It’s all on the line. The pressure is on for the Philadelphia Phillies. They need a big win Friday night to put the St. Louis Cardinals away in Game 5 of the National League Division Series at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies had a chance to close the Cardinals out in Game 4, but let it slip away.
Now, they’re in a do or die situation that most teams hope to avoid. You never want to play a Game 5 or 7 in a playoff series unless you’re team is behind and trying to recapture some momentum.
The Phillies have a lot to play for in this game. They finished the regular season with the best record (102-60) in baseball. They have the best pitching staff with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. In fact, Halladay will be going against Chris Carpenter in Friday’s contest. That should be an interesting matchup. Carpenter and Halladay were once teammates with the Toronto Blue Jays. Of course the Phillies had little trouble with Carpenter in game two, though the Cardinals’ ace was pitching on short rest.
Some people believe the series will come down to pitching. It’s possible that could happen. But the Phillies have to find a way to score runs. In Game 3 outfielder Ben Francisco came off the bench to hit a three-run homer to save them.
Actually, it all could come down to what first baseman Ryan Howard does in this game. Since the first game, Howard has really struggled at the plate. It’s going to be hard for the Phillies to advance if Howard can’t be a run producer. He is hitting .133 in the series with one home run and six RBI.
Although the Phillies have a lot of championship experience with Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Shane Victorino, they’ve never been in a fifth and deciding game during their recent playoff runs.
Rollins could play a huge role in igniting the Phillies. He plays with a lot of confidence and is performing well in this series. He’s hitting .563 and has made some great plays with his glove. Rollins has given his team a lift on many occasions in the postseason and his leadership could be a big part in how this team plays in crucial situations.
The fans will be enthusiastic. Most fans love the excitement of a series ending game. Citizens Bank Park has been sold out all season. St. Louis won’t be intimidated with the surroundings. They’ve already won a game at the ballpark.
This is a big moment for the Phillies. If they were to lose, it will be a long walk back to the locker room. This team is built to win now. That’s why this game is so important.
CLEARWATER, Fla. — As Ryan Howard navigates through the clubhouse in a walking boot, it’s clear the big slugger won’t be in the Philadelphia Phillies’ lineup anytime soon.
So who’s on first?
That’s a question manager Charlie Manuel still has to figure out in spring training. A combination of four players will try to fill the void, including 41-year-old Jim Thome, who is nearing the end of a career that will likely send him to the Hall of Fame after he retires. Ty Wigginton, Laynce Nix and John Mayberry Jr. also are in the mix.
Replacing the 2006 NL MVP won’t be easy.
“We need Ryan Howard’s power,” Manuel said. “Bad. Big time. He’s our four-hole hitter. He’s the guy that knocks in a hundred-and-better for us. I’ve heard all the remarks about him, but at the same time, when you look up, who else on our team knocks in 120, 130 or 140 runs or is capable of doing it. We need him.”
Howard ruptured his Achilles while making the final out in Philadelphia’s 1-0 loss to St. Louis in Game 5 of the NL division series last October. He was taking batting practice when camp opened, and Manuel was hopeful he’d be ready by late April or the first week in May. But Howard was shut down 2½ weeks ago because he needed a procedure to remove an infection near his surgically repaired Achilles tendon.
Howard was just cleared to start light exercises, but there’s no timetable for his return. He can ride a stationary bike and work out his legs while in the boot.
“I think people see me in the boot, they think it’s a lot worse than what it really is,” Howard said. “Right now, we’re just trying to protect the skin and protect the wound and let it heal up. Once it heals up, then I’ll be out of the boot.”
For now, the Phillies have to move on without Howard in the cleanup spot. The only question is for how long.
“He had a setback. Until we get him out there practicing, we won’t know anything,” Manuel said. “He was doing good. He was ahead of his time. He’s back to square one, really.”
Thome certainly has the credentials — 604 career homers and 1,674 RBIs. But he hasn’t played first base since making one appearance there in 2007. He’s played only four games at first since 2005.
Thome has eased his way into action so far. He played four innings at first in a minor league game on Monday and expects to work his way up to seven or eight innings before starting in a major league exhibition.
“I need to just play,” Thome said. “I need to just go do it. I’m excited to get back out there.”
Wigginton, a journeyman utility player, started 107 games at first his last two seasons. He made the All-Star team in 2010 when he had 22 homers and 76 RBIs.
“I’m very comfortable there,” Wigginton said. “The more work you get done at any position, the more comfortable you will be. I try to look at a ground ball like a ground ball no matter where you play. Either corner, it’s exactly the same thing. Obviously, there’s a little more involved at first base with holding runners on, but really overall, I feel very good.”
Wigginton has started several games at first this spring, including Wednesday’s 6-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins.
Mayberry is probably Philadelphia’s best option, but he has a chance to be the regular left fielder. A former first-round pick, Mayberry took time to develop. He had a breakout half-season last year, hitting .273 with 15 homers and 49 RBIs in 267 at-bats.
“Wherever Charlie puts me, I’ll be ready to go,” Mayberry said. “I came in here with a chance to contribute. I worked as hard as I could in the offseason and I came to camp ready to go.”
Manuel is torn between using Mayberry at first base or left field.
“He’s a good first baseman. He might be the best one we have,” Manuel said. “Also, I look at him and he’s definitely one of the best outfielders we have. It’s kind of like, on that day, where’s your strongest defense at?
“I’m a big believer that more things happen when you miss balls in the outfield than at first base. You can lose a game at both places but, at the same time, we’re talking extra bases on misplaced balls in the outfield. I talk about that every day and think about where is the best place to play him. I haven’t decided yet.”
Nix has started just six games at first base — all last season with Washington — during his nine-year career. He’s been nagged by injuries this spring, and is more likely going to be used as a pinch-hitter and left fielder.
Howard, obviously, is a major part of an offense for a team that has won five straight division titles and is seeking a second World Series title since 2008. He batted .253 with a team-high 33 homers and 116 RBIs last year. But he was just 2 for 19 (.105) with a homer and six RBIs in the NL division series against the Cardinals.
From 2006 to 2009, Howard averaged 50 homers and 141 RBIs while hitting .278. He hasn’t matched that production since signing a $125 million, five-year contract extension in April 2010. Howard has averaged 32 homers and 112 RBIs with a .265 average over the last two seasons.
“I’m going to try to stay optimistic and see what happens, but like I’ve said before, there’s really no time limit on it,” Howard said. “Once it’s 100 percent, we’ll go from there.” — (AP)
When the Phillies face the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3 of the National League Division Series, they will have their hands full on the road. The Phillies will be trying to take the lead in the best of five series this afternoon (5:07 p.m. TBS) at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
The Phillies will send lefthander Cole Hamels (14-9, 2.79 ERA, 195 strikeouts) to the mound against the Cardinals’ lefthanded ace Jaime Garcia (13-7, 3.56 ERA, 156 strikeouts.) The Phillies need a big performance from Hamels as they attempt to take the lead in the series.
Ryan Howard, Phillies’ first baseman, could be a key player in the next two games. Howard is from St. Louis. He was a big star at Lafayette High School and Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State). He usually has some big games in his hometown. He was certainly a catalyst in the first game, hitting a home run and driving in four runs, leading the Phillies to a huge win. In the series, Howard (.286, two hits, one home run, six RBI) has been a big factor. He’s a player to watch in these two contests.
The Cardinals defeated the Phillies, 5-4 in Game 2 to even the series at 1-1. Cliff Lee, Phillies lefthander who has pitched sensationally this season, let a four-run lead slip away, giving up five runs on 12 hits.
Pitching has been the hallmark of the Phillies’ success this season. In the first two playoff games, the Cardinals have really challenged the Phillies’ pitching staff, battling Roy Halladay in the first game by scoring three early runs and defeating Lee in the second contest. To Halladay’s credit, after giving up a three-run homer to Cardinals rightfielder Lance Berkman, he settled down and pitched a terrific game.
St. Louis is a dangerous team. Their pitching staff isn’t as ballyhooed and talented as the Phillies’. Nevertheless, the Cardinals are able to compete and keep the games close. Moreover, St. Louis manager Tony La Russa has plenty of experience in using his starting pitchers as well as his bullpen. La Russa made several adjustments in the second game after starter Chris Carpenter struggled early and had to be replaced. He waited for his bats to get hot. Then he utilized his bullpen, putting his relief pitchers in the right situations as Octavio Dotel got the win.
The Phillies’ bats had been booming. They scored 16 runs in the first two games. The team has several players swinging the bat really well — shortstop Jimmy Rollins (.625, five hits), second baseman Chase Utley (.500, three hits), rightfielder Hunter Pence (.375, three hits, three RBI), leftfielder Raul Ibanez (. 375, three hits, one home run and four RBI) centerfielder Shane Victorino (.375, three hits, two RBI).
The Cardinals have picked up some timely hitting from second baseman Skip Schumaker (.600, three hits, two RBI), first baseman Albert Pujols (.375, three hits, one RBI), shortstop Rafael Furcal (.333, three hits, one RBI) centerfielder Jon Jay (.286, two hits, two RBI) and Berkman, (.250, two hits, one home run, three RBI).
The Cardinals accomplished their goal by getting a split at Citizens Bank Park. They now have homefield advantage. Pujols is their best player. He provides them with experience and leadership, not to mention some good all-around play.
PHILADELPHIA — Ryan Howard took a mighty cut, dropped his bat and admired the shot.
The big slugger didn't go down looking in a clutch spot this time, Roy Halladay overcame a shaky start and the Philadelphia Phillies beat the St. Louis Cardinals 11-6 Saturday night in the opener of their NL division series.
Howard shook off his season-ending strikeout last October in the championship series to hit a go-ahead, three-run homer in a five-run sixth inning, sending Citizens Bank Park into a frenzy.
"I left last year in the past," Howard said. "You can't let what happened last year affect this year. It's a fresh start."
Halladay retired his last 21 batters, and the NL East champions began their all-or-nothing postseason run with a comeback win.
Halladay allowed three runs and three hits, striking out eight in eight innings. He didn't allow a runner after Skip Schumaker led off the second with a single.
"That's why he's the best in the game," Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols said. "We wanted to keep adding on it, but we just never put that inning together again."
Game 2 is Sunday night, with Cliff Lee pitching for Philadelphia against Chris Carpenter, who is starting on three days' rest.
Raul Ibanez hit a two-run shot off Kyle Lohse to cap the Phillies' burst in the sixth, and Shane Victorino had three hits and two RBIs.
Last year, in his first career playoff start, Halladay threw the second no-hitter in postseason history in Philadelphia's 4-0 victory over Cincinnati.
His bid for an encore in the first round didn't last one batter, and Lance Berkman hit the first three-run homer off Halladay in three years to put the wild-card Cardinals up 3-0 in the first.
But the offense bailed out Doc.
"I couldn't think of a worse start and putting your team in a hole like that," Halladay said. "But you get to this point, you're not going to pack it in."
Lohse retired the first 10 batters before Chase Utley hit a double off the right-field fence in the fourth. The righty, who was 14-8 this season, ran out of gas in the sixth.
Down 3-1, Jimmy Rollins singled to start the inning. After Utley struck out, Hunter Pence grounded a single up the middle. That brought up Howard, who heard a lot of criticism for taking that called third strike last year in the NLCS with the tying run on second base to end the Phillies' season against San Francisco.
Howard worked a full count before launching a towering drive into the second deck in right-center to give the Phillies a 4-3 lead.
The towel-waving crowd went wild, and Howard came out for a curtain call.
"In that situation, I knew he wasn't really going to throw a fastball, so I just sat on the changeup," Howard said. "Trying to get me to chase, but he just kind of left one up there hanging for me."
Victorino followed with a single. Ibanez then lined a two-run homer to right to end Lohse's night.
Lohse allowed six runs — five earned — and seven hits in 5 1-3 innings.
The Cardinals scored three times in the ninth off relievers Michael Stutes and Ryan Madson, highlighted by Schumaker's two-run double.
The two teams took different roads to get here.
The Phillies cruised to their fifth straight division title, winning a franchise-record and major league-best 102 games. Anything less than a second World Series title in four years will be considered a failure by players, management and fans.
The Cardinals needed an incredible collapse by Atlanta and help from Philadelphia to earn the wild card. St. Louis trailed the Braves by 10½ games on Aug. 25, but went 23-8 the rest of the way and got in after Game 162 when the Phillies completed a three-game sweep in Atlanta.
For a while, it seemed the Phillies might regret helping the Cardinals reach the playoffs.
A day after borrowing a line from William Shakespeare, saying he "came here to bury Caesar, not praise him," Halladay didn't back up his words right away.
Rafael Furcal led off the game with a single and stole second. One out later, Halladay walked Pujols on four pitches. Berkman drove the next pitch off the mini-scoreboard hanging on the facing off the second deck in right field.
"You have to beat those guys 3-to-whatever," Berkman said. "He's not going to give up much more than that. He's a great pitcher."
The switch-hitting Berkman hit all 31 of his homers in the regular season from the left side. No. 32 was the first three-run homer Halladay allowed since Aug. 21, 2008, when Hideki Matsui connected for the Yankees in a 14-3 loss to Toronto.
"He was kind of like a 'Rocky' movie," manager Charlie Manuel said of Halladay. "He got mad after he gave up that homer. That ticked him off and he hung in there and he got going. But he's special. He's everything people talk about."
The Phillies will turn Berkman around the next two games with lefties Lee and Cole Hamels on the mound.
Howard hit a sacrifice fly in the seventh, and Victorino and Ibanez each had RBI singles in the inning to pad Philadelphia's lead.
An unearned run got Philadelphia within 3-1 in the fourth. After Utley's one-out double, Pence struck out and Howard walked. Victorino hit a foul pop down the left-field line that should've ended the inning.
But third baseman David Freese tried to make an over-the-shoulder catch and the ball fell out of his glove for an error. Victorino hit an opposite-field single to left to score Utley.
Halladay, a two-time Cy Young Award winner who won it last year in his first season in the NL, was 19-6 with a career-best 2.35 ERA and eight complete games this season.
He made certain the relievers stayed in the bullpen until this game was out of reach.
A crowd of 46,480 was the 218th straight sellout at Citizens Bank Park, including postseason play. The stadium resembled an apple orchard with all the red-clad fans.
NOTES: Cardinals RHP Kyle McClellan was disappointed that he was left off the roster because of a tired arm. "McClellan is a real weapon," manager Tony La Russa said. "That was a very tough call, and I know he's very upset with it, and he should be. Made totally on his best interest."... Only the New York Yankees (27) have won more World Series titles than the Cardinals (10). ... The Cardinals were 6-3 vs. the Phillies in the regular season. ... The Phillies are 15-7 in Game 1s, while the Cardinals fell to 16-19. ... The Cardinals didn't have five-time All-Star, LF Matt Holliday because of a hand injury. ... Howard is 9 for 18 with three homers off Lohse. ... The Phillies, who acquired Pence from Houston on July 29, are now 8-0 with all of their regulars in the lineup. ... Pence was 2 for 5 with two RBIs and two runs in his first postseason game. -- (AP)
For a team that finished 17 games out of first place, the Philadelphia Phillies are quite confident they can regain the NL East crown they relinquished to Washington after a five-year run.
"The Nationals had a great year last year, but we had a lot of injuries," slugger Ryan Howard said. "Call us old if you want to. If you want to sweep us under the rug, just don't be surprised."
The Phillies' streak of five consecutive division titles ended in 2012 with an 81-81 finish. Injuries were a major factor for the decline. Howard and Chase Utley, the team's Nos. 3-4 hitters, combined to miss 160 games to start the season. Ace Roy Halladay was out for a two-month stretch in the middle.
While the facts say the Phillies are trending downward — they've taken one step back each season since winning the 2008 World Series — players insist they have plenty left to contend now that they're healthy.
"We're a complete team now," former NL MVP Jimmy Rollins said. "We're not going out there with role players. We're going out there with everyday players, every game."
Rollins makes a valid point. After Howard and Utley both returned, the Phillies went 44-34. They even made a late run toward a playoff berth, pulling within three games of the second wild-card spot with 11 games left before finishing 4-7.
Howard had an excellent spring and seems fully recovered from his Achilles' injury. Utley, who has battled chronic knee problems, played exhibition games for the first time since 2010 and will start the season in the lineup instead of on the disabled list.
Halladay hasn't been the same dominant pitcher he was for a long stretch, but the Phillies still have a pair of aces in Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee.
"We're very close to being a championship team, but when the time comes and we have to step between the lines, we have to play the best baseball we can for 173 games," Hamels said, adding an 11-win postseason run in his calculations.
"We have to look at it that way. If we don't take that approach then we're selling ourselves short. That's the attitude we're giving and you can feel it in the clubhouse and I can see the work ethic that we have with the type of players that we have," he said.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. didn't make a big splash in the offseason for change. Still, he filled important holes with talented players. Seven-time All-Star Michael Young was acquired from Texas to play third base. Center fielder Ben Revere came over from Minnesota in a trade. Right fielder Delmon Young, setup man Mike Adams and starter John Lannan were free-agent signings.
Manager Charlie Manuel raved about the new guys in the spring.
"Michael Young is going to be a real good player for us," Manuel said. "Not only is he going to hit, he's going to hit for a high average and he's going to show some power in the National League and he has a chance to hit more homers than people think. He's definitely going to be a big offensive player for us and his defense won't be lacking."
Revere replaces former All-Star Shane Victorino, who was traded to Los Angeles last July before signing with Boston in the offseason.
"Ben is a better offensive player than I thought he was," Manuel said. "He can run, he can bunt better than Vic. He doesn't have the pop Victorino had but he's faster than Victorino. Ben is going to play within himself more and he's going to be a big-time team player."
The additions of both Youngs and Revere along with the emergence of former top prospect Domonic Brown gives the Phillies a chance to have a dynamic offense. They'll need Hamels and Lee to be elite starters, especially if Halladay is just average. The bullpen led by closer Jonathan Papelbon is deep. Adams solves the team's eighth-inning woes, and there are several young arms with potential.
"We have talent in our bullpen and as the season goes on, you're going to see guys blossom," Manuel said.
If the Phillies don't win, the rebuilding could start even before the season ends. Manuel, Halladay, Utley and All-Star catcher Carlos Ruiz are in the final year of their contracts. Ruiz will miss the first 25 games because of a suspension for violating baseball's substance-abuse policy.
No doubt there's a sense of urgency to win now.
"I don't think there's anybody in there that's thinking 'I got two or three years left to do this, so I got time,'" Halladay said. "I think we all want to do it now. Hopefully that's the goal. I think all the guys that are getting older realize you have less chances to do it. I would think the urgency would still be the same." -- (AP)
ST. LOUIS — Pinch-hitter Ben Francisco and closer Ryan Madson made manager Charlie Manuel's moves look smart, and the Philadelphia Phillies held off the St. Louis Cardinals 3-2 Tuesday for a 2-1 lead in their NL playoff series.
Francisco batted for pitcher Cole Hamels and broke open a scoreless game with a two-out, three-run homer in the seventh inning.
Madson earned his first multi-inning save of the year. He came in and got Allen Craig to sharply ground into a double play with the bases loaded to escape in the eighth, then worked around Yadier Molina's RBI single in the ninth.
The Phillies, favored to win it all after a franchise-record 102-win season, can finish off the wild-card Cardinals in Game 4 Wednesday, with Roy Oswalt opposing Edwin Jackson.
Francisco's shot off Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia was only his second hit in 19 at-bats in the postseason.
"I knew the way the game was going I was probably going to be in there to pinch-hit off a lefty," Francisco said. "Got up there with a runner in scoring position, I was just trying to get a hit up the middle and he left one up and luckily it got out of here."
Hamels struck out eight in six scoreless innings. He's a franchise-best 7-4 in the postseason with a 3.09 ERA.
The Cardinals frustrated a season-high crowd of 46,914, stranding 14 runners. They set a National League record with 169 double play balls.
Albert Pujols and Ryan Theriot had four hits apiece for St. Louis, the heavy underdog wild-card winners who had runners in scoring position in six innings. They came up empty despite three hits in the eighth, including a pinch-hit single by Matt Holliday in only his second appearance of the series.
The Cardinals' decision to let Garcia bat with two on and two out in the sixth backfired in a big way. Garcia struck out on Hamels' 117th pitch and wasn't the same in the seventh.
The Phillies, held to three hits to that point, doubled that total in the seventh. Shane Victorino led off with a single and Carlos Ruiz was intentionally walked with two outs. Francisco, who had been 1 for 9 against Garcia, deposited a 1-0 fastball in the visitor's bullpen in left-center field.
Francisco was clutch at the end of the year, getting seven hits in his last 20 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Lefty vs. lefty percentages, even against Phillies slugger Ryan Howard, allowed Garcia to elude trouble until the seventh.
Chase Utley singled with two outs in the sixth, breaking a string of nine straight batters retired by Garcia, and went to second on a wild pitch on an 0-1 delivery to Hunter Pence.
The Cardinals elected for an intentional walk at that point, and the move paid off when Howard, who is 2 for 15 with a homer and an RBI against Garcia counting the playoffs, tapped out weakly to first.
Garcia was at only 74 pitches through six, but needed 26 more in the seventh.
Hamels was up to the task as well, striking out David Freese with two runners on to end the first. The 2008 World Series MVP got Garcia on a groundout with two on to end the fourth, and fanned the pitcher for his biggest out to end the sixth.
NOTES: Phillies leadoff man Jimmy Rollins had two hits and is 7 for 11 in the series. ... Tuesday was Cardinals manager Tony La Russa's 67th birthday. It was also St. Louis pitcher Kyle Lohse's 32nd birthday. ... Garcia threw first-pitch strikes to the first 10 hitters. ... The Cardinals stole three bases in the first four innings. They totaled 57 in the regular season, second-lowest in the majors. ... Placido Polanco singled in the ninth, ending a 0 for 29 slump against St. Louis in the postseason. He was 0 for 17 with Detroit in the 2006 World Series. ... Counting the postseason, Theriot is 10 for 24 against Hamels. -- (AP)
The Major League Baseball All-Star Game balloting started on April 24. At that time, Phillies leftfielder Domonic Brown wasn’t a candidate for the All-Star team.
Guess what? He is now.
Brown leads the National League in home runs with 16. He has 40 RBIs which makes him the fifth leading run producer in the NL. Brown has a batting average of .282. That makes him an All-Star Game candidate.
Of course, Brown is currently one of the hottest players in baseball. He has eight home runs in his last nine games. Ryan Howard was the last Phillie to accomplish this feat. Howard did it in 2005. The 6-foot-5, 205-pounder, has also displayed a good arm in the outfield along with a smooth and easy stride on the base path.
The All-Star Game will be played on July 16 at Citi Field in New York City. The game is less than two months away. The Phillies haven’t had much to cheer about this season. The team is struggling to reach the .500 mark. The pitching and hitting has been inconsistent. However, Brown has grabbed national attention with his bat. He has displayed a tremendous amount of power. He’s also hitting for a good average.
There weren’t many people who thought Brown could play at this level when the season began. But the Phillies outfielder has taken his game to an extremely high level. He has been named the National League Player of the Week for the second consecutive week. He earned this honor after leading the Major Leagues with seven home runs, 13 RBI, 35 total bases and a 1.296 slugging percentage. He received National League Player of the Month, too.
Brown, 25, also ranked among the National League leaders with eight home runs (tied-1st), 12 hits (3rd), a .444 (12-for-27) batting average (5th) and a .483 on-base percentage including a triple and two stolen bases. He hit two home runs in three straight games last week against the Boston Red Sox on the road. Then, he tagged two homers to help the Phillies beat the Red Sox in the first game of their two-game series at Citizens Bank Park.
On Sunday, he tied a career-high with three hits and put together a four-RBI game in leading the Phillies to a 7-5 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.
The All-Star voting ends on July 4. If there’s anybody who deserves this honor and recognition, it’s Domonic Brown. This has been a big year for him. He’s certainly taken advantage of his opportunity. He’s coming off a sensational month. He’s moving into June the same way he finished May.
If Brown doesn’t get voted in by fans, he should be one of the top reserves selected. The fans should fill out those ballots at the game. They can also go up on MLB.com. If he continues on this pace, Brown should be able to secure a spot on the National League All-Star team.