By Chris Murray
For the Sunday Sun and the Chris Murray Report
The lack of consistent hitting has been the Achilles Heel of the Philadelphia Phillies dating back to their loss to the Giants in the 2010 National League Championship Series. It was something that haunted them throughout the regular season even as the Phils, thanks to their highly-touted pitching staff, piled up enough wins to have the best record in baseball.
The Phillies inability to hit, despite having baseball’s best pitching staff, brought another premature ending to what was the best record in club history. It will be another long winter of discontent for the Phillies as they try to recover from another postseason loss that probably shouldn’t have happened.
“This is the most pitching that I’ve ever had depth-wise in our starting rotation and our pitching definitely did a good job this year,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “Once we got Hunter Pence, I felt like our offense definitely picked up and this is a good ball club and we’re definitely capable of winning. Right now, I’ve got some anger, I’ve got some—I don’t know and I just feel very empty.”
The St. Louis Cardinals advanced to the National League Championship Series with a 1-0 shutout of the Phillies in front of a disappointed crowd of 46, 530 fans at Citizen’s Bank Park. The Phils lose the NLDS three games to two.
“It sucks being in this situation and having to come and making the last out and having it the way it happened, it just sucks,” said Howard, who injured his left leg on the final play of the game when he grounded out to first . “You don’t want to be a part of that. Obviously we want to be on the other side of that and we came up short. The only thing we can do is focus in on next year.”
The Cardinals, who won the wildcard berth on the last game of the regular season, will move on to take on the Milwaukee Brewers in the NLCS.
In a battle of Cy Young Award winners that truly lived up to its billing as an intense pitchers’ duel, St. Louis Chris Carpenter out-dueled Roy Halladay by the narrowest of margins. Carpenter allowed just three hits while pitching the full nine innings.
“I saw Carpenter throw breaking balls and change ups and fastballs,” Manuel said. “I saw him move the ball around and he pitched a real good game.”
Halladay was stellar in a losing effort for the Phillies and allowed just one run on six hits while striking out seven and pitching his way out of some tough jams.
If he could start the game over, Halladay would gladly take back the first inning or the two hits he allowed that gave the Cardinals their only run of the game. St Louis got what turned out to be the winning run on an RBI double by Skip Schumaker that scored Rafael Furcal, who tripled to open the game.
Perhaps the most telling stat of this series was the poor hitting performances of Howard (.105) , Raul Ibanez (.200), Placido Polanco (.105)and Carlos Ruiz (.059). After driving in six runs in the first two games of the series, Howard’s bat went silent as he was hitless in last 15 at-bats.
“The mentality was to get guys on base and try to make something and we weren’t able to do that,” Ibanez said. “It’s very frustrating offensively because we’re capable of doing more.”
In Friday’s game, Howard, Ibanez and Chase Utley hit some balls hard, but just could not get that big hit that would have turned the tide of the game in their favor.
“It felt like one of those nights where we going to break through,” Howard said. “We have (Carpenter) on the ropes a couple times and guys just missed pitches. I missed a couple pitches, Raul missed a pitch. We felt like we were on the verge and for some reason, it didn’t happen.”
After the first inning, Halladay did everything to keep the Phils in the game. In the eighth, the Cardinals loaded the bases with just one out, Halladay struck out Lance Berkmann and got Matt Holliday to hit a harmless flyball to Ibanez in left.
“Obviously that’s very frustrating because (Halladay) had pitch his heart out there, but Carpenter did, too,” Ibanez said. “It’s hard to go home early because everybody in here thought we were going to be playing. We were expected to be out there still competing.”