Furcal's error opens door for Phillies
Overthrow at beginning of sixth precedes Utley, Burrell homers
PHILADELPHIA -- On another night, in another setting, it might have been nothing more than a routine ground ball. Yet this was no typical night -- it was Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. And this was no routine result.
Leading off the sixth inning of Thursday's game at Citizens Bank Park, Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino sent a bouncing ball just to the left of second base, where Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal quickly fielded it. No problem there. But then Furcal sailed his throw well high and wide of first base, where it glanced off James Loney's glove into foul territory.
Victorino wound up on second base, and the next batter, Chase Utley, hit a no-doubt two-run homer to tie the game at two.
Two batters later, Pat Burrell took Lowe over the left-center field fence for a 3-2 Phillies lead.
"Momentum can shift off a simple mistake, or a big home run, or big pitch," Victorino said. "The Furcal error swayed it a bit our way, then Chase came up with the home run. That put us right back in the game."
The play proved shocking not only in how quickly Furcal's error turned the game, but also in the manner in which it happened. Cruising through the first five innings, starter Derek Lowe seemed right on track when he induced Victorino's ground ball -- not a particularly difficult one to field. And despite Victorino's speed, an on-target throw would have nabbed him without room for argument.
Yet Furcal's throw was not on target. Loney perhaps could have caught it had he jumped for the ball, but he instead tried to keep his left foot planted on the bag. Stretched to his limit, Loney's foot came off the bag and his right arm didn't extend high enough to catch the ball, which ricocheted off his glove.
"The ball slipped out of my hand," said Furcal, playing in only his eighth game after missing nearly five months with a back injury that needed surgery.
But the error alone didn't lose Thursday's game. At that point, the Dodgers were still winning, having collected two runs off Phillies starter Cole Hamels in the early innings. What frustrated Lowe was not the error but what came next, when Utley and Burrell homered to knock him out of the game after 6 1/3 innings.
The play completely changed the atmosphere. Waving white rally towels and drowning out everything with its noise, the crowd at Citizens Bank Park exploded.
Still, both Lowe and Dodgers manager Joe Torre insisted after the game that the error did not rattle the pitcher, despite evidence to the contrary in the form of those homers. Lowe's postseason experience seems to validate that view at least somewhat, given Lowe's role pitching pressure-packed clinchers for the Red Sox in recent years.
"I don't think he got flustered or bothered by the error," Torre said.
Lowe agreed, lamenting only the misplaced sinker that he threw to Utley.
"I should have known better than throwing that pitch," he said.
Whatever the impact, it's clear that Furcal's error was a game-changing play -- if not for Lowe, then for the Phillies. Their offense ranks among the most potent in the National League, and their pitching staff becomes dangerous with a lead -- which is precisely what happened in Game 1.
After the error and after the home runs, Hamels clamped down, Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge entered out of the bullpen, and the game all but ended. The Phillies promptly secured a critical 1-0 edge in the best-of-seven series.
"When we put pressure on, and you make a mistake, the ball's out of here quick," Lidge said. "It changes the game."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.