On paper, the notion of a National League Division Series between the defending World Champion Philadelphia Phillies and the Wild Card Colorado Rockies may not score high on the MLB “Sexy Meter”, but it is providing plenty of great story lines and has culminated in a deadlocked 1-1 tie.
These two teams met in the NLDS in 2007 and was over before it even started. The celebratory champagne wasn’t even dry on the players’ uniforms before the astonishingly red-hot Rockies swept the Phillies en route to their first ever World Series appearance. The Phillies had clinched the NL East Division on the very last day of the regular season, overtaking the New York Mets, who had just suffered what is now considered the worst collapse in baseball since 1964… by the Philadelphia Phillies.
In 2008, the Phillies repeated as NL East champions (thanks in part to yet another New York Mets implosion), plowed through the playoffs and eventually were crowned World Champions. This would be only their second championship in their 125 year history, the first coming in 1980. The Rockies had brought back the majority of their 2007 team and hopes were high in Colorado. However, the season turned out to be a major disappointment. Both Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki saw limited action due to injuries and resulted in subpar offensive numbers from these two extremely productive infielders. Staring pitcher Jeff Francis, coming off his best season, struggled mightily with a 4-10 record before being shut down due to injuries. The Rox ended 2008 with a 74-88 record. To add insult to injury, with outfielder Matt Holiday’s contract set to expire at the end of 2009, the Rockies traded away the three-time All-Star to the Oakland Athletics.
This season, with the Phillies fielding virtually the same squad as 2008, they went on to capture their third straight divisional crown, winning by a comfortable six games over the the second place Florida Marlins. Like 2007, the Colorado Rockies pulled a rabbit out of their hat for 2009. They started the season with a dismal 18-28 record which prompted the firing of manager Clint Hurdle. With Jim Tracy now at the helm, the Rockies played at a torrid pace and ended the season going 74-42 including, once again, an absolutely amazing September with an 18-9 record and a Wild Card berth, nearly sneaking up and winning the NL West from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
So now here we are, October 2009. Postseason baseball. Two of the greatest words in the English language.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel went with Cliff Lee as the starting pitcher for Game 1 over 2008’s NLCS and World Series MVP Cole Hamels. This was a hotly debated subject as Cliff Lee, who was acquired at the trade deadline from the Cleveland Indians, had never made a postseason start in his career. Hamels performed brilliantly in the 2008 postseason with a record of 4-0 and a 1.80 ERA, which is why Manuel’s decision was called in to question. However, Hamels had been inconsistent in 2009 with a 10-11 record and 4.32 ERA, only showing glimpses of his pitching prowess. Lee, the 2008 American League Cy Young Award winner, was much better in his brief tenure with the Phils. He struggled towards the end of the regular season, but still proved that he was an ace with three complete games including a shutout in 12 games.
Wednesday’s game proved Manuel right. Lee ran out to the mound and ran out the Rockies with a 5-1 victory. At a wind-blown Citizens Bank Park, Lee shook off a rough first inning and went on to pitch a six-run complete game. He was one strike from a shutout but shortstop Troy Tulowitski doubled in Carlos Gonzalez for the Rockies’ only run of the afternoon.
For four innings, Lee went toe-to-toe with the Rockies’ 15-game winner Ubaldo Jimenez. The Phillies potent offense struggled against Jimenez who mixed up his pitches with radar-smashing fastballs and nasty off-speed ankle-breakers. As usual, the Phillies’ offense wouldn’t be silent for long. Outfielder Jayson Werth walked to start the fifth inning. Raul Ibanez doubled in Werth at the next at bat to put the Phillies on the board 1-0. Two batters later, catcher Carlos Ruiz sent Ibanez home with a single to rightfield. The Phillies continued to pour on the runs the very next inning, putting up three more and finally chasing Jimenez.
With every batter getting a least one hit, the Phillies provided a well-balanced attack, spraying the ball to all parts of the field. Surprisingly, one of those parts was NOT over the fence… a place the Phillies parked pitches 224 times, good for first in the National League.
The Game 1 win got the Phillies a well-needed victory, not only to boost morale after a sluggish end to the regular season, but to get that big monkey off their back in the shape of the ’07 NLDS dispatching.
Unfortunately, Game 2 was a different story.
Starting pitcher Cole Hamels could not continue his postseason dominance. With his pregnant wife laying in a hospital expecting the couple’s first child, Hamels was most likely not in the right state of mind. Whatever the excuse, Cole could not contain the Rockies, giving up four runs on seven hits over five innings. The Phillies came back with three runs of their own to trim the deficit to one. But they gave one right back in the seventh inning. Starter Joe Blanton, working in his second inning of relief, put men on first and third. J.A. Happ, another starter, came in next from the bullpen, but was quickly pulled when a shot from pinch hitter Seth Smith nailed Happ in the lower left leg. Happ had the leg X-rayed after the game. Results were negative.
Jayson Werth got the crowd back in to it with a solo shot in the eighth inning to trim the Colorado’s lead to one. The Phillies were poised for a ninth inning rally. Closer Huston Street walked pinch hitter Matt Stairs and was pulled for pinch runner Cliff Lee. Yes, the same Cliff Lee. Game 1 saw Lee become the first Phillies pitcher to steal a base in the postseason, so putting him in for the not-so-speedy Stairs made complete sense. A Jimmy Rollins single put two men on, but Shane Victorine lined out to second to end the game and gave the Rockies a 5-4 victory, tying the series up at one.
The two teams now head to frigid Colorado for two games. Saturday night’s forecast calls for sleet, snow and game time temperature of 19 degrees… not Celsius… Fahrenheit. The Rockies will start Jason Hammel for Game 3. Hammel, unlike the rest of his team, has not been very good at home, compiling a 5.73 ERA with opponents hitting a hefty .330. Left-handers are hitting to the tune of .289 against Hammel. Not a good sign going up against the left-handed-heavy Phillies lineup. The Phillies will be throwing out Pedro Martinez as their starter. With Joe Blanton being used in relief and J.A. Happ suffering a mild leg contusion, the postseason veteran will be getting the nod. Martinez, a late-season acquisition, has been a steal for the Phillies. In nine starts, he has compiled a 5-1 record with a 3.63 ERA.
With the Rockies having the second best home record in the National League, the Phillies having the best road record, and their brief postseason history against each other, these next two games will prove a lot sexier than to be expected.
About the Author
Written by Bryan Sargent
Bryan Sargent is a lifelong Phillies fan, currently residing in the least hospitable city for such a person as himself, New York City. This coming January he will be attending Phillies Phantasy Camp in Clearwater, FL. He is currently documenting the entire process on his blog (http://www.bryansargent.com). You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @BTSargent.