Friday, October 22, 2010

Not Dead Yet

Kudos out to Roy Halladay who gutted his way through a first-inning groin injury -- that he told no one but his manager about and then insisted on going back out to the mound for six tough innings of 2-run baseball -- to nab his first win of the NLCS and an absolutely crucial victory for the Phillies on the brink of elimination in Game 5. To the rabid Phillies fans watching the game, it was very obvious just from the look on Halladay's face while he was out there and even in the dugout in between innings early in the game -- where Halladay was barely able to sit down without significant pain -- that something was wrong, and in a way it was a relief to hear about the groin injury in manager Charlie Manuel's end of game presser, indicating that this is not the new status quo for the Phillies' ace but rather just (hopefully) a temporary physical ailment. But for him to go out there and give the team six quality innings and to pitch through the pain like he did, this is the stuff that Philadelphia is made of, and the fans will not forget.

As big as Halladay was in the Phillies nabbing the win and sending the series back home to Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, the real story in Game 5 wasn't Halladay, nor Giants ace Tim Lincecum who took the tough loss after another solid pitching performance himself, but rather the Phillies' bullpen, easily thought to be the one glaring weakness on this team. After a scoreless 7th inning from Jose Contreras and J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson came in needing to hold on to a slim 1-run lead while facing the Giants' tough 4-5-6 hitters of Buster Posey, Pat Burrell and Cody Ross in the 8th inning -- the three guys responsible for mostly all of San Francisco's offense in this entire LCS series -- and Madson responded to the pressure by promptly setting down the side in order, throwing fastball after fastball by the heart of the Giants' lineup as he mowed down the most menacing players on the opposition like they were children with pitches that registered around 90-92 on the radar gun but looked more like 150 or 200 to this experienced eye. Honestly I do not recall the last time Ryan Madson (or any Phillies reliever, for that matter) came into a game late and struck out the side like this, but it provided a huge lift to the team and to their fans who I can personally tell you were not ready to pack it in for the season just yet. By the time Jayson Werth added his NL record 11th postseason home run with the Phillies in the top of the 9th inning, the team's spirits were high, and my nemesis Brad Lidge was perfect to close it out in the 9th.

So, the anatomy of each of the 12 historic comebacks from 3-1 down in 7-game series in MLB history begins exactly the same way -- with a win by the down team in Game 5 -- and that's what we're looking at here in the NLCS. And unlike the Yankees, who (1) have to win the last two games of their ALCS series on the road at Texas, and (2) who still have to face their opponent's #1 starter and known Yankee killer in Game 7, the Phillies have a somewhat easier rode ahead of them. No more road games, no more silly west coast time zone, and most of all, no more Tim Lincecum in any meaningful way in this series. Right now it's just about winning Game 6, which will feature Phillies pitcher Roy Oswalt's shot at redemption after taking the loss in giving up a 9th inning run in Game 4, going against Sanchez who the Phillies already touched up but good in Game 2 of this series, the only game where the Phils' lineup was really able to come together and do their thing. Here's hoping we get not just one but two Game 7s this weekend in what could shape up to be an incredible weekend on both the baseball and the football fronts.

team to rally from a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series. The Red Sox were the last to do it, in the 2007 ALCS against Cleveland.

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