BASEBALL: Giants lose Game 5, series moves back to Philadelphia

Gilroy residents will have a chance to meet three players from

Phillies spoil Giants’ attempt to clinch pennant at home.
Courtesy of McClatchy News Service

Bob Ford – The Philadelphia Inquirer

Sports Columnist

The subtle change that took place in AT&T Park on Thursday night, almost lost amid the din and the towel waving and the amazingly clutch 4-2 win by the Phillies, just might have been baseball beginning to turn its back on the San Francisco Giants.

These things don’t always follow through, and the Phils are still deep in the woods of the National League Championship Series – their next loss is their last, with two games potentially remaining – but after a couple days of making the game look hard, things got easier. This time, it was the Giants who made it a calculus puzzle.

It is an amazing telescoping of a six-month season that a playoff team will in some ways be remembered only for how it looks in the final glimpses of the postseason. It takes so much to get to this point, but in the end, they remember how you said goodbye, not all the hellos that came before.

They did indeed win 97 games in the regular season, the most in baseball, and it was the only time the Phillies have ever done so, although they’ve only been playing since 1883. So, that isn’t the kind of season to be lightly tossed aside, even if they don’t succeed in making the World Series for a third straight year.

But the telescope effect, at least entering Thursday’s game, showed the Phillies to be a team that wasn’t hitting, wasn’t playing particularly sharp baseball and was on the verge of unraveling on the mound as well.

“They’ve got a lot of life going,” manager Charlie Manuel said of the Giants before the game, in what sounded like a concession to the encroaching reality of the situation. “It seems like every time that we do something they counter it, or anytime we make a mistake they definitely are there to take advantage of it.”

The loss in Game 4 was still fresh in his mind at the time – the blown lead, the sloppy play, the tattered bullpen. Roy Halladay had the ability to turn that around all by himself, of course, and he made the effort. But Halladay also started Thursday’s game already two-thirds of an inning over his career high for innings pitched, and he had neither the sharpness or location that were consistent in his 21-win season.

The Phillies knew this had become a trio of one-game showdowns, and they had to win them all, but they also knew that a win on Thursday would put all the pressure back on the Giants. Returning the season to Philadelphia, and lining up Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels against Jonathan Sanchez and Matt Cain, was at least a 50-50 proposition for the Phils, as opposed to the long odds they faced while Tim Lincecum was still in the equation.

When the Giants broke on top with a first-inning run, it looked like desperation had not helped the Phils’ ability to play the game. Halladay walked the leadoff guy, gave up a hit that moved the runner to third and, one out later, got a slow chopper to second that might have yielded a double play on another night. But as the runner on first base put on the brakes to avoid being tagged by Chase Utley, thus giving the batter time to reach base, Utley dropped the ball and had to settle for a simple force at second. Could he have gotten the double play if he gloved the ball cleanly? Maybe, maybe not. As it was, the run scored and the Giants had that look again Manuel was talking about … and the Phils didn’t.

“They’ve got an edge going with them. They’ve got some stuff going for them,” Manuel had said. “They’ve got a lot of life.”

Those edges can cut both ways, however, and the Giants lost some of theirs when the Phils scored those three lonely runs that stood up for so long. If Pablo Sandoval had been able to find third base on Roy Halladay’s should-have-been-foul sacrifice, and if Aubrey Huff had fielded Shane Victorino’s ensuring hard shot to first, the Phillies would have been out of the inning without a run.

Instead, they scored three times, getting some unexpected help along the way, just as if things were turning their way again. The inning was started by a bloop hit from Raul Ibanez, who had been 0 for 11 in the series, and the final run was driven in by Utley, who had been 2 for 16.

The turning of the tide, coming as it did in the third inning, wasn’t guaranteed to hold up. Fortunately for the Phillies, it did, because they managed just one more base hit until the ninth inning.

On their heels against Halladay’s curveball offerings – which were just about all he had – the Giants stared up at a 3-2 deficit most of the game, and then the innings began to dwindle and the Phillies’ bullpen took over and appeared to mean it this time.

When Jayson Werth sliced the ball into the narrow porch above the right field wall, just five seats in fair territory, the Phillies had their insurance run for closer Brad Lidge, and the fickle game of baseball had completed its about face.

San Francisco should still win this thing. Given the choice, the Phillies would swap situations.

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