La Russa stands by leaving Lohse in game
Game 1 starter had been effective until key stretch in sixth inning
PHILADELPHIA -- There was no wavering or second-guessing on the part of Cardinals manager Tony La Russa on when to remove pitcher Kyle Lohse from the Phillies' critical five-run sixth inning in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
Not with the way Lohse was pitching to that point, having allowed one run over the first five innings. Certainly not with the way his changeup was dancing, or with how many first-pitch strikes he had thrown to that point.
And did we mention that Lohse was actually outpitching Phillies starter Roy Halladay?
Even after Jimmy Rollins and Hunter Pence each rolled singles through the infield in the sixth inning with one out, La Russa didn't sense that his starting pitcher -- leading, 3-1, at that point -- was teetering or tiring.
"The ball that Rollins hit to start it was off the end of the bat," La Russa said. "He strikes out [Chase] Utley, which is a tough out, and then he gets a hopper from Pence. I haven't seen him do anything wrong; both up the middle, found a hole.
"Pretty tough to take him out there."
That's when the inning and game took a dramatic twist, when Ryan Howard, in an eight-pitch at-bat, finally got a changeup to drive, hitting it over the fence in right field as the Phillies took a 4-3 lead.
Shane Victorino then singled to bring up the left-handed-hitting Raul Ibanez, who hit 16 of his 20 home runs in the regular season against right-handed pitching. La Russa opted to stick with Lohse instead of going to lefty Marc Rzepczynski.
"At that point, he pitched Ibanez tough, so I thought it was too early to get him," La Russa said.
But Ibanez, who was 0-for-2 to that point, turned on a Lohse changeup, hitting it on a line over the right-field fence for a 6-3 lead.
"He [had] pitched very effectively," La Russa said. "I know that Howard is a real tough matchup. [Lohse] got a ball in the middle of the strike zone for his first home run, and then he made another mistake to Ibanez.
"My decision was based on what I had seen. I didn't see him do anything wrong."
That home run proved pivotal as the Cardinals -- who jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning -- scored three runs in the ninth inning to cut the deficit to 11-6. The Phillies held on for a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
The Howard home run ignited the comeback, with an at-bat in which the Phillies slugger fouled off three pitches before hitting his home run.
"I know in that situation, they're going to be very careful, especially with Shane coming up behind me," Howard said. "But I was able to actually foul off two really good changeups, and he left one hanging."
Afterward, Lohse, who retired the first 10 hitters he faced, firing eight first-pitch strikes to those 10 hitters, wasn't reticent about the turn of events in that sixth inning. He didn't think he relied too heavily on his changeup as the game wore on.
But he may have regretted where he threw a few of them in that fitful inning.
"Just the execution," Lohse said. "With Howard, I'm being careful. He fouled off a really good changeup earlier in the at-bat, and I just was trying to come back with the same pitch and I just hung it."
Twenty-seven percent of Lohse's pitches against the Phillies were changeups -- up from the 19 percent rate of which he threw that pitch during the regular season.
The pitch was working for him, so he stuck with it.
"I feel like I could let them know a changeup is coming if I execute it. It's going to result in a good thing," Lohse said.
"It boils down to two bad pitches. The inning started off with a couple balls that just found a hole. And after that, it ended with a couple of really bad pitches. It's pretty simple."