Charlie Manuel’s handling of the pitching staff in Game 4 backfires

Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel watches his team play the Cincinnati Reds in Game 3 of the MLB National League Division Series baseball playoffs in Cincinnati, Ohio, October 10, 2010. REUTERS/John Sommers II (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

There were a plenty of Philly faith that wanted to see Roy Halladay take the mound in Game 4 of the NLCS, despite the fact that he would have been pitching on short rest. Instead, manager Charlie Manuel decided to hand the ball to Joe Blanton, who hadn’t started a game in over a month.

But even though the Giants beat the Phillies 6-5 in Game 4, the decision to start Blanton wasn’t Manuel’s costliest mistake on Wednesday night.

He’s no Halladay, Oswalt or Hamels, but Blanton is a fine starting pitcher who happens to have postseason experience. He’s not going to throw a perfect game, a no-hitter or even a shutout. But he’s more than serviceable and if you take a step back, you can understand Manuel’s thought process.

If Blanton limits the Giants to only a couple of runs..the offense eventually gets to rookie Madison Bumgarner…Phillies steal a win and then have Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels pitch on regular rest…everyone Wang Chung tonight.

And that’s exactly what happened. Sort of.

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The legend of Buster Posey grows as the Giants build a 3-1 lead in NLCS

San Francisco Giants Buster Posey (R) tags out Philadelphia Phillies Carlos Ruiz at home in the fifth inning of game four of the NLCS at AT&T Park in San Francisco Park on October 20, 2010.  UPI/Terry Schmitt Photo via Newscom

It was Juan Uribe’s sacrifice fly that scored Aubrey Huff in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Giants a 6-5 win over the Phillies in Game 4 of the NCLS, as well as a commanding 3-1 series lead.

But while Uribe may have played the role of hero Wednesday night, rookie Buster Posey was the true star.

Posey went 27 at-bats before getting the first postseason RBI of his young career. But he picked up two ribbies in Game 4 while going 4-for-5 at the plate and becoming the fifth rookie in baseball history to record at least four hits and two RBI in a playoff game. His single down the right field line in the bottom of the ninth moved Huff (who had singled to start the inning) over to third to set up Uribe’s sac fly. Without that hit (which came after Posey fell behind Roy Oswalt 0-2 in the count), who knows how that game would have ended.

Perhaps what’s most remarkable is that Posey’s hits came off of a fastball, a curveball, a slider and a changeup, which speaks to his maturity as a hitter. He also made a sensational play at the plate to haul in a short-hop by Aaron Rowand and tag out a sliding Carlos Ruiz to save a run in the 4th inning. The Phillies went on to score four runs that inning anyway, but considering the Giants won by one, that could be viewed as the play of the game.

He’s only 23, but Posey already carries himself like a seasoned veteran. He always stays within himself and he never loses his composure, which must be hard given that he’s the Giants’ best offensive player (not to mention the fact that he also calls balls and strikes for one of the best pitching staffs in baseball).

Thanks to Posey, Uribe, Huff, Pablo Sandoval (who had a huge two-run double in the sixth to give the Giants a 5-4 lead after they had trailed 4-3 heading into the inning) and about nine tons of resiliency, San Fran is now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2002.

Of course, securing that final victory won’t be an easy task. I texted our college football writer Paul Costanzo following the game and asked, “How focused do you think Roy Halladay is going to be tomorrow night? Dear, Lord…”

His response: “He may not throw a ball.”

The Giants will counter with ace Tim Lincecum, but there’s no question that they’re going to see the absolute best that Halladay has to offer. They’ve beaten him twice this year (once in the regular season and once in Game 1 of this series), but to the Giants’ hitters, it may look like he’s throwing marbles out there.

I don’t know how you can call yourself a baseball fan if you don’t tune into Halladay vs. Lincecum Thursday night. This is what October baseball is all about.

Matt Cain, Babe Ross help Giants take lead in NLCS

Aug. 12, 2010 - San Francisco, California, United States of America - 12 August, 2010: San Francisco Giants MATT CAIN.

I’m not a pitching coach and my hectic sports blogging schedule prevents me from ever becoming one, but if I may offer up some advice to the Phillies’ starting staff: Figure out a way – someway – to get Cody Ross out. Because dude is killing you.

Once again, Ross donned a red cape and an “S” on his chest for the Giants, as he singled home Edgar Renteria in the fourth inning to give his club a 1-0 lead. Aubrey Huff followed through with another single off starter Cole Hamels later in the inning and the Giants went on to beat the Phillies 3-0 to take a 2-1 lead in the 2010 NLCS.

Ross, who has to be the most unlikely postseason hero for the Giants (outside of Eugenio Velez – now that would be something), is now hitting .348 in the playoffs, with four home runs, seven RBI, eight hits, three runs scored and three walks. It’s amazing to think that he probably wouldn’t even be playing right now if it weren’t for Jose Guillen’s back injury.

Of course, if not for Matt Cain’s dazzling pitching performance, Ross’ latest heroics may not have mattered.

I’m running out of adjectives to describe the pitching that we’ve seen so far in the NCLS. Cain limited the Phillies to just two hits while pitching seven scoreless innings to pick up the first postseason win of his young career. He threw 119 pitches and while he walked three and hit two batters, he also struck out five and got in and out of jams all afternoon. It was also his first career win against the Phillies, who were shutout in the postseason for the first time since the 1983 World Series.

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Giants make statement in Game 1 of NLCS

San Francisco Giants' Cody Ross (L) celebrates with teammates after hitting his second home run of the game against the Philadelphia Phillies in the fifth inning during Game 1 of their Major League Baseball NLCS playoff series in Philadelphia, October 16, 2010. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

Before the NLCS started, you almost had the sense that the Giants didn’t belong. That they weren’t supposed to be here and that they were just stopping by to pay a visit to the Phillies before Philadelphia went on to play in its third straight World Series.

Sure the Giants had Tim Lincecum starting in Game 1, but he was facing Roy Halladay. In his first postseason start of his career, “Doc” threw a no-hitter against the Reds, who arguably have a much more potent lineup than San Francisco. He was sure to slice through their lineup with the greatest of ease.

The Giants are a cute team, but you can’t get serious with them. You two have some fun, you share some laughs – but you’re not bringing them home to meet mom. The Phillies – now that’s a team you marry.

Well, apparently that cute Giants team isn’t messing around.

Thanks to huge night by Cody Ross, another stellar pitching performance by Tim Lincecum and a shutdown effort by their bullpen, the Giants beat the Phillies 4-3 in Game 1 of the NLCS on Saturday night. They knocked around Halladay for four runs on eight hits and Ross went deep twice on the Phillies’ ace to set the tone for a massive San Francisco win.

Lincecum wasn’t as dominating as he was in Game 1 of the ALDS versus the Braves, but he allowed just three runs on six hits over seven innings of work while also striking out eight. He gave up a two-run home run to Jayson Werth in the 6th to make the game 4-3, but Javier Lopez (a great mid-season add by GM Brian Sabean) and Brian Wilson (whose black beard is mesmerizing) combined to shut Philly out in the eighth and ninth to preserve the victory.

The G-Men have a long, daunting task ahead of them but this was a huge first step. To beat the Phillies’ ace in his home park and in a hostile environment was impressive. The late-season acquisition of Ross continues to pay off and don’t forget that Lincecum isn’t the only Giants’ pitcher with nasty stuff. Game 2’s starter Jonathan Sanchez took a no-hitter into the sixth inning against the Braves and his slider could limit Philly’s power. It doesn’t get any easier for Philadelphia, either.

But even if Sanchez doesn’t pitch well in Game 2 tonight, the Giants have already accomplished what they needed to do, which was win at least one game in Philly. Now that the pressure is on the Phillies to earn a split, San Fran could go a long way to making its World Series dream a reality if it can beat Roy Oswalt.

Lace ‘em up – we’ve got ourselves a series.

The Giants could use a little ’09 Panda right now

Aug. 10, 2010 - San Francisco, California, United States of America - August 8, 2010: San Francisco Giants IF Pablo Sandoval.

For all intents and purposes, Mike Fontenot was a great late-season pickup by the Giants’ GM Brian Sabean. He can play multiple infield positions, he can hit right-handed pitching and I swear that his hair is made of hay. (I don’t know how that helps the Giants, but it just does, ok?)

But he’s also Mike Fontenot. Mike, .280 with zero pop Fontenot. He’s fine. He’s meh. He’s Mike Fontenot.

As the Giants gear up for Game 1 of the NLCS on Saturday night against the Phillies, the plan is pretty simple: Pitch well, score just enough runs to eek out four wins and then head to the World Series. It doesn’t take a blogger at The Scores Report to figure out that San Fran will rely on its pitching staff in order to lift them into the Fall Classic.

But this club could sure use a little dash of the Panda right now. And not that still-lovable, yet very destructive creature that roamed AT&T Park throughout most of this season, but the very effective swing-at-everything-and-yet-still-hit-.330 beast from 2009.

Compared to the season he had last year, Pablo Sandoval was the equivalent of having a rock in your shoe this season. He batted .268 with 13 home runs and 63 RBI (despite hitting .330 with 25 dingers and 90 RBI in ’09), yet showed flashes in April and August that made you still think he was the same hitter from a year ago. Whether it was his weight, his divorce, or the fact that he may or may not have sent lewd text messages to Jenn Sterger, he didn’t perform.

But Giants fans know what kind of talent this 24-year-old kid has. He’s a pure hitter in every sense of the word and when he’s on, he’s a much heavier clone of Vladimir Guerrero. I once saw Sandoval swing at a pitch that bounced before it came across the plate and he still lined it into the outfield. He can it – he just hasn’t been.

In the last 25 regular season games, he batted just .214 with one home run. He was benched after Game 2 of the NLDS and it remains to be seen whether or not it’ll be him or Fontenot who starts tomorrow night in Philadelphia. Given San Fran’s opponent in the NLCS, it would be nice if Sandoval could show a glimpse of the hitter he was last year because again, Fontenot is Fontenot. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the former Cub gets the best of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.

Yet something tells me that Sandoval can still be a weapon in the Giants’ fickle lineup and I’m willing to bet that they would overlook his shaky defense if he could re-establish himself as an offensive force. But if he continues to flail at pitches in the dirt, over his head and in the on deck circle, then “meh” will have to do.

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