- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 20, 2009

PHILADELPHIA | The Philadelphia Phillies can look defeated, even on the verge of death. But through the years, they’ve built a lineup with so much firepower and so much resolve, their fans have learned never to sacrifice the chance to see a ninth-inning comeback for a speedier exit from Citizens Bank Park.

In this ballpark, with this offense, the Phillies can never be counted out, and everyone standing during the ninth inning of Game 4 of the National League Championship Series knew it. It’s why, when Jimmy Rollins smoked a 100-mph fastball to the right-field wall off Los Angeles Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton for a half-improbable, half-impeccable game-winning double, there were still so many believers in the ballpark to get the stands quaking.

Rollins’ double scored two runs, giving the Phillies a stunning 5-4 victory Monday night. It also gave Philadelphia a 3-1 lead in the series and puts the Phillies in line to clinch their second straight NL pennant in Wednesday’s Game 5.

“The type of guys we have on our team just really believe in themselves,” said closer Brad Lidge, who earned the win by holding the Dodgers scoreless in the ninth, continuing his postseason rebound after a nightmarish season. “They’re borderline extremely cocky that they’re going to come back every time. They don’t ever feel like they’re out of a game. They always believe they can get it done.”

After blowing an early 2-0 lead and struggling to solve former teammate Randy Wolf, it appeared the Phillies would let the Dodgers tie the series. But Rollins battled Broxton through a six-pitch at-bat, fouling off three fastballs before coming through to score pinch runner Eric Bruntlett and catcher Carlos Ruiz.

“I was just telling myself, Just sit there and catch the ball. It’s something I’ve done the last four years. If you catch the ball on the barrel, with his velocity, the ball’s going to go,” Rollins said. “He’s pretty much throwing me all fastballs. Hes going to give you his best. If he’s going to lose, he’s going to lose with his best. I was able to catch one in the gap. They were kind of squeezing the gap, but that was hit hard enough to beat everybody.”

The Phillies dugout emptied onto the field almost as soon as the first runner crossed home plate, and a manic celebration ensued; Rollins said later he was only trying not to get crushed in the dogpile, especially with first baseman Ryan Howard lurking.

Later or perhaps not there was a toast to Rollins in the Phillies clubhouse, with several teammates talking about what the 2007 NL MVP (and the Phillies unofficial captain) has meant to the team. When asked about the exchange, Rollins smiled impishly and said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

It was the Phillies’ second victory of the postseason in which they trailed in the ninth inning, following a rally in Game 4 of the NLDS against Colorado. And it took Phillies starter Joe Blanton, who gave up four runs in the middle innings, off the hook.

For the first three innings, Blanton whistled through the Dodgers’ lineup, getting five ground-ball outs while taking a perfect game — and a 2-0 lead — into the fourth inning. That margin was courtesy of Howard, who continued his otherworldly postseason with a first-inning homer off Wolf that cleared the right-field fence so fast that it looked like it was propelled by a jet pack.

After that shot, though, Wolf gained control against his former team, retiring 12 of the next 13. And when the fourth inning began, coinciding perfectly with the start of Blanton’s second trip through the Dodgers’ lineup, the situation changed almost immediately.

The second batter of the inning, Matt Kemp, drew a walk. After he got a second out, Blanton gave up three hits and a walk to the next four batters as the Dodgers scored two runs to tie the score. In the fifth, Kemp blasted a 2-0 pitch over the center-field wall, just beyond the glove of Shane Victorino. For the first time in the better part of four games, their offense had done something to wrest control of a game from the Phillies.

They scored another run in the sixth, facilitated by Pedro Feliz’s throwing error on a Manny Ramirez grounder to third. But the Dodgers’ lead shrunk back to one on a puzzling display of laziness from Ramirez later in the inning.

With one out, Victorino pulled a grounder just inside the third-base line. It spiked off a wall in foul territory but followed a relatively straight line into the corner. Ramirez didn’t anticipate the bounce, was late arriving to the ball and missed the cutoff man, allowing Victorino to reach third easily.

Victorino scored on Chase Utley’s single, and only a shoe-top catch by Ramirez later in the inning kept the Phillies from tying the score.

All that meant, though, was that the Phillies’ comeback would be that much more dramatic. They missed a chance to tie the score in the eighth, stranding runners on first and second. But when Broxton walked one and hit another in the ninth, it was all the room the Phillies needed.

“It takes 27 outs to close out the game, and you stay there until it’s over,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “Anytime you have a close game, seesawing back and forth, a one-run, two-run lead, something like that, all you need is chance.”

In this ballpark, it doesn’t take much to set off an earthquake.

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