Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Phillies rally in 8th, hold on for NLCS Game 4 win

Wow. If When the Phillies move on to the World Series for the first time since 1993, the top of the 8th in NLCS Game 4 will be replayed for years to come.

After giving up a single to Ryan Howard to start the 8th, Dodgers manager Joe Torre chose to replace reliever Hong-Chih Kuo with Cory Wade. This is significant because Kuo had stymied the Phillies for all but Howard's lead off single. Kuo pitched masterfully in the 7th, striking out Jayson Werth and Chase Utley. Torre decided to remove Kuo after Howard's single in the 8th to play the percentages. Kuo is a lefty and Pat Burrell was coming to the plate, a righty. Lefty to a righty is a no-no in baseball protocol. So Torre took the ball from Kuo and handed it to rookie Cory Wade, a righty. Smart move, at first. Wade got Burrell to pop out to 2nd and the Dodgers were now 5 outs from evening the 2008 NLCS at 2 games. The Flyin' Hawaiian had other plans.

Shane Victorino has undoubtedly been the Phillies postseason MVP. He has been masterful and energetic, exciting and clutch. When he stepped to bat last night versus Wade something was in the air. Victorino is a switch hitter so whoever Torre through out there he was able to counter. Torre stuck with Wade. Mistake. Victorino drilled a pitch down the first-base line. It was long enough. It was high enough. Home run, game tied 5-5. Wade would get Pedro Feliz to line out before facing Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz, who has been hitting better of late. Ruiz singled on the first pitch from Wade. Torre had seen enough; time for the closer. Enter Jonathan Broxton, an imposing man standing 6 feet 4 inches and weighing in at 290 pounds. And his stuff can be electric. And also a bit unpredictable.

Associated Press

Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino celebrates his game-tying 2-run home run in the 8th inning of game 4 of the 2008 NLCS.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel sent up a pinch hitter for pitcher Ryan Madson. His choice? 17-year veteran Matt Stairs, acquired from the Blue Jays by Pat Gillick in August. The Phillies are Stairs' 11th team. This was an obvious decision by Manuel; Broxton was a righty, Stair batted left. Good match up. This was only Stairs' 7th postseason game and 13th postseason at-bat ever. He had 0 runs and 0 RBIs in the postseason. Until last night.

Stairs worked Broxton. After throwing a 1st pitch strike Broxton got in a hole, throwing 3 straight balls. With the count 3-1, Stairs waited for the fastball. And he got it on the 5th pitch of the at-bat. Without hesitation Stairs unloaded on the ball. Suddenly the Phillies had the lead, 7-5.

(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Phillies pinch hitter Matt Stairs belts this pitch deep to right field, giving the Phillies a 7-5 lead in the top of the 8th inning of Monday's game 4 of the 2008 NLCS.

Matt Stairs is congratulated by his teammates as he enters the dugout after his 8th inning home run.

J.C. Romero would get the 2 batters he face in the bottom of the 8th out but it wasn't without a little drama. He walked Rafael Furcal, bringing the tying run to the plate in the form of Andre Ethier. Fortunately for Romero and the Phillies, Ethier grounded into a double play. Next up, Manny Ramirez.

The Phillies have been a perfect 79-0 this season with a lead during the 8th inning (74-0 regular season, 5-0 postseason) thanks in large part to Madson, Romero, and closer Brad Lidge. Manuel turned to Lidge for his first 4-out save of the year. And it would start with Ramirez. Things would get a bit shaky. Ramirez drilled a 3-2 pitch to center field for a double. With 2 outs and a man in scoring position, the Dodgers could tie the game with one swing of the bat. Lidge would strik out the next batter, catcher Russell Martin, on 3 pitches. Despite the strike out, technically the 3rd out of the inning, the 8th wouldn't end. Lidge's slider got away from Ruiz and Martin easily made it to 1st while Ramirez trotted to 3rd. Crap. The next batter was first baseman James Loney, who was having a great day at the plate, going 2 for 3 with a single, double, and a walk. He has the power to put the Dodgers back in front and shift the pressure back to Philadelphia. Loney tried. Boy did he try. After a first-pitch ball, Loney fouled off 4 straight pitches. On the 6th pitch of the at-bat Loney flied out to Eric Bruntlett, who was a defensive replacement for Burrell. Inning over. One more to go.

It would be nice to get another insurance run plated. Utley got things going in the top of the 9th with a single. Howard stepped to the plate and grounded into a fielder's choice to second base, rendering Utley out. The same thing happened to Bruntlett during the next at-bat. With Shane Victorino up, and down in the count 0-2, Bruntlett attempted to steal second on the next pitch. The Dodgers nailed him on an out pitch, inning over. No insurance runs. Lidge back to the mound to close out game 4 and secure a 3-1 Phillies lead in the series.

Things went surprisingly easy for Lidge in the bottom of the 9th. Pinch hitter Nomar Garciaparra flied out to center on his 2nd pitch, Casey Blake struck out on 3 pitches, and pinch hitter Jeff Kent lined out hard to third baseman Pedro Feliz. Game over. 7-5 Phillies. 3-1 series lead.

Brad Lidge went 1-2-3 in the 9th inning to save the win for Philadelphia.

Cole Hamels will face off against Chad Billingsley in Wednesday's game 5 in Los Angeles. A Phillies win sends them to the World Series for the first time in 15 years.

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