Defense Wins Championships

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Game one of the NLDS in 2008 was a ton better than the one in 2007. Cole Hamels was phenomenal and pitched the second best game I have ever seen a Phillies pitcher pitch in the post season. The first was Curt Schilling's masterpiece in game five of the 1993 World Series. Even so, Schilling's performance only beats out Hamels' due to the fact that he threw way more pitches and the team was staving off elimination by the Toronto Blue Jays. Thank goodness for Hamels though because the offense, despite receiving a three run third inning as a gift, did nothing that was inspiring.

It is hard to pick apart a playoff victory because ultimately the only thing that matters is that the Phillies are up 1-0 in a best of five series and that is huge. Facing the much hyped CC Sabathia in game two it was thought that winning the opener was a must, not that every playoff game is a must win. The win also shoves aside some of the ghosts from the 2007 playoffs. Hamels is now over his hump from 2007, and Chase Utley hit a double and drove in a pair of runs to make amends for his poor October last year. As well as Hamels pitched, the Brewers were never really put away in this game.

The real story of this game though was defense. The Brewers defense could be blamed for the entire third inning. With Carlos Ruiz on first base, Hamels put down a bunt that was mishandled. Instead of having one runner on there were now two runners one. A couple batters later Utley came to the plate. Utley drove one to left center that Brewers centerfielder Mike Cameron possibly misjudged but recovered in enough time to make the snow cone catch. The only problem was the ball didn't say in the glove and with two outs bot Ruiz and Hamels were running allowing them to score. Utley wound up on second base instead of getting ready to field at second base. Ryan Howard walked and Pat Burrell drew another walk to load the bases. Shane Victorino then worked a walk with the bases loaded, increasing the score to 3-0.

The Phillies did play some good defense on the other hand though. Howard made a nice play down the first base line. Pedro Feliz knocked a ball down that took away a hit from the Brewers. Utley made a fantastic play on a bunt that kept the Brewers off the bases yet again as he stole the infield hit. Who knows what could have happened had any of those runners reached base?

Other than the third inning the Phillies fell back on some bad habits, such as swinging on the first pitch (Rollins and Burrell both had crucial one pitch at bats resulting in nothing). Two things drive me crazy in baseball:
  1. Mets fans
  2. Swinging at the first pitch
I will never understand how a batter can make a decision to swing at the first pitch, ESPECIALLY after the batter before you walks! That is just not smart baseball.

Finally there was Brad Lidge. Would I have rather have seen Hamels finish the game? Absolutely. I was saying that I would have left Hamels in and had Lidge warming up just in case. But on the other hand it is hard to be upset about bringing in a closer who has not blown a save all year. I believe that what worries people the most is not his performance, but the fact that he is overdue for a blown save. This is a good problem to have if you ask me. Yes, part of me was hoping that down the stretch that Lidge would blow a save just to get it over with but the fact remains that Lidge is still perfect in save opportunities this year. Did he make it interesting? Sweat was pouring from my face and my eye was twitching. But this is the playoffs. Every pitch is going to be nerve racking.

Game two could be a rough one. Sabathia has been on fire lately and has been having his way with the National League. He has yet to face the Phillies though so let's see how it develops tonight. The big storyline will be whether or not Brett Myers can rebound from his last two outings though. Go get 'em Myers!

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