With one picture-perfect swing on a Jonathan Broxton fastball, Jimmy Rollins put 8 2/3 innings of frustration for his team--and the better part of a full season for himself--in the rear-view mirror. Rollins' two-out, two-on double to the gap scored Eric Bruntlett and Carlos Ruiz with the tying and winning runs as the Phillies took a walkoff thriller against the Dodgers in Game Four of the NLCS and claimed a three games to one series lead.
Rollins threw the last knockout punch in a night of haymakers. Ryan Howard got things started in the bottom of the first against former teammate Randy Wolf, who had allowed just one home run to lefty hitters all season. Now he's allowed one in the playoffs: with Rollins on first, Howard tattooed a 3-1 fastball into the right-field seats to put the Phillies ahead 2-0. But Wolf settled in after that, retiring ten in a row and not surrendering another hit until the sixth.
Joe Blanton started strong as well, retiring the first ten Dodger hitters he faced. But with one out in the fourth, he walked Matt Kemp to give Los Angeles its first base runner. Andre Ethier followed with a deep flyout to dead center, but Manny Ramirez singled to put runners at the corners. James Loney did the same to cut the lead in half, and after a walk to Ronnie Belliard, Russell Martin singled to tie it. An inning later, Kemp came up with two outs and blasted a home run to center, over Shane Victorino climbing the wall. In the sixth, the Dodgers added another run as Ramirez reached on a Pedro Feliz error, Belliard moved him to second on a bloop single and Casey Blake, previously 1 for 25 in his career off Blanton, took a low pitch the opposite way for a single and a 4-2 advantage.
The Phils drew closer in the bottom of the sixth. Victorino tripled with one out, and Utley pulled a Wolf fastball into right for a single. After Howard walked, Joe Torre pulled Wolf for Ronald Belisario, who sawed off Jayson Werth for what looked like a 5-4-3 double-play ball before Belliard dropped it on the transfer; the Dodgers were awarded an out. Belisario then gave way to Hong-Chi Kuo. Raul Ibanez greeted him with a sinking liner to left--that Ramirez, of all people, caught just about the grass to preserve LA's lead.
Chan Ho Park and Ryan Madson kept the Dodgers off the scoreboard for the next two innings. In the bottom of the eighth, the Phillies got two on with one out against George Sherrill, who hit Victorino with a pitch and walked Utley. But he recovered to strike out Howard for the second out. Broxton came in for Werth, flirting with triple digits on the fastball; after a six-pitch at-bat, he got Werth to fly out to right.
Scott Eyre started the ninth, but gave way to Brad Lidge with Rafael Furcal on first and one out. Lidge, showing perhaps his best stuff of the postseason, struck out both Kemp and Ethier, stranding what would have been a huge insurance run.
Broxton came back out after sitting through the long top of the ninth. He got Ibanez to ground out, but facing Matt Stairs--the man who beat him with a majestic two-run bomb to win Game Four of last year's NLCS--he issued a quick walk. Broxton's first pitch to Carlos Ruiz hit him, pushing Bruntlett, pinch-running for Stairs, into scoring position. Greg Dobbs, pinch-hitting for Lidge, lined softly to third.
That brought up Rollins, and the sort of indelibly wonderful moment that explains why so many of us are willing to sit through so many of the other kind.
After an off-day tomorrow, the Phils send Cole Hamels to the mound for Game Five, hoping he'll send them back to the World Series.