October 20, 2010

The series we feared.

On Tuesday, October 19th, 2010, Chase Utley played the worst game of his professional baseball career.

I didn't research that. I don't have detailed statistics to show just how subpar his performance in Game 3 at AT&T Park really was. But I did see the heart and soul of the Philadelphia Phillies go 0 for 4, leaving three men on base. I saw him commit one error (although it was officially scored otherwise) and let another ball bounce off his glove on a diving attempt.

Three of those at-bats were against right-hander Matt Cain; Utley came into the afternoon hitting 7 for 15 lifetime off Cain with three homers. Small sample size, I know, but the Phillies star second baseman came up even smaller. Someone, anyone, needs to get a big hit or two in this series, and yesterday it should have been Utley. It just wasn't.

As Jason Weitzel of Beerleaguer noted, this is the series we were all afraid of. The San Francisco Giants, despite maybe the saddest-looking batting order to ever hit in the National League Championship Series, are sneaking just enough runs home to win. The Phillies, meanwhile, are in another fun team-wide slump. Raul Ibanez looks a thousand years old again, Jimmy Rollins has already provided his requisite "one big hit" of the series, and Ryan Howard's September power has mysteriously vanished. They can't even capitalize when Matt Cain throws 50 of his 119 pitches for balls.

It's not over. Not by a long shot. Even if Joe Blanton can't win tonight, it'll be Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels to end the series, a fearsome trio for any team to overcome. There used to be talk in Philadelphia that the Phils needed one stopper, just one, to halt losing streaks. Now they have three, and you know they aren't going down without a fight.

But let's hope it doesn't get that far. Phil Sheridan wrote today, "If the mighty Phillies...can't score a few runs off Madison Bumgarner, they have no business being in the World Series." You can excuse low-scoring days against Tim Lincecum, the Sanchise and even "Big Daddy" Cain, but tonight is not a night to come up small.

That's not even a slight against the rookie Bumgarner, who looks like a more-than-worthy addition to the Giants' formidable rotation. But this is a supposedly "powerful" offense, a playoff-tested team of veterans who always claimed they could turn on the jets at just the right time.

Well, boys, this is the right time. Win tonight, and the Big Three are ready to take it home. Lose tonight, and you face Lincecum, a raucous San Francisco crowd and elimination tomorrow. Your choice.

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