SAN FRANCISCO -- A pitcher can come to a baseball game armed with great stuff, an airtight game plan and confidence by the barrel loads. Pitching on those precious days with swing-and-miss stuff and rhythm like
What reveals the character of a pitcher, however, is when his stuff is somewhat short, when his body lacks the strength, and when defeat means the end of his team's season. On consecutive October nights and under such duress, two Cy Young Award winners,
Sabathia, the highest-paid pitcher in the game, took the ball in an elimination game for the New York Yankees on Wednesday and, without his best stuff, survived the harassment of 11 hits to bring the Yankees home for another day of baseball.
The next night, Halladay, the game's third-highest paid pitcher, strained his right groin in the second inning of an elimination game for the Phillies -- already trailing the superb
Halladay's fastball, which reached 93 mph in the first inning, lost a couple of ticks. His trademark sinker, the pitch that requires proper extension of his stride and getting his body out over his front leg, was no longer a weapon. The moment was
What to do? Persevere and find a way to win the darn ball game. Halladay invented new mechanics on the fly to make it through six innings with the season on the line. Doc, heal thyself.
He fluttered curveballs and changeups where normally his sinker and cutter would power their way through lineups. For a guy who threw a no-hitter and a perfect game this year, NLCS Game 5 was the Halladay Signature Game -- not for his stuff, but for his will.
"I knew something was up because they were talking to him during the game," said center fielder
On one good leg, Halladay made it through six innings and 108 pitches, the last one his newfound best friend by necessity, the curveball, on a full count to
Maybe it wasn't quite
Just how off his game was Halladay? He walked his first batter of the game -- something he had done in only 12 of his 322 career starts (3.7 percent). He walked the leadoff hitter in two of his six innings; he had walked only six of 252 leadoff hitters this year (2.4 percent). He was visited on the mound by the pitching coach,
No, not by any means was this one of those vintage Halladay evenings.
But here's the thing: The Giants let him off the hook. They had a compromised Halladay out there and nine runners on base in six innings, but only pushed two across home.
The window was open for the Giants to march into the World Series: Lincecum holding a 1-0 lead at home and Halladay with his right groin aching and almost at every turn on the cliff of getting knocking out of the game. But San Francisco let the opportunity slip away.
Giants first baseman
"We didn't play the way we've played all year," Huff said. "We didn't play Giants baseball. Mine's the big play. It's all on me tonight. This one's squarely on me."
Halladay was proud of the way he competed and proud that he gave his team another day of baseball. But that bunt in the third inning? "Not so proud," he said, laughing.
It was a key play and another blown umpire call, but it was the Giants who were more at fault than the umpires. Halladay bunted with runners at first and second. The ball went straight down and bounced softly on the plate twice. Upon the second bounce, the ball spun backward a bit and was in foul territory -- behind what you might call the first-base side "roofline" of the pentagon-shaped home plate -- when catcher
The Giants had a gift-wrapped double play with Halladay just standing there in the batter's box: Posey to third baseman
One problem: Sandoval didn't bother getting all the way back to third in order to touch the bag. When he caught Posey's throw, he reached back with his foot but couldn't find the bag, looking like a loser in a game of Twister. He still had time to get the out on Halladay at first base.
"It's my fault," Sandoval said. "I know I have to get back as quickly as possible."
Asked if he thought it was a foul ball, Sandoval said, "That's what I thought. But whether it's a fair ball or a foul ball I have to get back quickly to third base."
Two batters later -- the error by Huff and a single by
Equal time department: Give Phillies manager
It's becoming increasingly obvious that Manuel can't wait for big innings from his team -- not against these Giants starters. When
Howard, in a bit of remarkably bad timing, has tied the longest streak of his career without an RBI: 10 straight games, dating back to the final two games of the season. He has whiffed nine times in these five games. Odds are that one of them is due to break out with a big hit, if not a big game. It's just that neither of them is squaring up enough pitches lately to encourage such a thought.
Now baseball is inching closer to exactly what it needs most of all: a Game 7 -- or even two of them.
They come around like comets. In the previous 15 years of the wild-card era, there have been only 11 Game 7s: four in the ALCS, four in the NLCS and three in the World Series.
Baseball Game 7s make for the best day in sports, in part because you never know until the last possible moment that you will get one. Every year you know that football is going to give you a Super Bowl. But baseball's ultimate winner-take-all game, Game 7, arrives as an unannounced gift on our doorstep. There is no party planning.
Baseball once went three straight years without a Game 7: 1998-2000. The last Game 7 was the 2008 ALCS, when rookie
Now we have two possibilities to get there. The Yankees need only to grind down Texas right-hander
The last time we had the double-witching hour of two Game 7s in the same year? That would be 2004, when the Red Sox beat the Yankees and the Cardinals beat the Astros.
And should each series this time extend to the ultimate game, the pitchers will be