Loss has Phils on brink, but hopes won't sink
Oswalt allows walk-off sac fly in ninth as Giants grab 3-1 lead
SAN FRANCISCO -- The reality of another loss is grim.
Drop one more game and the Phillies will watch the World Series from home for the first time since 2007.
But the Phillies left AT&T Park on Wednesday following a gut-wrenching 6-5 loss to the Giants in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series with hope. Philadelphia trails San Francisco in the best-of-seven series, 3-1, but six of 30 teams since 1985 have overcome the deficit to win the LCS.
"If we like to play with our backs against the wall, it's there now," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
If a team is equipped to make such a comeback, it would be the Phillies. They have Roy Halladay on the mound Thursday in Game 5. If they find a way to beat Giants ace Tim Linececum, they will return to Philadelphia with Roy Oswalt on the mound Saturday in Game 6 and possibly Cole Hamels on the mound Sunday in Game 7.
"We just have to win now," Phils shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "We've got good pitchers. They can shut teams down. We've seen them shut teams down, especially when times get tough. They seem to get better. I think we're going to get their best."
The Phillies will need their best from everybody, not just the Big Three.
"We've got a gut check to see how good we really are," center fielder Shane Victorino said.
"We feel very confident," closer Brad Lidge said. "We're trying not to look at it as three games. We're trying to look at it as, win with Roy Halladay on the mound. That seems pretty manageable. [The Giants] will be fired up, and Lincecum will probably throw the ball pretty good, but we've got Roy Halladay on the mound and we like our chances."
The Giants won the game in the ninth inning. Oswalt had volunteered to pitch in relief, and the Phillies happily took him up on the offer with only J.C. Romero, Kyle Kendrick and Lidge left in the bullpen. Oswalt had pitched brilliantly in Game 2, and if they could squeeze one or two innings from him, they figured their offense eventually would get to the Giants' bullpen, which would allow them to use Lidge in a save situation.
It never happened.
Oswalt, who threw a scheduled bullpen session earlier in the day, allowed back-to-back singles to Aubrey Huff and Buster Posey to put runners at the corners with one out. Juan Uribe's sacrifice fly to left field scored Huff to win it.
"I felt all right," Oswalt said. "I threw a bullpen [session] today, but it's the playoffs. The pitch that was probably the worst one was the changeup to Aubrey. It was a little more strike than I wanted it. I wanted it down and away to try to get him to roll over. It was over the middle of the plate."
The Phillies fought back to overcome two deficits to get to that point.
Phils right-hander Joe Blanton, who had not pitched since Oct. 3, tried to become the first starting pitcher to win a postseason game on 16 days of rest since Yankees right-hander Red Ruffing in the 1939 World Series.
Blanton showed some rust in the first inning. He gave up a one-out single to Freddy Sanchez, which would not have been a big deal except he uncorked two wild pitches in front of home plate to move him to third. Posey singled up the middle with two outs to score Sanchez to hand the Giants a 1-0 lead.
Blanton allowed a run in the third inning on back-to-back two-out hits from Huff and Posey to make it 2-0.
It was easy to second-guess Manuel's decision to start Blanton over Halladay on short rest, except the Phillies had just one hit to that point. But they finally broke open in the fifth inning to take a 4-2 lead.
Ben Francisco, who started in place of Raul Ibanez, and Carlos Ruiz hit back-to-back singles. They moved to second and third on a sacrifice bunt from Blanton. It was the first time a Phillies baserunner had touched third base since the seventh inning in Game 2 at Citizens Bank Park.
PERFECTLY TIMED STREAK
|Series||After Gm 4||Gm 5||Gm 6||Gm 7|
|'07 ALCS||CLE, 3-1||BOS, 7-1||BOS, 12-2||BOS, 11-2|
|'04 ALCS||NYY, 3-1||BOS, 5-4||BOS, 4-2||BOS, 10-3|
|'03 NLCS||CHC, 3-1||FLA, 4-0||FLA, 8-3||FLA, 9-6|
|'96 NLCS||STL, 3-1||ATL, 14-0||ATL, 3-1||ATL, 15-0|
|'86 ALCS||CAL, 3-1||BOS, 7-6||BOS, 10-4||BOS, 8-1|
|'85 ALCS||TOR, 3-1||KC, 2-0||KC, 5-3||KC, 6-2|
The Phillies were just 2-for-22 with runners in scoring position in the NLCS before Victorino's single.
Chase Utley singled to right to keep the inning alive. Giants manager Bruce Bochy replaced Madison Bumgarner with Santiago Casilla, and Placido Polanco ripped a double to left-center field to clear the bases to give the Phils a 3-2 lead. It was just Philadelphia's second extra-base hit with runners in scoring position in the postseason.
Castilla intentionally walked Ryan Howard and hit Jayson Werth with a pitch to load the bases. He then uncorked a wild pitch over the backstop to allow Polanco to score to make it 4-2.
The Giants scored a run in the fifth and two runs in the sixth to take a 5-4 lead, but Howard and Werth hit back-to-back doubles in the eighth to tie the game. If the Phillies could have scored Werth, they could have taken the lead and used Lidge in the ninth.
But Rollins popped out to Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval for the first out, and Francisco and Ruiz struck out swinging to end the inning.
Rollins' at-bat seemed like a perfect situation to bunt.
"I thought about it," Rollins said. "But the situation, they got the lefty in the bullpen. You know what's going on. You bunt, we bring in Raul [Ibanez], they bring in a lefty. They were going to go matchups, so I was giving myself at least one chance to get him over swinging if not drive him in. I just didn't execute."
The Phillies did the little things well to win Game 2, the only game they won this series. Otherwise they have come up short.
That is one reason they are in a hole.
If the Phillies need inspiration for Thursday, they should look to the six teams that came back from 3-1 deficits in the LCS: the 1985 Royals, '86 Red Sox, '96 Braves, '03 Marlins, '04 Red Sox and '07 Red Sox. Francisco played for the '07 Indians, who blew their commanding lead to the Red Sox.
"We're still confident," Francisco said. "We've just got to win one and get it back to Philly. That's what the '07 Red Sox did to us. They came out, beat our ace and they went back to their home park. That's what we've got to do."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.