By JAY LeBLANC
October 6, 2008
Phillies 6, Brewers 2
Phillies win series 3-1
Jimmy Rollins led off the game with a longball, Pat Burrell slugged two homers and Jayson Werth also went deep as the Phillies finished off the Brewers with a 6-2 win to advance to the National League Championship Series for the first time since 1993. Midseason acquisition Joe Blanton picked up the win by tossing six innings of one-run ball while fanning seven.
Milwaukee never had a chance in this one as the Phils teed off on starter Jeff Suppan right from the get-go. Rollins gave the Phillies the lead on the sixth pitch of the ballgame, and after Suppan pitched around two hits to escape unscathed in the second, he allowed a one-out double to Shane Victorino in the third. The veteran right-hander got Chase Utley to ground out and then intentionally walked Ryan Howard to put runners on first and third with two outs. Burrell followed with a three-run shot, and the next batter, Werth, homered to center to make it 5-0 Philadelphia.
The score remained the same until the bottom of the seventh. Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder opened the frame with a solo homer off Blanton, who was pulled after giving up a single to the following batter, J.J. Hardy. Ryan Madson came on and retired the next three Milwaukee hitters in order to snuff out any potential threat, and Burrell got the run back for the Phillies the following inning with a solo blast off Guillermo Mota. Ryan Braun singled in Mike Cameron with the second Brewers run in the bottom of the eighth, but it proved to be too little, too late as Brad Lidge came on to toss a scoreless ninth to end Milwaukee’s season.
Philadelphia’s win sets up an intriguing NLCS matchup with the Dodgers. L.A.’s pitching staff is arguably the N.L.’s best, while the same argument could be made for the Phillies’ offense. On the other hand, the Phillies have a solid staff of their own, and the Dodgers lineup is dangerous - especially with Manny Ramirez in the fold. Both teams will be well rested when the series kicks off Thursday night in Philadelphia, with a likely pitching matchup of Cole Hamels for the Phils and Derek Lowe for the Dodgers.
Angels 5, Red Sox 4
Red Sox lead series 2-1
Erick Aybar’s RBI single in the top of the 12th inning broke a 4-4 tie and proved to be the winning margin as the Angels survived to play another day with a 5-4 win over the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Aybar’s clutch hit made a winner of Jered Weaver - who tossed two scoreless innings and struck out three in his first relief appearance as a big leaguer - and ended the Angels’ 11-game postseason losing streak against Boston.
With Josh Beckett on the hill for the Red Sox and 17-game winner Joe Saunders making the start for the Angels, most expected a pitchers’ duel. That’s not how it went down, as Beckett’s first outing since Sept. 22 turned out to be a dud and Saunders was let down by his defense.
Beckett - who entered the game with a 6-0 record and 1.73 ERA in 10 career postseason appearances - got himself in trouble right away in the top of the first. Chone Figgins doubled to lead off the game, but Beckett fanned the next two hitters, Garret Anderson and Mark Teixeira. The 28-year-old righty then walked Vladimir Guerrero and allowed an infield single to Torii Hunter to load the bases, and Juan Rivera walked on five pitches to force in the first Angels run. Beckett escaped further damage by getting Mike Napoli to ground into a fielders’ choice to end the threat.
Saunders struggled with command in the second, but it was a major gaffe by the Angels’ defense that resulted in three Boston runs. Saunders got two quick outs and then loaded the bases when Jason Varitek sandwiched a single in between walks to Jed Lowrie and Coco Crisp. On a 3-2 count and with the runners in motion, Jacoby Ellsbury lifted what appeared to be an inning-ending pop-up to shallow center field. Center fielder Hunter, second baseman Howie Kendrick and shortstop Aybar converged but failed to communicate, and the ball dropped in between them as all three Boston runners raced around to score to make it 3-1 Red Sox. Since none of the Angels’ fielders touched the ball, it will go down as the first three-run single in postseason history.
The Angels tied the game in the top of the third when Napoli drove a Beckett offering over Fenway’s Green Monster for a two-run homer. Napoli struck again in the fifth, smacking a solo shot to the same area to give the Angels a 4-3 lead. The advantage was short-lived, however, as the Red Sox pulled even in the bottom of the frame when Ellsbury smacked a lead-off double and came around to score two batters later when Kevin Youkilis banged a double of his own off the center field wall.
Both starters were out of the game by the sixth inning and the bullpens took control, preserving the 4-4 tie until the 12th inning. Jose Arredondo, Darren Oliver, Scot Shields, Francisco Rodriguez and Weaver completely shut down the potent Red Sox offense, allowing just two hits and fanning 11 over the final 6 1/3 innings, though Boston’s hitters did draw five walks during that span. The Red Sox bullpen was just as effective through the 11th as Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima, Justin Masterson and Jonathan Papelbon combined to allow just four hits while striking out six Angels.
The Angels finally broke through in the 12th against left-hander Javier Lopez. Napoli opened the frame with a single and advanced to second base on a sac bunt by Kendrick. Aybar then dropped a single in front of center fielder Crisp to score Napoli and put the Angels up 5-4. Lopez K’d Figgins for the second out, but yielded a single to Anderson that allowed Aybar to race to third before getting Teixeira to ground into a fielders’ choice for the third out. David Ortiz walked to open the bottom of the 12th, but was stranded there as Weaver retired the next three Sox hitters in order.
The Angels will send ace John Lackey to the mound tonight at 8:35 EST as they look to force a Game 5 showdown back in Anaheim, while the Red Sox will counter with left-hander Jon Lester. The two faced off in Game 1, with Lester allowing just an unearned run over seven innings to pick up the win and Lackey pitching effectively - two runs on four hits in 6 2/3 innings - in the loss. With both bullpens spent after last night’s five-hour, 19 minute marathon, it will be interesting to see how Sox manager Terry Francona and Angels skipper Mike Scioscia manage their relievers if the game is close in the late innings.
White Sox 5, Rays 3
Rays lead series 2-1
John Danks allowed three runs on seven hits over 6 2/3 innings to pick up the victory as the White Sox forced a Game 4 in their American League Division Series matchup against the Rays with a 5-3 win at U.S. Cellular Field. It was the second straight clutch performance for the 23-year-old left-hander, who punched the White Sox’ ticket to the postseason by tossing eight scoreless innings to beat the Twins in a one-game playoff to decide the A.L. Central on Sept. 30.
Tampa Bay struck first in the top of the second. Dioner Navarro doubled to deep left with one out and advaned to third on a Rocco Baldelli groundout. After a Jason Bartlett walk, Akinori Iwamura reached on an infield single that scored Navarro to make it 1-0 Rays. A wild pitch allowed Bartlett to move up to third and Iwamura to second, but Danks got B.J. Upton to fly out to left to end the threat. The Rays wouldn’t score again until Upton launched a two-run blast off Danks in the seventh, but by that time the White Sox had put their five runs on the board.
The White Sox tallied their first run in the third when A.J. Pierzynski singled in DeWayne Wise, but did most of their damage in the fourth. Jim Thome opened the inning with a double to center off Matt Garza, who then walked Paul Konerko and allowed a single to Ken Griffey Jr. to load the bases with no outs. After an Alexei Ramirez sac fly scored Thome, Wise doubled to left to score Konerko and Griffey and give the White Sox a 4-1 lead. Garza fanned Juan Uribe for the second out and then retired Orlando Cabrera on a ground ball, but the damage was done. Chicago added its fifth run in the sixth on an RBI single by Uribe.
Upton’s seventh-inning homer cut the White Sox lead to two, but the ChiSox bullpen took care of business thereafter. Matt Thornton allowed just a two-out walk to Navarro during a scoreless eighth, and Bobby Jenks pitched around a two-out single to Upton in the ninth to pick up the save.
The White Sox will try to send the series back to Tampa Bay this evening at 5:05 EST when they give the ball to 17-game winner Gavin Floyd. The Rays will counter with 13-game winner Andy Sonnanstine.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times and mayor of the National Pastime web community. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.