The Phils wrapped up their sixth National League championship of all time tonight with a resounding 5-1 win in game five of the NLCS. However, the difference between the two teams' performances is not completely captured in that score.
The Phils dominated in every aspect of the game: starting pitching, hitting, defense, relief pitching, even managing. They led from pole to pole getting it started on 3-2 hanger converted into a Jimmy Rollins leadoff homer. The only criticism of the Phils was that they left so many men on base (9).
Some great defensive plays were turned in by the Phils. Chase Utley started two doubleplays, one of which required him to turn around to make the throw to second, and made a diving, stretching catch on a broken-bat liner to start the bottom of the seventh. Shane Victorino snared a basket full of catches in center including a couple in the seventh as Cole Hamels was starting to fade. Pat Burrell even contributed with a grab running toward the wall just prior to the home run.
This is in stark contrast to their opponents whose shortstop had an extremely unfortunate nightmarish series of errors (three to be precise) in the fifth that led to two runs, the first coming on a ball that could have resulted in an inning-ending double play. Aside from the errors, there were many miscues throughout by the Phils' opponent.
Their catcher attempted a backhanded stab on a ball with Ryan Howard at third but luckily for him he so slightly deflected the ball that it bounced back to him before Howard could score. The catcher also tried to pick Shane Victorino in the seventh and made a horrific throw that, again luckily for him, was trapped under the returning runner.
The opponent's first baseman, who had been lauded throughout by the continually execrable Fox crew as a great defensive player, made some miscues that he was lucky not to be tabbed with an error. He misplayed the errant throw from short that led to the final error and threw wild to home but was, again, luckily backed up the pitcher. He also made a miscue on an earlier play to start what should have been a double play.
The lone run allowed came on a mistake pitch up high on 1-2 count to their opponent's best hitter. I have to say that I have been very impressed with Hamels who won the MVP on two uncharacteristic starts. He did not have his best stuff early, and I mean for two to three innings, in either game, but somehow pitched well enough (and made either got lucky on some mistake pitches or threw them at the right time) to get by until his better stuff showed up.
There were some very positive signs throughout. First, two major much-needed offensive contributors, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard, both break out of major slumps in a big way. This is a team that never seems to have all of their offensive cylinders firing at the same time, but they are as close now to having everyone contributing at the same time as they have been throughout the postseason.
Next up, the rep from the other league, the one that whipped the Phils 11-4ouch!this year in interleague play. If it's the Red Sox, they are a team that is ready to collapse under its own weight at any time. The Rays are the ones that bother me. They have been a much more well-balanced team this postseason. And how can you dislike them: it's like kicking a puppy.
Whoever it is Hamels will be rested for game one but will probably get just one more start in the series unless they break their interdiction on his starting on three days' rest. And that exposes another Phils weakness, their starters behind Hamels. Jamie Moyer, who had been a rock down the stretch and pitched the division clincher, has been abysmal. Brett Myers has been mercurial, and his buzzing of the other team's best hitter turned game three into a circus, in which their opponents needed to win to show their mettle, helping the Phils avoid their first playoff series sweep in franchise history. Joe Blanton has been great in the postseason, but given his regular-season performance, cannot be relied to heavily upon.
One postscript: I have not mentioned the opponent the Phils defeated nor anyone on their roster since oddly it seems to enrage their fans. As to the issue of the game three wackiness, I just want to point out that Victorino, whom I defended, went on to play a stellar series, defensively and offensively, and even said a kind word to the opponents' beleaguered shortstop tonight. He showed his mettle while the catcher integral to the incident went on to strand a flotilla of runners, was erratic defensively, and hurt his team by arguing balls and strikes with home plate ump Mike Winters (who was admittedly awful throughout the night) after being called out on strikes to end the sixth. He was very close to being thrown out of the game (I question why he and the second baseman who did the same thing in the eighth were not ejected), not to mention doing his best to poison the ump against his team. He fully earned the appellation with which I anointed him after game three. Now, let's never speak of them again.