The ace was off - with good reason

(Gerald Gaul)
Posted: October 22, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO - The Phillies sent their ace to the mound in this survival game at AT&T Park, then watched Roy Halladay do everything he could to survive the final five innings after suffering a groin injury while pitching to Cody Ross in the second.

Halladay did what he could with the stuff he had Thursday night, and the Phillies' bullpen quartet of Jose Contreras, J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson, and Brad Lidge covered the final three innings in a 4-2 Game 5 victory over San Francisco in the National League Championship Series.

So now the white rally towels will replace the orange homer hankies, and the Phillies still have a chance to stage their first rally from a three-games-to-one playoff deficit in franchise history.

Here's a look at some of the things that had to happen for the Phillies to get the series back to Citizens Bank Park:

Halladay had grit

Halladay might have pitched the best two games of his life this season with the Phillies, but he clearly was not at his best in the biggest game of his life.

From the outset, he did not have his full complement of weapons or top command, and only afterward did anybody outside the Phillies' dugout realize why. Manager Charlie Manuel revealed the injury after the game.

To his credit, Halladay allowed only two runs on six hits in six gritty innings and was rewarded with his second win of the postseason.

"He changed the way he goes about his business usually and reverted to more curveball, change-up," pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "He turned into a pretty crafty pitcher."

His most impressive inning was his final one, because he got through it without allowing a run despite running on fumes.

Halladay clearly was frustrated when plate umpire Jeff Nelson called a 3-2 pitch to Buster Posey low, putting the Giants' leadoff man on to start the sixth.

The veteran righthander used three cut fastballs to get Pat Burrell to pop up for the first out of the inning, then needed eight pitches to strike out the white-hot Ross for the second out. Unable to get a fastball past Ross, Halladay finally got the Giants' rightfielder to swing through a 3-2 change-up.

After Pablo Sandoval singled to right field on a change-up, Halladay escaped the 26-pitch inning by getting Juan Uribe to swing at a 3-2 curveball in the dirt.

Halladay's 108th and final pitch was his 22d curveball of the game. The only pitch he used more was his cut fastball, and it's definitely an atypical start for Halladay when the curveball is his second pitch.

This postseason performance did not remind anybody of Cliff Lee's postseason work, but it did show that Halladay can get people out with guile, too.

A workout in the second

The Game 5 scorecard will show that Halladay retired the side in order in the bottom of the second inning. What it will not show is how laborious that task was for the Phillies' ace.

Thanks to a combined seven foul balls on two-strike pitches by the Giants' trio of Ross, Sandoval, and Uribe, Halladay needed 25 pitches to get through the inning. Through two innings, he had thrown 43 pitches.

Fundamentally unsound

Halladay could have gotten through the fifth inning throwing just six pitches if first baseman Ryan Howard had come up with a Andres Torres ground ball for the final out.

The ball was hit right at Howard, but instead of getting in front of it, he tried to make a backhand stop. The ball caromed away from Howard, and Torres was safe at first. The Giants did not score, but it took Halladay 10 more pitches to get through the inning, driving his pitch count to 82 through five innings.

That was just one bad moment during a horrendous night for Howard, who was 0 for 4 and struck out three times, including once with runners at first and third and one out in the third inning.

Tim Lincecum fed Howard a steady diet of off-speed pitches, striking out the first baseman with change-ups in the second and third innings and a slider in the sixth.

Utley's ugliness

The worst postseason of Chase Utley's career continued in the first when he grounded out weakly in the top of the inning, then botched a double-play grounder in the bottom half, allowing the Giants to get on the board first.

Posey hit a soft roller toward Utley that should have been an inning-ending double play. Utley, however, whiffed on picking up the ball with his glove and had to settle for one out at second base while Torres crossed home plate.

Utley had another errant throw in the third when a Torres ground ball caromed off Howard and right into the second baseman's glove. If Utley had thrown accurately to Halladay covering at first base, Torres would have been out. The throw was bad. Utley also made a poor throw to first to end the inning, but Howard handled it.

The second baseman did come up with a huge play in the bottom of the seventh when he seemed to suspend himself in the air to catch a knuckling soft liner off Aubrey Huff's bat for the final out of the inning.

One crazy inning

The Phillies scored three third-inning runs off Lincecum in a most peculiar way.

The slumping Raul Ibanez opened the inning with a single and advanced to second when Lincecum hit Carlos Ruiz in the right forearm with a 0-2 pitch.

How often does a righthanded hitter get hit in the right forearm?

Halladay followed with a sacrifice. It wasn't a very good sacrifice bunt. In fact, it wasn't even a fair sacrifice bunt. But Nelson, who botched a balk call the night before, ruled the bunt fair.

Catcher Posey had time to throw out lead runner Ibanez, but third baseman Sandoval could not find the bag. Halladay, thinking the ball was foul, never ran to first base and was thrown out by Sandoval. You don't see the 2-5-4 sacrifice every day.

The Phillies scored two runs when first baseman Huff couldn't handle a sharp grounder hit right at him by Shane Victorino, and they scored another when Placido Polanco singled.


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or bbrookover@phillynews.com.

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