PHILADELPHIA -- It probably wasn't smart for Reds' pitchers to start plunking Phillies.
The Friday night crowd at Citizens Bank Park, worn out from the workweek and still dealing with a no-hitter hangover, was still and quiet. With a 4-2 lead, Cincinnati was cruising along like one of those gambling boats on the Ohio River. It looked like this NL Division Series could get tied up at one, and from there anything could happen, right?
And then, in the sixth, wily old Arthur Rhodes made an unlikely mistake. He hit Philadelphia catcher/unofficial MVP Carlos Ruiz on his left knee. Guy hit Chooch!You don't hit Chooch! Forty-six thousand were collectively offended. If you've been to Philly over the past few Octobers, you know that the home team really does feed off the fan frenzy. That's true most everywhere, but it's especially true here. The Phillies are a rarity, a veteran team that plays emotional baseball. Their manager, Charlie Manuel, has a lot to do with that. And their fans do, too.
Rhodes was pulled. Logan Ondrusek came in. He hit the first man he faced, Ben Franciso, on the brim of his helmet. The helmet went flying. The batter went down. The sound of it, ball on plastic, made you sick. But Francisco was fine and the bases were loaded. For the Reds, the game -- and the series -- never looked the same.
Talk about your answered prayers, at least for the home team. After the Reds took a 4-0 lead, the Phillies scored seven unanswered runs to win 7-4, thanks to three hit batsmen, four errors -- including right fielder Jay Bruce losing a seventh-inning line drive in the lights, allowing two crucial runs to score -- and (as Chase Utley called it) "hectic" baserunning. The Phillies now lead this series two games to none.
On Sunday night in Cincinnati it'll be Cole Hamels on the mound for the Phillies and Johnny Cueto for the Reds -- two fine pitchers in the final month of fine seasons who should be able to take their teams into the sixth or seventh inning. Yes, Hamels on the road in a big game, and there's every reason to think he'll give you a hundred good pitches. This is not last year's Cole Hamels, who seemed to morph into Jackson Browne before our eyes. It's your 2010 model Cole Hamels, first cousin to the 2008 Cole Hamels, when the Phillies won it all and Hamels was at the center of it. Now he's the third guy up in a rotation tailor-made for a five-game series that unfolds over the course of eight days.
Monday night at the Great American Ballpark -- if there is a Monday night at the riverfront ball park in Cincinnati -- will likely feature a rematch of Wednesday's Game 1, Sir Roy Halladay for the Phillies and Edinson Volquez for the Reds. Past performance does not predict future results. Still, you need an imagination out of Field of Dreams to see the Reds winning that one. Or, for that matter, winning three straight now.
"I always thought we had a good team," manager Dusty Baker said after Friday's night's game. "You just don't know how your team is going to play with youthful inexperience in the playoffs. Because it's the same game. But it's a whole different animal." See how wise you get when you spend a lifetime in baseball? And then he added, as he had to, "This thing isn't over yet."
When a team is up, it's a series. When a team is down, it's a thing. The Reds were doing a rare Friday night shuffle after the game. In the regular season, you always stay put on Friday night. But the regular season and the playoff season are, as Baker says, two different animals.
The Phillies could have stuck with the falsely modest thing -- "Two games up is nothing," "They've won three straight plenty of times before," "We take nothing for granted" -- that whole routine. But they've been at this for a while and they sounded a different note on Friday night, or Utley did, anyhow, giving credit to his manager.
"Charlie breeds confidence," said the second baseman, who may have shown Derek Jeter-like acting skills in the seventh when he behaved as if a pitch had hit him and was awarded first base. "All he talks about is being successful. We don't have a negative clubhouse, which I think is helpful. Especially in a game where you fail a lot."
For the Phils to blow this series would be a failure of colossal proportions. Could it happen? Yes. Will it happen? Well, let's just say it's looking a lot less likely now.
The Reds and the Phillies will play a baseball game on Sunday. That's all you can say for sure now.