Saturday, October 23, 2010

The San Francisco Giants face the Philadelphia Phillies in Game Six of the National League Championship Series tonight at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. Game time is slated for 7:30 PM EDT.

The series is back in Philadelphia because the Phillies dug deep, deeper than most teams can dig, and wrenched out a 4-2 victory in Game Five at AT&T Park Thursday night, defeating Tim Lincecum with a lot of grit, a lot of determination, a stalwart bullpen, and a considerable amount of good fortune.

And so it will be Jonathan Sanchez' turn to nail it down and send the Giants to the World Series. Roy Oswalt, winner of Game Two, opposes. Either the Giants will be celebrating on the opposition's home field tonight, or the two teams will tee it up again for the last time tomorrow night.  The winner of this series will move on to face the Texas Rangers, who finished off the New York Yankees in six games last night to reach their first World Series.

Thursday night the Phillies discarded their swagger, their power, their big-inning strategy, and instead used the bunt and the stolen base to manufacture runs. It was a strategy born of necessity as the Giants' pitchers had allowed nothing else.  And, more than anything, it was four guys-- Jose Contreras, J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson, and Brad Lidge-- who pitched three innings of scoreless, one-hit relief, that kept Philadelphia alive in the series. Though starter Roy Halladay got the win, he owes it all to his bullpen, and so does the whole Philly team.
The second round of the Lincecum-Halladay "Battle of the Aces" was again something of an anticlimax. Lincecum pitched a little better than he had in Game One, which is well enough to win most times, but his teammates let him down big-time and he was saddled with the loss. Halladay struggled throughout his entire six-inning stint, battling his composure and the umpires as well as the Giants, but his teammates picked him up big-time and he got the win.

It all turned around in the top of the third, Linecum's only "bad" inning, and unfortunately the only one required for the loss. Perfect through two, he allowed a leadoff single to Raul Ibanez, then nicked Carlos Ruiz' sleeve with an inside pitch. Halladay laid down a bunt that bounced off the plate and back into the batter's box, clearly foul; umpire Jeff Nelson apparently saw only the plate contact and ruled it fair. Buster Posey immediately grabbed the ball and fired a strike to Pablo Sandoval at third in time to force Ibanez, but Sandoval, creeping forward in anticipation of the bunt, didn't get back in time and Ibanez beat him to the bag. Fortunately, Halladay remained standing at the plate all this time and was easily thrown out, but the runners had moved up into scoring position. Shane Victorino hit a sharp grounder to the right side. Aubrey Huff then committed one of the most hideous errors imaginable: the ball kicked off the heel of his glove and ricocheted into center field as both runners scored.  Somewhat perturbed, perhaps, Lincecum then gave up a clean single to Placido Polanco and Victorino, having alertly taken second on the error, came in to score the third run. That, as it turned out, was enough.

The Giants had taken a 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Andres Torres walked, scooted around to third on Freddy Sanchez' single, and scored on a slow roller by Posey. And they answered back in the bottom of the fourth on back-to-back doubles by Pat Burrell and, naturally, Cody Ross. But Sandoval lined into a double play to end it, and the Giants never threatened again. Philadelphia finally flexed a little muscle in the top of the ninth on Jayson Werth's second opposite-field homer of the series, which gave "Lights-Out" Lidge a nice cushion for his ten-pitch three-batter save, and the Phillies had earned their trip back home.

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