Sam Donnellon: Nice to see Rollins join the Phillies' party

Posted: October 18, 2010

AT SOME POINT he had to join the party. It was implausible, the thought that the Phillies could win the last game of the 2010 season without the help of Jimmy Rollins.

And yet he looked so awful on the right side of the plate, so feeble on the left side of the plate this postseason, that Giants manager Bruce Bochy's solution to escape a seventh-inning jam last night was to somehow get to Rollins' place in the order.

Rollins had mustered just two hits in the playoffs, one a little gift that dropped between three Giants infielders to begin the fourth inning last night. In the press box, probably in the stands, in the living rooms and bars across the Delaware Valley, too, there was an uneasy argument even that pinch-hitting for the Phillies' franchise shortstop was the sharpest course of action. Especially when Bochy intentionally walked hitless Jayson Werth to load the bases, then replaced lefthander Jeremy Affeldt with righthanded Santiago Casilla, forcing Rollins to bat lefthanded.

"I never considered it at all, really," manager Charlie Manuel said after Rollins' three-run double in the seventh broke open the Phillies' 6-1 victory over San Francisco in Game 2 of the NLCS. "When you show me you can do something, when I see it and trust in you . . . This is a game where you can really go bad . . .

"I've got a lot of faith in him and I stand there and pull for him. I know how good he can hit and I also know how much he wants to be up there."

It's why none of us are managers. It's why players love to play for Charlie Manuel. Whether through his periodic struggles at leadoff, or his recent struggles to bat as well or run as well as we are accustomed to seeing, Rollins never quite lost his manager the way he lost some of us.

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

And he did, throughout some key at-bats against Cincinnati, and again the other night. Play Wilson Valdez, some said. Bat Jimmy leadoff where he will feel more comfortable, went the touchy-feely theorem.

Which is why Rollins' bases-clearing double off the right-centerfield wall wasn't just about sealing a critical victory. It was about hope, promise, and ultimately - for anxious fans unaccustomed to seeing their team behind in a postseason series - relief.

"I was glad I was the person up there at the moment and able to come through," Rollins said. "But you don't celebrate until you win four games. And once we get to that point, you can look back and say that was a big hit. But for now, it just gave us a little breathing room . . . "

The Phillies head to San Francisco for the next three games of this series with a little more air in their lungs, a little better karma now. They chased a pretty good pitcher in Jonathan Sanchez. It took a lot of pitches and a lot of grueling at-bats and yes, missed opportunities, but they scored six runs and chipped away at a Giants bullpen that was supposed to be San Francisco's edge. It was a very un-Phillielike rally, fueled by the leadoff hitter sacrificing the pitcher to second and Bochy then playing his dangerous game of matchup by having his pitchers issue two intentional walks, the second to get to Rollins.

Rollins' double was the Phillies' fifth extra-base hit of this series. While this already eclipses their three-game total against Cincinnati, it masks this: The Phillies have recorded consecutive hits just once in the postseason, back in the second inning of Game 1 of the NLDS.

Rollins came to the plate with one hit in his back pocket, a bloop in front of the pitcher's mound that the Giants misplayed into a hit to start the inning. Rollins didn't score, but twice he attempted steals on balls fouled off. He ran all-out and fast both times and for the first time in more than a month, he looked something like his old self.

Or his best self.

"If you cover me every day, you know where I'm coming from," he said. "You figure out things. You solve problems. Sometimes there's going to be confusion. But once you lose confidence, you're not going to be able to play at this level.

"God gave me this talent. And I'm going to do something with it. That's just the way it is."

There's a lot of baseball left to be played, a lot of questions still to be answered about the Phillies' ability to support their three aces against a Giants staff of the same. But if Rollins has figured out things, solved problems, rejoined the party?

Well, that answers a whole bunch of questions.

Send e-mail to

donnels@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/donnellon.

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