October 5, 2011
NLDS Game Three: Phillies Take a 2-1 Lead
Neither Roy Halladay nor Cliff Lee quite lived up to his billing in the first two games of the Phillies-Cardinals Division Series—Halladay because he failed to throw a no-hitter, and Lee because he allowed a season-high 12 hits—but after two games in which runs weren't especially scarce, Game Three gave us the pitcher's duel that every Phillies playoff game has the potential to be. Both Cole Hamels and Jaime Garcia were completely in control far most of the game, with Garcia surrendering just three singles through the sixth, thanks in part to smooth fielding from Rafael Furcal and David Freese, and Hamels nearly as successful in keeping runners off base, though he allowed two doubles to Albert Pujols (which has been known to happen to the best of pitchers).
Economy was the name of the game early. Hamels threw the third-fewest pitches per inning in the NL this year (14.5)—fewer even than the uber-efficient Lee—but it was Garcia, who ranked 31st in that category, who excelled at retiring hitters quickly tonight (at least until he didn't), starting off the first 10 batters he faced with strikes. Neither team put a leadoff batter on through six, but the first sign of trouble came when Garcia went 3-0 against Victorino to lead off the seventh before allowing a solid single on 3-2. The first pitch to the next batter, John Mayberry, was a low fastball that Molina usually blocks, but he let this one get by him for a passed ball, which allowed Victorino to advance to second.
After Carlos Ruiz was intentionally walked, Ben Francisco pinch-hit for Hamels, who had better strikeout stuff than Garcia but threw 117 pitches, his highest single-game total since June and his third-highest on the season. Francisco, who had only one home run in 112 prior pinch-hit plate appearances and hadn't gone yard under any circumstances in 126 plate appearances since his last big fly on May 25, went deep on a belt-high, 89-mph 1-0 fastball. It seems hard to argue with La Russa's decision not to pinch-hit for Garcia with two outs in the bottom of the sixth and runners on first and second, given that Garcia had been cruising and had thrown only 74 pitches to that point, but after watching Garcia run out of steam and start to leave pitches up without warning, it's probably one that he'd like back anyway. *Edit* The more I think about it, the less I like that move, given the loss of effectiveness all pitchers suffer as they make their way through an opposing lineup for the third and fourth time. Mitchel Litchtman's math here is quite convincing—stay tuned for a much more in-depth MGL investigation of the proper time to pull starters at BP in the next couple weeks.
With Hamels out of the game, the Cardinals came storming back against Vance Worley in the bottom half of the inning. After Furcal grounded out, Allen Craig walked, Pujols recorded his third hit of the game on a soft fly that fell in front of Hunter Pence, Lance Berkman was retired on another grounder, and David Freese singled on a sharp line drive to center, scoring Craig. Yadier Molina flew out to right to end the inning, but the Cardinals were on the board.
They threatened again in the eighth, when Theriot led off with a single. After Nick Punto flew out and Brad Lidge entered the game in response to a substitution on the on-deck circle, Matt Holliday managed a pinch-hit single on a mid-80s slider outside that couldn't have stung his ailing tendon too badly before being removed for a pinch-runner and exchanging some gingerly high fives in the dugout. Following a Furcal single, Charlie Manuel called upon closer Ryan Madson, asking him to get more than three outs for the first time all season. It took him all of two pitches to get those two additional outs, as the Cardinals' propensity to hit into doubles plays—the team's 3.2 percent DP rate led the majors this season—came back to bit them in the guise of an Allen Craig grounder to second.
In the ninth, Madson made things interesting, though it's unlikely that those two additional pitches had placed an undue strain on Mr. One-Inning Outing. Pujols led off with his third double of the game and advanced to third on a one-out Freese grounder, then scored on a Molina single to center. However, the Cardinals fell just short of a comeback, as Theriot's bid to tie the game with his fifth hit of the evening ended in a routine grounder to Utley. As a result, they'll fight for their playoff lives in Game Four at home tomorrow, as Roy Oswalt takes on Edwin Jackson. If they succeed in extending their unlikely run to a decisive fifth game, they'll spend Thursday's off day in peaceful contemplation of another encounter with Halladay.