Monday October 18th, 2010

PHILADELPHIA -- Twenty-three days. It's been more than three weeks since the Giants managed the modest sum of five runs in a ballgame. They have played 13 straight games since Sept. 25 without scoring more than four runs. Only four Giants teams since baseball did away with the dead ball (post-1920) ever had such a streak longer than this one (1965, 1967, 1976 and 1980, all done in less hitter-friendly times).

And yet somehow they are three wins from the World Series with the next three NLCS games in their ballpark. How much longer can they keep going like this?

"We'll probably have changes," Giants manager Bruce Bochy mused after his club failed to bust out for a 13th straight time, a 6-1 loss to Roy Oswalt and the Phillies.

The Giants will trot out a different lineup in Game 3. Andres Torres (eight whiffs in his past 11 at-bats) is too impatient at the plate and could be replaced against left-hander Cole Hamels with Aaron Rowand. Mike Fontenot played third base in Game 3 with a painfully noticeable lack of confidence, and could yield to Pablo Sandoval (who actually took a walk in the ninth inning) or Jose Uribe (if his wrist is healed).

Fontenot short-armed an errant throw to first base in the first, which cost a run, allowed a pop-up to drop in the fourth when his first reaction was not to go get the ball but to scan the infield for somebody else to take it, and failed to take an easy forceout at second base on a hard bunt, opening the door to Philadelphia's game-busting four runs in the seventh.

In other San Francisco gaffes, pitcher Jeremy Affeldt didn't even bother to look at Chase Utley at second base in the seventh, allowing an uncontested double steal; and Aubrey Huff cut a throw from Torres that would have gunned down Oswalt at the plate. Huff cut the throw because he saw third-base coach Sam Perlozzo put up a stop sign for Oswalt, who blew through it.

"He's out by 15 feet if it's not cut," Perlozzo said.

"We haven't played a game like that in weeks," Bochy said.

Games like this pop up from time time time; just ask the Reds and Braves. The bigger problem for the Giants is that eventually they have to find some offense other than Cody (Babe) Ross, who banged his fourth home run in a stretch of six at-bats -- and put on a very stylish hop-and-skip dance maneuver as he knew he had done it again.

Oswalt is beginning to look a lot like a reasonable facsimile of Cliff Lee, the pitcher he essentially replaced in Philadelphia -- especially this time of year. How tough is Oswalt to beat this late in the year? He is undefeated in 10 postseason games (5-0), undefeated when the Phillies score first for him (8-0) and the owner of an astounding .804 winning percentage in his career in September and October, postseason included (37-9).

The Giants thought they had Jimmy Rollins struck out with the bases loaded for the third out of the first inning, but home plate umpire Dan Iassogna called it a ball. Just how rare was it for Rollins to walk with the bases loaded? He had done that from the right side only twice in his career, and not since 2005.

It was Rollins who blew open the game with a bases-clearing double in the seventh -- two of the runners had been put on base intentionally with walks.

(Credit the walks to the lineup switch by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who wisely slotted a right-handed hitter, Placido Polanco, between lefties Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. It makes it much more difficult for Bochy to match up his relief pitchers against the Philadelphia lineup.)

The Phillies always look more dangerous when Rollins perks up. That he took off for third base on a steal attempt in the seventh (the pitch was fouled off) was another sign that his troublesome legs are getting better with time and the plethora of off days in the postseason schedule.

Rollins is one of 12 shortstops in postseason history with four or more RBIs in a game. Last night he became the only one ever to do it for a second time.

Managers and media have to stop emphasizing a pitcher's statistical history in certain ballparks as anything more than a meaningless curiosity. I'll go back to the 2008 NLDS when Cubs manager Lou Piniella gave the ball to Ryan Dempster in Game 1 instead of Carlos Zambrano because Dempster was 14-3 at Wrigley. Dempster was shelled by the Dodgers.

This year you had Yankees manager Joe Girardi citing the success Phil Hughes had at The Ballpark in Arlington to buttress his decision to pitch Hughes instead of Andy Pettitte in Game 2. Hughes has thrown only 15 1/3 innings in The Ballpark. He had started two games there in his life. The sample size was meaningless.

It's voodoo statistics, anyway. There is no specific skill that would explain pitching well in a certain ballpark and make future success more likely. Does Hughes' cutter break more in Texas? Does his fastball gain more velocity when he's in Arlington? Of course not. It's all bogus, and even Dempster knew it back in 2008 when I asked him to explain his success at Wrigley that year. Replied Dempster, "Chocolate chip pancakes." It was as good an answer as any.

Oh, by the way. This year? Dempster went 5-7 at Wrigley and 10-5 on the road. Did he lose the "skill" of pitching at Wrigley?

Got to clarify a lot of misinformation thrown out there from Game 1 when Bochy had Sandoval in the on-deck circle in closer Brian Wilson's spot with two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the ninth. There was no strategy at play there. None.

The rules require somebody to be in the on-deck circle. Wilson was not coming out of the game under any circumstance -- not if the batter, Freddy Sanchez, extended the inning. No one was throwing in the bullpen. Wilson was on the bench with his helmet on. (Actually, he doesn't have a helmet. It was Torres' helmet.) Sandoval wasn't a decoy and he wasn't a potential pinch hitter; he simply was a place-holder.

Bochy would rather have his closer resting on the bench than standing with a bat in his hands. It was that simple. No trickery. No if this/then that scenario.

To summarize, here is the complete list of scenarios in which the closer would be lifted for a pinch-hitter with a lead heading into the ninth inning:

Absolutely none.

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