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Big Three come up with zero

By Nick Cafardo
October 24, 2010

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PHILADELPHIA — With the Philadelphia Phillies boasting the three best starting pitchers in baseball, it’s pretty hard to explain how they could be eliminated by the Giants after a 3-2 loss in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series last night.

Perhaps, like the Rangers, who advanced to the World Series with a Game 6 win over the Yankees in the ALCS Friday night, the Giants simply wanted this more. Or maybe the Phillies fell into the been-there-done-that mode of teams that become accustomed to winning too much.

Last night was a great example of the Phillies just not having that killer instinct. After taking a 2-0 lead in the first inning, they allowed the pesky Giants to stay in the game. The game ended with Ryan Howard, the Phillies’ most feared hitter, taking a 3-2 fastball from Brian Wilson for strike three to end their season.

“I just came back from our clubhouse,’’ said Phillies’ manager Charlie Manuel shortly after the loss, “and there’s disappointment in there from every guy in there.’’

The Phillies, who left 11 runners on base in the game, stranded two in the ninth much to the dismay of a stunned Phillies crowd that had been waving their white towels madly in anticipation of a Phillies comeback. Of course, they expressed their disatisfaction when they booed the Giants winners as they made their way into the dugout.

The Phillies dropped the ball on a major momentum changer in the bottom of the third when Giants’ starter Jonathan Sanchez, who had no game, hit Chase Utley with a pitch to put the first two men on board. Utley, as he walked down the line, took the ball and threw it toward Sanchez, who took exception to Utley’s gesture. The benches and bullpens cleared, a few nasties were exchanged and Giants manager Bruce Bochy took out the shaken Sanchez in what proved to be an excellent move.

The Giants bullpen stepped up. Jeremy Affeldt came on and stranded the runners. The Phillies had the bases loaded with two outs in the fifth and couldn’t score. In the sixth, after Raul Ibanez doubled to lead things off and was sacrificed to third by Carlos Ruiz, but would go no farther. One reliever after another stymied the Phillies’ offense including former Red Sox lefty Javier Lopez, who has owned the Phils’ lineup, particularly Utley and Howard.

In the eighth, the Phillies managed two hits against Tim Lincecum, who came on in relief before Bruce Bochy brought in closer Brian Wilson who served a line drive to second base for inning-ending double-play.

The Giants played a tremendous series and have not been awed by the Big Three, proving every step of the way that they belong in this series. Nobody gave them much of a chance, especially when you’re up against the likes of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels?

The Big Three went 40-22 (.645) with a 2.56 ERA, 11 complete games, and five shutouts since being put together July 29 when Oswalt came over from Houston. This was a team that went 21-6 in September and was a well-oiled machine entering the postseason, beating the Reds in three games. But the Giants proved to be a worthy opponent, a thorn in their side.

It wasn’t that the Big Three were awful. Oswalt pitched two fine games including last night when he allowed two runs over six innings with five strikeouts and no walks before being lifted for a pinch hitter. Halladay lost, 4-3, in Game 1, but pitched a gutsy 4-2 win over the Giants in Game 5. Hamels surrendered all three runs in a loss to the Giants in Game 3. Joe Blanton lasted only 4 2/3 innings in his start and overall the Phillies had a 3.34 ERA among their four starters. Not exactly horrible, but not the domination we all expected either.

Manuel was never able to get the Phillies’ offense going.

“I know we can hit better than that,’’ said Manuel. “I know we can come back and hit like we can next year. Our numbers are down, no excuses. We’ve got to do what we’re capable of doing. That [inconsistent offense] was the downfall of our season.’’

The Phillies are likely to lose outfielder Jayson Werth to free agency. The Phillies feel they have a two-or three-year window with their current stars to keep being a deep playoff team.

But this year they were a deep disappointment. When you’ve got those three guys at the front, you’ve got to win, don’t you?

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