SAN FRANCISCO -- 1. Game 4 is the Night at the Improv of postseason baseball, the witching hour when managers close their eyes and hold their noses and reach into the back end of their rotations and tired bullpens and hope for the best. It's when seven-game series become disjointed and darkly comical. The poster game of Game 4s remains Game 4 of the 1993 World Series, when the Phillies and Blue Jays staged a 15-14 burlesque during which one Veterans Stadium fan raised a pitch-perfect placard that read, "Will Pitch Middle Relief For Food."
NLCS Game 4 last night didn't quite reach the absurdist level of
The looser these games become, the more they become managers' games, and
My head hurts from trying to think along with Manuel in a game like Game 4. But suffice to say, Manuel is a hitting guy first and a manager second. The backbone of his success and the cool clubhouse that he keeps is that he has tremendous faith that his players will deliver hits, and that belief comes before any need to manage around the tricky corners and narrow turns of a close baseball game. So keep the Manuel Manual in mind as we revisit the key decisions by Charlie that helped let Game 4 get away from the Phillies:
• In the fifth inning he had left-hander
But Manuel didn't bring in Bastardo. He let
• An almost exact situation occurred in the seventh. Manuel had
• Here's the real killer: eighth inning, runner at second, no outs, tie game.
But it got worse. The next batter was
"I couldn't believe that," said one Giant. "That has to be Ibanez's spot. Has to be. He's a professional hitter who's done it before."
There was another layer to the decision. Manuel forces Bochy's hand if he sends up Ibanez. Bochy had lefty
The result was predictable. Francisco waved weakly at Romo's pitches and struck out. The inning ended when
San Francisco left-hander
"Just to get ready whenever they needed me," Sanchez said. "I was good to pitch. Plenty of rest."
Here's the big difference between Oswalt, who did pitch the ninth inning and was the losing pitcher, and Sanchez: Oswalt threw a side session before the game and Sanchez did not. Asked why he didn't throw a bullpen, Sanchez said, "Just in case of a game like this."
It was, after all, a Game 4, right?
So why did Oswalt throw on the side before a game in which the Phillies were starting Blanton, a shaky pitcher who hadn't started a game in 21 days? This was an all-hands-on-deck game for Philadelphia -- down two games to one with their rusty number four starter taking the ball.
Manuel seemed to be in a fog about Oswalt's preparedness for relief work. "I think he knows himself a little bit more than I do," Manuel said. "And [pitching coach
The Phillies were in deep trouble as soon as Game 4 became a bullpen game in the middle innings. Philadelphia is a powerhouse as long as
Until Madson came into the game in the seventh, here is all you need to know about what the Phillies were throwing at the Giants: Blanton,
Watching Durbin trying to nibble his way through the sixth inning -- and worse, trying to sneak a tepid 91 mph fastball up past
This game was circled in red on the Philadelphia postseason calendar even before October began. There would be only two games out of a maximum of 19 in which the Phillies could not pitch Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels on full rest. This was one of them. (The other would be World Series Game 4.)
The game was booby-trapped from the start. And sure enough, it blew up exactly as was expected, with Blanton leaving the bullpen with too many outs to get.
Just how tough is it for the Phillies to win a bullpen game? They have won just three games all year when their starting pitcher is out before the fifth inning, falling to 3-13 in those tests.
And Blanton is just the latest guy to suffer from too much rest and rust. According to STATs Inc., since 1952, pitchers with more than 16 days of rest heading into a postseason start were 0-11 with a 7.43 ERA in 15 tries -- including the Yankees'
This postseason is becoming the vehicle to national renown for Giants rookie catcher Buster Posey, and Game 4 was his biggest statement yet. Posey smashed four hits -- one to left, one to center, and two to right, including a ninth-inning key single off Oswalt in which he was bound and determined to shoot the ball the other way. Posey became only the ninth catcher in postseason history with four hits in a game -- and the second youngest, behind only
"I don't think there's a better right-handed swing in baseball," Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff said. "And he's got that 30-year-old mindset. He's a real talent."
Said Giants outfielder
Posey's ability to hit the ball to the opposite field with authority on pitches outside and inside is a freakish talent, reminiscent of
Moreover, he has become an athletic, capable receiver. And a tag play at the plate in the fifth inning last night showed not only his skill but also his precious value to the franchise. Posey made a nifty short-hop catch of a strong throw from center fielder
Look carefully at the play: Posey made sure to stay out of harm's way. The Giants have talked to Posey about keeping his body, and especially his legs, out of a runner's path. San Francisco will be very happy if Posey never develops the skill of blocking the plate. He's too valuable to the franchise to risk his knees just to save a run. Indeed, the Giants took note this summer when Indians rookie catcher
So it comes down to this: The Giants are one win away from the World Series and they are home and giving the ball tonight to
"I know this," DeRosa said, "the little guy doesn't want to get back on a plane [to Philadelphia]. He's going to be more than ready."
And even if Halladay stands in the way between the Giants and the World Series, well, let's just say they like their chances. In two games against San Francisco this year, Halladay is 0-2 with a 5.79 ERA.
"I think we beat him a couple of times because we're the type of team that likes to be aggressive and he's always around the zone," Huff said.
It's the second straight day in which baseball gives us the theater of a Cy Young Award winner getting the ball in a possible elimination game.