DENVER -- "A cigar, dammit," Ryan Howard, holding a bottle of champagne in his right hand, barked as he stood in the middle of the visitor's clubhouse at Coors Field moments after Game 4 of the Division Series in Denver. "Somebody get me a damn cigar!" A simple request, really, from the man who delivered Philadelphia's biggest hit of the series: a ninth-inning two-out, two-run double that tied a game that had more twists than a le Carré novel. In the end, the Phillies eliminated the Rockies in a 5-4 thriller that somehow topped the four-hour Game 3 epic a night earlier -- and yes, in the end, Ryan Howard got his cigar.
An hour earlier the player Phillies manager Charlie Manuel calls "The Big Piece" stepped up to the plate against Rockies closer Huston Street in the ninth. A cool afternoon in Denver had turned into another frigid Colorado night; everyone in Coors Field, now somehow packed to the gills after empty seats littered the ballpark for much of the afternoon, was on their feet, waving white towels, ready to erupt again after the Rockies had taken the lead in the bottom of the eighth. Moments earlier, against Chase Utley, Street had thrown five straight fastballs before walking the second baseman on a changeup. Street decided he wasn't going to make the same mistake against Howard. "The recurring thought in my head was: one more good pitch, and it's over," Street would later say. With the count 2-1 against Howard, Street threw his fourth straight fastball, and the slugger crushed it to right field to tie the game and silence the crowd. "Was it a bad pitch?" Street said after the game in front of his locker. "I don't know. He's a good hitter."
Against right-handers like Street, yes, Howard is a beast; against left-handers like Joe Beimel, who was available to Rockies manager Jim Tracy in that critical spot, not so much. This year Howard hit .320 against righties and .207 against lefties, but Tracy, in a decision that very well may have cost him the series, did what most major league managers would have done in that situation: he stuck with his closer. No one expected him to do otherwise. And it wasn't until after Jayson Werth hit the go-ahead single to bring Howard home that Tracy turned to Beimel, two batters too late.
There was still more drama to come in the bottom of the ninth: with two outs and runners on first and second, Brad Lidge trotted in from center field to face Troy Tulowitzki, as the Phillies faithful began to reach for the Dramamine for a second straight night. But Lidge ended the game by throwing five consecutive sliders to Colorado's best hitter, who waved helplessly on the last to end the game. "All sliders, all good pitches," Tulo said afterwards. After the embattled closer's second save in two nights, Chase Utley proclaimed, "Brad Lidge is back."
Perhaps he is. Three other things we learned in this Division Series:
• Carlos Gonzalez is a future star.Scott Boras likes to call Gonzalez The Next Carlos Beltran, and after CarGo's outstanding series -- he hit .588 and reached base 11 times in 17 plate appearances -- we can see the über-agent isn't blowing hot air. Simply put, Gonzalez was the best player in the series. He nearly single-handedly won Game 3, when he went 3-for-4, with a home run, double, single and a walk, and scored three times. Oh, and he plays Gold Glove-caliber defense as well, as he showed when he rifled a perfect throw to third base in the third inning of Game 4 to try to nail Shane Victorino (Garrett Atkins missed the tag). When he arrived in Colorado as part of last year's offseason trade that sent Matt Holliday to Oakland in exchange for Huston Street and pitcher Greg Smith the Rockies gave him Holliday's old number, No. 5 -- appropriate because Gonzalez looks every bit like a franchise player and future star. Said Tracy of the 23-year-old, "We have a very, very special player on our hands."
• Cliff Lee likes pitching in big games. No team in the majors worked at-bats like the Rockies did this season: they led the majors in pitches per plate appearance as well as walk percentage. Over 16 1/3 innings this series, Cliff Lee walked just three Rockies hitters as he pounded the strike zone brilliantly. Lee followed up his Game 1 masterpiece with another gem in the thin air of Coors Field, allowing just one earned run in 7 1/3 innings. Lee had never pitched in a playoff game before last week, but the Phillies are quickly finding out that their no-nonsense lefthander is a big game pitcher.
• Ubaldo Jimenez is good--- very good. The record will show that Jimenez went 0-1 in the series but the fireballer showed elite stuff in both of his outings. When everything is going right, and he is locating his electric 98 mph fastball, Jimenez is virtually unhittable. On Monday night, the game seemed like it could slip away with one out in the second inning and the bases loaded with Phillies. Facing Werth, Jimenez floated a perfect 87 mph changeup past the flailing right fielder. Then against Raul Ibanez, he unleashed a killer 88 mph slider that the left fielder feebly swung at and missed. Jimenez made only two mistakes on the night, and both resulted in home runs: a fat fastball to Shane Victorino in the first inning and a high 85 mph changeup to Werth in the sixth. "He was great tonight," said Werth. "We really had to battle against him. He's one of the better young pitchers around." Jimenez is 25, and the Rockies should feel very good about this right-hander from the Dominican Republic anchoring the rotation for years to come.