SAN FRANCISCO – The chinks in these impermeable Philadelphia Phillies keep emerging, and the latest Wednesday night revealed an ugly truth: Not only are the Phillies one game away from extinction by the San Francisco Giants, they are turning into an awfully panicky bunch.
Laudable though it was for Roy Oswalt(notes) to volunteer for an inning of relief on a day he already had thrown in the bullpen in preparation for a Game 6 start, it was the act of a desperate team. And that's what the Phillies, an on-paper juggernaut, have turned into: a group clawing for any sign of life against a Giants team that against great odds is making Philadelphia look not just mortal but frightened.
The deeper meaning of Oswalt's unsolicited donation of one inning – an inning he never finished because Juan Uribe's(notes) walk-off sacrifice fly propelled the Giants to a 6-5 victory that gave them a 3-1 series lead – was simple to parse: His faith in himself far exceeded that in his teammates.
Were the Phillies' bullpen not a mess of mediocrity, Oswalt never would have dared summon pitching coach Rich Dubee and offered his right arm instead of Brad Lidge's(notes) or Kyle Kendrick's(notes) or J.C. Romero's.(notes) Nor, if Dubee and Phillies manager Charlie Manuel had any confidence in those relievers, would they have considered taking up Oswalt. Without any hesitation, Dubee told him: "Get your spikes." And Oswalt ran to the clubhouse, laced them on, trotted to the bullpen and soon found himself in the middle of the most important game of the season.
His failure represented his team's failure. The Phillies, who expected to overwhelm everyone on the way to a second championship in three years, are foundering, teetering, a Weeble that's about to fall down. Turns out, talent isn't always the only factor in success. Belief supplements it, and the Giants have slowly drained Philadelphia of its supply.
The Phillies look beat up and beat down. The Giants sterilized their bluster, thieved their momentum, made mortal the pitching deities who were supposed to slay them. After four games, Roy Halladay(notes), Cole Hamels(notes) and now Oswalt all have losses. H20 looks more like H2No.
And on an evening in which its hitters finally touched up Giants pitching, Philadelphia also allowed the meager San Francisco offense to score at least five runs for the first time in 14 games. Most of the damage came from rookie Buster Posey(notes) and Pablo Sandoval(notes), who spent the first three contests on the bench and whose two-run double turned into a flashpoint for Manuel's mistakes.
He acted just as unnerved as Oswalt, and that's deadly for a manager. Manuel's decision not to turn the switch-hitting Sandoval to his awful right side cost the Phillies their lead in the sixth inning. After the Phillies tied the score 5-5 with back-to-back doubles to start the eighth, Manuel allowed Jimmy Rollins(notes) – Mr. 22.2 Percent of Postseason At-Bats Have Ended In Pop-Ups Jimmy Rollins – to swing away rather than bunt Jayson Werth(notes) to third base. Rollins did what he does best, and with one out, Manuel had another decision.
He sent Ben Francisco(notes) up against slider specialist Sergio Romo(notes). Left-handed-hitting Raul Ibanez(notes), the Phillies' usual left fielder, remained on the bench. Romo struck out Francisco. Had Philadelphia countered with Ibanez, San Francisco could have gone with left-hander Jeremy Affeldt(notes), a less effective pitcher than Romo. Werth remained on second.
The mistakes abounded. And even if bringing in Oswalt wasn't one as much strategic as it was a damning statement about the ballclub's inadequacies, it's the one that stands out because it looked so extreme, the Phillies' season hanging on that inning.
"It's the playoffs," Oswalt reasoned. "Gotta play."
Gotta win, actually, and that's the trouble: The Phillies seem to have forgotten how to do so. They can't win with the best pitcher in baseball. They can't win with the best pitcher in the second half. They can't even win with one of their three aces trying to lock down a single inning.
Howard slid on a pair of Gucci shoes, clicked a pair of fat gemstones into his earlobes, snapped on a diamond bracelet and took a deep breath. Remarkable calm suffused his words as the season crumbled around him, which could have meant one of two things: The Phillies actually do have the fortitude to come back, or he's trying to find some peace and solace amid the dream that's spiraling toward limbo.
Faith in Halladay, who Thursday night faces Tim Lincecum(notes), remains strong. And if Halladay wins, the series heads back to Philadelphia, where Oswalt beat Jonathan Sanchez(notes) in Game 2. And should that happen again and the whole shebang comes down to Game 7 between Hamels and Matt Cain(notes), the Phillies – who folded last year in the World Series against the Yankees – will indeed have proven their mettle, and the awesome free-for-all of a true do-or-die will erase the memories of Game 4.
For now, they're fresh, and their concern is not so much the Giants' successes as the Phillies' screw-ups. Manuel overthought and undermanaged, and Oswalt stepped where he needn't. The Phillies tried their best to rationalize being down to one defeat before their season ends.
"I feel like we didn't really lose," Blanton said. "We just ran out of innings."
They've got nine Thursday. Better not run out of those, either, because there wouldn’t be any more.