Phillies' bats make strides, but not there yet
Four-run rally a great start, but opportunities go unrequited
PHILADELPHIA -- Having seen their offense slumber through the first couple weeks of this postseason, the Phillies exited Wednesday night's 6-5 loss to the Giants in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series with some reason for encouragement. But at the same time, they were forced to dwell upon the fact that at least one too many scoring opportunities went unrewarded.
"Today was a lot better than the previous games," Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard said. "We were able to come back and battle. They were just able to manufacture that run at the end of the game. There's a lot of positives to take into tomorrow and try to build on."
Down 3-1 in this best-of-seven NLCS, the Phillies aren't in a position to simply hope they are heading in the right direction. Given a chance to be challenged by somebody other than Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez, they chased Madison Bumgarner in the fifth inning and managed to tally a pair of runs against the Giants' strong bullpen.
But after projected Game 6 starter Roy Oswalt entered in the ninth and allowed the Giants to celebrate Juan Uribe's walk-off sacrifice fly, the Phillies weren't thinking about the fact that they had produced a four-run fifth and manufactured multiple scoring opportunities.
Instead, they were forced to dwell upon the fact that their game-tying eighth inning could have proven much more fruitful. After Howard and Jayson Werth began the inning with consecutive doubles to tie the game, Werth was left stranded at second. Giants right-handed reliever Sergio Romo killed the prime scoring opportunity by retiring Jimmy Rollins, Ben Francisco and Carlos Ruiz within a span of eight pitches.
This set the stage for All-Star closer Brian Wilson to work a perfect ninth, putting the Giants in position to celebrate a walk-off victory that puts them one win away from preventing the Phillies from making a third consecutive trip to the World Series.
"We don't want to be in this situation, but we are," Rollins said. "We fight. There's no doubt about that. As long as you have a chance to go up there and swing, you've got a chance to win."
While going 3-for-9 with runners in scoring position in Wednesday's Game 4 loss, the Phillies actually topped the number of hits (2-for-19) they recorded in the first three games of the NLCS. The five hits they notched in the four-run fourth were two more than they had recorded in their Game 3 shutout loss.
But as San Francisco celebrated its fifth one-run win of this postseason, Philadelphia was forced to face the fact that it could have scored at least one more run in both the fifth and eighth innings.
Rollins, who batted .329 (23-for-70) with runners in scoring position during the regular season, looked at a called third strike to end the fourth inning with runners at first and second base. The veteran shortstop's most costly strikeout occurred one inning later, when Santiago Casilla got him to swing through a third strike with the bases loaded and two outs.After Werth greeted Romo with a game-tying double down the left-field line, the right-handed reliever quieted the threat by getting Rollins to follow with a harmless infield fly ball on a 1-0 pitch. Rollins said he might have bunted had he gained a one-strike count after having a chance to move Werth with a swing.
"Rollins usually pulls the ball," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "If he hits the ball to the right side of the diamond, that's one of his strong points, he's got a short quick swing to the left side that he usually pulls the ball. Not only that, if he pulls the ball, he also has a chance to get a hit or drive the run in."
Once Rollins' pop fly quieted the eighth-inning threat, Romo killed it with the six straight sliders he used to record consecutive strikeouts of Francisco and Ruiz, who had been retired attempting to score on Shane Victorino's fifth-inning RBI single.
"You take positive things," Victorino said. "You always do. There's always a way to take a positive out of a game. To me, the positive part is battling back and being down, and then coming back the way we did. You take that as a positive. But at the end of the night, it definitely is disappointing.
"But like I always say, 'We've still got one more chance.' This is not done yet."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.