I share in Whole Camels' most important thought after Game 1: WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!! That was an incredibly satisfying game. Watching Hamels and Lowe duel it out was a pleasure, but then watching the Phillies' offense do what it does best -- hit key home runs -- in the sixth inning was even more so. The bullpen fell in line perfectly, making this an excellent start to the NLCS.
With those general thoughts in mind, here are some more specific ones after Game 1:
- The big loser last night was Rafael Furcal. He was touted in the press before the game and by Joe Buck and Tim McCarver during the game as the big difference-maker for the Dodgers. They told me he was the best hitter on the planet (ever?) in the beginning of the season until he got hurt. And, now that he's back at the top of the Dodgers' lineup, the team was unstoppable. Well, let's check that thought for a bit. Last night he was 0 for 4 at the plate. He never looked comfortable against Cole Hamels. Even one hit or walk would have been a game changer, as he hit in front of the two Dodgers who did manage to hit last night - Andre Ethier and Manny Ramirez (both 2 for 4 with a double apiece). In the field, his error was the game changer. He let Shane Victorino get on base in the sixth, paving the way for Lowe's melt-down and Utley's home run.
- Derek Lowe pitched great, but looked awfully flustered when under pressure. Buck and McCarver did their usual overkill in telling us how great Derek Lowe is in the post-season. And there's some good reason for the accolades: He won the clinching games in all three series for the Red Sox in the 2004 post-season. But last night Lowe did not look like the unflappable veteran presence on the mound. Don't get me wrong - he was pretty dominant against the Phillies hitters for most of the night. But, in two key situations, he appeared to get thrown off his game very easily. In the fifth inning, he had the Phillies with two outs and Carlos Ruiz at the plate. If he had gotten Ruiz, he would have left Cole Hamels up to start the sixth for the Phils. Not only would that be an advantage in the sixth for the Dodgers (pitcher leading off) but it also might have forced Hamels out of the game an inning earlier than he did leave. But Lowe gave up a single to Ruiz. He was clearly flustered and gave up another single to Hamels. Hamels is a good hitter (for a pitcher) but Lowe's stuff all game was better than that. He recovered to get Rollins, but he showed he couldn't control his emotions. The next inning, this lack of control changed the game. Victorino got on base thanks to the Furcal error. And then Lowe, clearly upset by the error, grooved one to Utley, who tied the game up. Two batters later, Lowe, still flustered, gave up the game-winning home run to Pat Burrell. Simply put: Derek Lowe wilted under pressure. (That being said, I'd be happy to see the free agent in a Phillies uniform next season (for the right price).)
Ryan Madson has been the best Phillies pitcher since September 1. Brad Lidge has been good, Jamie Moyer was clutch down the stretch, and Cole Hamels continued his consistently great performance in the month, but since September 1, Ryan Madson has been the best Phillies pitcher. Since that date, including the post-season, he's appeared in 17 games and pitched 19 innings. He's given up only 16 hits and 1 walk while striking out 20. He has a combined 0.95 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP. He has become a lock in bridging the gap to Lidge in the eighth. With Lidge's perfect save season, Madson-Lidge is looking every bit as good as Wetteland-Rivera in their heyday.
Ryan Howard continued his awful post-season performance. Chase Utley snapped out of his playoff funk last night, but Ryan Howard continued his. After his 0 for 4 last night, he's now got a career .185/.333/.333 triple-slash line in the playoffs. He's got 12 strikeouts against 5 walks (all in the Brewers series) and only 1 home run and 2 runs batted in. The Phillies can win without him, but it would be much easier to win with him.
The Phillies have been great since Manny was traded to the Dodgers. Here I'm reiterating a point I made a couple of days ago, but I feel it's necessary given the way the announcers went on and on about how great the Dodgers have been since the Manny trade. Being a little more complete than I was on Wednesday by including playoff games, the Dodgers are now 33-26 since Manny was traded to them. That's good, .559 winning percentage good. But the Phillies have been better. Including last night's win, they are now 38-22 since Manny joined the Dodgers. That's a .633 winning percentage, which is not just good, it's great.
- Chase Utley's home run continues his dominance of the Dodgers. Chase Utley has been the best Phillie historically against the Dodgers. His home run just continued the stretch. Check out this list of the current Phillies' starters' (including Dobbs and Feliz) career OPS against the Dodgers:
- Tim McCarver didn't annoy me as much as he used to. I've long thought Tim McCarver was an insufferable baseball announcer. There've been many playoff and World Series games that I'd have rather watched in silence than listen to his babbling about crap that doesn't matter or is deceptive (memo to Tim: get with the program - batting average is a child's stat). But last night, despite the fawning over Manny, Torre, and all things Dodger blue, he didn't bother me as much. Maybe it was the euphoria of the first Phillies NLCS appearance since 1993, maybe it's my increasing age, or maybe it's a change in his announcing style, but I hope it keeps up because I'm hoping to see a lot more Phillies baseball this month.
- For the Phillies historically, this first win means a lot. This is the Phillies' 15th post-season series in the franchise's history. In the previous 14 series (including the Brewers series this year), the team that won the first game has won the series 11 times (1950 World Series, 1976 NLCS, 1978 NLCS, 1980 NLCS, 1980 World Series, 1981 NLDS, 1983 NLCS, 1993 NLCS, 1993 World Series, 2007 NLDS, and 2008 NLDS). That's the good news. Only 3 times has the team that won the first game lost the series. The bad news is that in each of those 3 series, the Phillies won the first game but then lost the series (1915 World Series, 1977 NLCS, and 1983 World Series).