Phils take 2-0 lead despite Howard’s woes

By Chris Murray
Updated: October 11, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Phillies have a 2-0 lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series despite the slump of big-hitting first baseman Ryan Howard.

Howard, who hit a major-league leading 48 homeruns and 146 runs batted in during the regular season, is hitless in eight trips against the Dodgers and has just one hit and one RBI in the postseason.

“They’ve been pitching me tough and they’ve been trying to keep everything down and keeping balls away from me,” Howard said after Friday’s 8-5 win in Game two. “They’ve been pitching me tough.”

But the reason the Phillies have made it to this point in the postseason is because different players in their starting lineup have come up with the big hit when they’ve needed it most and when the big guns in their lineup have been struggling.

In their first two games on their homefield at Citizen’s Bank Park, the Phils got help from some very unlikely sources. Starting pitcher Brett Myers, who had a rather lackluster performance on the mound in game two, helped his own cause by going 3-for-3 with three runs batted in.

He also scored a pair of runs.

“It’s huge, it’s a team game, you need different people to step up,” Howard said with a smile when asked about Myers offensive performance. “(Friday), Myers got three hits, I would have never seen it coming, but he got three hits.”

“The thing about it, it wasn’t just normal hits, it was with runners in scoring position and hits that helped the team win.”

Phillies scrappy centerfielder Shane Victorino helped the Phillies cause with his bat and his glove. He was a 2-for-5 with four runs batted in. But it was his big defensive play in the top of the seventh inning that saved the day for the Phillies.

With two on and two out, Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake hit a long fly ball to centerfield in the deepest part of Citizen’s Bank Park, but Victorino leaped up against the wall and robbed Blake of extra bases.

Victorino’s day was bittersweet because he received news that his grandmother Irene Victorino had passed away. That came on top of the news that Phillies manager Charlie Manuel lost his mother, June Manuel, earlier in the day.

“He hit the ball well and I just told myself try to get back and try to make a catch,” Victorino said. “I think it was Charlie’s mom and my grandmother helping me to get up to make the catch.”

The Phillies got the 3-2 win in game one because Pat Burell and Chase Utley, two players who struggled terribly in the second half of the regular season, came up with a pair of home runs.

But don’t get it twisted. This series is a long way from being over. For one thing, the Phillies were swept by the Dodgers when they came out to Chavez Ravine back in mid-August and then there’s “Man-Ram.”

Like a tiger lurking in the darkness or Tiger Woods in the final round of a PGA event, Manny Ramirez is the Dodgers game-changer and if he explodes in games three, four and five in Los Angeles, look out.

Call him crazy, 9 ½ cents short of a dime, a sandwich short of a picnic or “Manny being Manny,” this is a guy you want on your team to get you back in a series when you’re down 0-2 in a series. You know his history of coming through in the postseason.

With the Phillies cruising with an 8-2 lead in the fourth inning, Ramirez gave the crowd at Citizen’s Bank Park a not-so subtle reminder that he is still a force to reckon with in the NLCS when he cracked a three-run homerun to keep LA in the game.

“It’s so much when you can swing the bat one time and get three runs. I mean, that is certainly huge for us to all of a sudden, 8-2, 8-5 and now the game becomes a winnable ball game,” said Dodgers manager Joe Torre.

For the Dodgers to get back in this NLCS, players other than Ramirez have to contribute. They have to get guys on base and manufacture runs, a formula Torre was so successful with during his years with the New York Yankees.

L.A. also has to stay away from the big inning and avoid falling behind early. The advantage the Phillies have in this series is their bullpen, especially the back end with closer Brad Lidge, who has yet to blow a save in the regular season or the postseason.

After Ramirez’s three-run homer, the Dodgers did not score a run and got just two hits over the final five inning in game two. That was the case in game one as well. In fact, the Dodgers have not scored after the fourth inning in the first two games of the series.

“It’s tough to get to this part of the season part of the year without having a bullpen,” Torre said. “I’m not only talking a closer, I’m talking about people who can bridge that gap, because very rarely do you see guys going out there pitching eight or nine innings and the toughest to get through are the sixth and part of the seventh and you usually have a formula to get past that.”

“But they have some impressive people coming out of that bullpen, there’s no question.”