LOS ANGELES – This is how the Philadelphia Phillies bury teams.
This is how they get ahead and narrow the risks that come with their own bullpen.
Narrow, not eliminate. Nobody scores that many runs.
This is how they win a championship, maybe two, by turning a game into a rout in the course of a handful of pitches. Then doing it again, if they have to. And, OK, again.
It is an amazing game they play, sometimes ratty and always so dangerous. They score a few and let some in, work some counts and get into the other guy's bullpen, hunt the occasional first-pitch curveball that turns a game and have their big fellas even defer sometimes to their little fellas.
The Phillies' Carlos Ruiz hit a three run homer in the fifth inning of Game 1.
(Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
No National League team scored more runs. Only the Yankees hit more home runs in all of baseball. And now the Dodgers have to figure a way to throw themselves on this grenade of an offense, because they put their best pitcher out there and he didn't get out of the fifth inning, and who would have thought their postseason lives might depend on Vicente Padilla(notes)?
They go back to Philly down, oh-two, they can go ahead and stop watering the Dodger Stadium grass.
Game 1 of the National League championship series against a bunch of big, hairy guys, it turned out, was no place for a 21-year-old, no matter how sharp his curveball or how often longtime Dodger folks utter the syllables "Kou" and "fax." Believe it, that's what they're hoping for out of young Clayton Kershaw(notes).
And it's all going fine, really no issues at all, and then everything is completely out of hand because the Phillies almost never stop, and suddenly Kershaw has thrown 33 pitches to get two outs in the fifth inning.
That quick second cost Kershaw and the Dodgers five runs, home-field advantage and all their momentum from a division series sweep of the Cardinals. Other than that, it was incidental.
The Dodgers were so sure lefties were the answer they left Jeff Weaver(notes) off their postseason roster, and then they watched the Phillies score all eight of their runs against lefties Kershaw (lefties had batted .173 against him in the regular season) and George Sherrill(notes) (.128, including no home runs until Raul Ibanez(notes) got him big in the eighth.)
As it was, in a lineup in which Chase Utley(notes) and Ryan Howard(notes) make everyone swoon, it was Carlos Ruiz(notes) who staggered Kershaw with a lightning-bolt three-run homer in the fifth inning and Ibanez who all but finished the Dodgers when he followed walks to Howard and Jayson Werth(notes) with the three-run homer off Sherrill. Howard was far from invisible – his two-run double chased Kershaw and he walked twice – but he was more impressive in his willingness to allow the game to move on to the next guy.
"That's what's so amazing about this team," hitting coach Milt Thompson said. "Anybody in the lineup can beat you. They've shown it all year."
Cole Hamels(notes), who had his own issues against a Dodgers lineup that's no joke, has seen these sorts of games all season. The quick second, the brief wobble, the pitch thrown without conviction, and it all comes tumbling down. Sherrill walks Howard on four pitches to lead off the eighth, walks Werth right behind him, and then flips a get-ahead curveball at Ibanez.
To quote Thompson: "Boom."
With plenty of uninspiring Phillies bullpen still to come, that quick second turned the score from 5-4 to 8-4. Same thing earlier with Kershaw – a single, a walk, and then the No. 8 hitter lines a ball over the short fence in left. That quick second happened so fast Dodgers manager Joe Torre apparently didn't have time to get his 21-year-old out of there until Kershaw had all but pitched them out of home-field advantage.
"Kershaw is a great pitcher," Hamels said. "You can't take anything from him. But that's the thing, sometimes you get into situations, and you don't want to make that mistake. When you are trying not to make that mistake, you end up throwing balls. You don't want to throw it right down the pipe. You are trying to be too perfect because you've gotten yourself into some trouble. You give up a run here or there, all of a sudden, I swear it's like the strike zone gets smaller to you. It's nerve-racking because you know how important these games are. You can't train yourself enough for games in these situations."
You beat the Cardinals, it's one thing. The Phillies scored 90 more runs than the Cardinals. They hit 64 more home runs.
This is different.
"You can pitch yourself into bad positions when you're trying to be perfect because of how tough our lineup is," Hamels said. "We're looking for the one pitch you make a mistake on."
Then one becomes two, and two becomes the momentum that can turn a series.