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10/03/07 9:55 PM ET

Spin Forward: Philly trio must awaken

Francis, Rockies make Rollins, Howard, Utley go 0-for-11

PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia's Big Three MVP candidates -- Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard -- were missing in action in Game 1 of the National League Division Series, going a combined 0-for-11 with eight strikeouts in the 4-2 loss to Colorado on Wednesday.

The question is, do the Rockies have their number, or was this simply just one of those days when factors conspired for a trifecta the Phillies may never have to endure again?

This much isn't debatable: A repeat performance simply cannot happen if the Phillies want to advance to the National League Championship Series. Rollins has to set the tone and the heart of the order must start beating again -- and fast.

The Phillies didn't become the National League's most prolific scoring team this season based solely on those three players' performance. But the Big Three will need to step back into form for Philadelphia to keep up with the hottest team in baseball.

Utley and Howard's seven strikeouts in the same game were a combined season high, and there hadn't been a nine-inning game this year when the Big Three had that many strikeouts and no hits or RBIs.

This had to be a fluke, right?

"It's one game, we've all had these days, you know?" Howard said. "It's rare that we've all had them together, but we've all had those days. But today's game is over and we're looking forward to tomorrow's game."

But eight punchouts, from three of the best all-around hitters in baseball? That you don't see every day.

"It happens sometimes, but that's the first time it's happened all year," Howard said. "You've got to give [Colorado starter Jeff] Francis credit. He was mixing it up. His fastball was good, so were his changeup and curveball; he had all three pitches working. He was changing speeds, moving it in, moving it out."

Rollins also believed it was more Francis than anything the Rockies' scouts might have discovered. And he doesn't believe it will carry over to the rest of the series.

"He did a good job today. He had some big strikeouts; I had one of them," Rollins said. "Some days it happens like that."

Not like this.

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"Well it's strange, definitely," Rollins said. "[But] it happens, it does. It's baseball. ... [If they] make good pitches and you don't hit them, you'll get some strikeouts."

Said Utley: "There's been plenty of times when we've struggled, but we've always fought through it. Tomorrow we're going to come out and be ready to go."

Utley had only fanned four times in a game once previously this season and twice in his career.

"I think some days you have an off-day," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "Of course, that's what happened to him today. But at the same time, I think they pitched [Utley] good because he's that good of a hitter, and I definitely think that the way that they went after him ... I think that had a lot to do with him."

Even Francis was surprised with the number of strikeouts by Utley and Howard.

"They are the key hitters in that lineup, most definitely," Francis said. "That's what you want to do, and you want to be able to put them away quickly. You don't want to mess around, and fortunately, they were swinging and missing. It really wasn't total intention, but if they are going to miss it, then that's great."

Francis did take a different strategy this time from his last start against the Phillies.

"He actually threw a lot more offspeed," Rollins said. "Usually he throws fastballs, fastballs and we jump on them. Soon as he got ahead this time he started going to his changeup and his curveball, and it was effective."

The early afternoon shadows were mentioned by Howard and center fielder Aaron Rowand as a factor in the early innings, but Utley and Rollins didn't think that was the case, and as Utley pointed out, both teams had to hit in the same light.

"It's not going to be as high scoring as you think, it's hard to see with the shadows," Rowand said. "That's why you saw so few hits from the two best offenses in the National League."

The Phillies will find out soon enough if this was just one of those games. And if they're going to beat a team that has now won 15 of its last 16 games, they better figure out an answer quickly for whatever was behind the Big Three's Game 1 blanking.

"Everyone knows we've had a big up and down year, the thing that's stayed the same is our attitude and our positivity," Utley said. "And we're going to continue with that."

Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.