sanchez in Game 2.

"Split [Ryan] Howard and Utley up," Manuel said. "Same reason I always do it. I want to kind of just have a righthanded hitter between them."

Manuel is always doodling lineups on scraps of paper and napkins, anything handy. For all of that musing and scribbling, he doesn't mess around with the actual hitters all that often. He believes in his guys and likes them to be comfortable and confident.

"That's what a good manager does," Jimmy Rollins said. "He has your back, regardless. As a player, you may not do anything, but I know I'm going to be out there tomorrow."

"Stay right with you, son," Manuel said. "I'll go down with you."

So there were none of the big changes that wannabe-managers yearned to see. Wilson Valdez did not replace Rollins in the lineup. Raul Ibanez did not sit down so righthanded Ben Francisco could play. Rollins did not move up to the leadoff spot. Carlos Ruiz, the team's hottest hitter all season, stayed in his customary No. 8 spot.

Manuel wanted to get that rock slide of runs going, but he wasn't ready for the dynamite just yet. A few pebbles would be enough.

"Sometimes," Polanco said, "one at-bat is all you need to turn things around."

In their first must-win game of this postseason, the Phillies buried the San Francisco Giants under six runs' worth of rubble. In this pitching-dominated October, that was an embarrassment of offense.

Utley and Polanco were involved in every run the Phillies scored.

First inning: Utley drew a walk off the wild-early Sanchez and stole second. Polanco reached on a throwing error, which also allowed Utley to scoot over to third. Howard walked to load the bases. Rollins walked to force in a run.

Fifth inning: Just after Cody Ross hit his regularly scheduled, no-hitter-ruining home run to tie the game at 1, the Phillies answered. Shane Victorino, hitting in Rollins' old leadoff spot, stroked a double. Utley hit a long fly ball to right, Polanco another fly ball to center. Victorino went station to station for the go-ahead run.

"We didn't come out with a 10-, 15-hit barrage," Victorino said, "but we were able to manufacture runs."

Seventh inning: Roy Oswalt, who pestered Sanchez with a long at-bat in the fourth, stroked a single to center to lead off. Giants manager Bruce Bochy brought in righthander Ramon Ramirez to face Victorino, who laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Oswalt to second.

If Polanco had been in his usual spot, Ramirez probably would have gone after him. Instead, he intentionally walked the lefthanded Utley. Polanco followed with a single to center. Oswalt, bless his baseball-player heart, took a wide turn around third, ran past the stunned Sam Perlozzo's stop sign, and made a well-placed slide to score ahead of the throw.

"Nice slide," Rollins said. "Looked like something I would do, except I wouldn't have had to slide."

The lineup change affected when Bochy brought in his relievers. Lefty Jeremy Affeldt came in a batter later, striking out Howard. After an intentional walk of Jayson Werth loaded the bases, righthander Santiago Casilla came in to flip Rollins over to the left side.

Bases loaded, two out. Rollins tripped the rock slide with a bases-clearing double off the wall in right-center.

Rollins, who has made no secret of his preference for leading off, said it best: "Today, I was in the right spot."

After a strangely uneasy Game 1 and two-thirds of Game 2, Citizens Bank Park erupted with the festive sounds of postseason celebration. Normalcy had been restored.

After falling behind, one game to none, for the first time in eight postseason series, the Phillies are back on familiar ground. They were 1-1 after two games in the last two World Series, as well as the division series and NLCS last year. The Phillies went 3-1 in those four series.

"We were pretty loose," Polanco said. "The fact this team has been to the playoffs the last four years helped. We turn the page and try to win the next game."

They are in fine shape going into Game 3. Whatever lineup Manuel comes up with, Cole Hamels will be in the ninth spot.


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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