PHILADELPHIA — This is where three aces come in handy.
The Phillies watched Roy Halladay drop Game 1 of the National League Championship Series to the Giants on Saturday, which meant Roy Oswalt needed to even the series Sunday in Game 2 or the Phillies would be in an utterly unfavorable position.
Oswalt looked motivated in the 6-1 victory.
Oswalt had struggled a bit in Game 2 of the NL Division Series against Cincinnati, which would not be particularly notable except his start came between Halladay’s no-hitter in Game 1 and Cole Hamels’ shutout in Game 3.
Oswalt made up for it.
He allowed just three hits and one run in eight innings as he carried a no-hitter into the fifth. He also created his own insurance run in the seventh, when he hit a leadoff single and scored by running through third-base coach Sam Perlozzo’s stop sign on Placido Polanco’s single up the middle.
“I didn’t see [the stop sign] until I got halfway down the line,” Oswalt said. “As soon as Polanco hit it, I read it pretty well off the bat and I thought I was scoring straight out. So I had the intention of scoring when I took off, and I wasn’t even looking for a stop sign, so I was halfway down the line and I was hoping I’d get in there from there.”
“That was comical,” Jimmy Rollins said. “You know, Roy’s got those stiff hips and it looked like he was made out of cardboard running down the line. But you know what? He had what it took tonight.”
Rollins blew open the game three batters later, doubling off the right-field wall with the bases loaded to score three runs to give the Phils a five-run lead.
Philadelphia fans had been in a mild panic after Tim Lincecum outpitched Halladay in Game 1, because the Phillies weren’t hitting and they were facing Giants left-hander Jonathan Sanchez in Game 2.
Everybody knew how successful Sanchez had been against the Phillies. He was 3-1 with a 2.48 ERA in five career starts, holding them to a .147 average. He was 1-0 with a 1.43 ERA in two starts this season, holding them to a .114 average. Everybody had heard plenty about Lincecum and Matt Cain, but folks who followed the Phillies closely over the past three seasons knew Sanchez was a Phils killer.
But Sanchez could be wild. He led the NL with 96 walks, which meant the Phillies had the opportunity to make him work.
They did exactly that in the first. Chase Utley worked a five-pitch walk and stole second with one out. He moved to third when Giants third baseman Mike Fontenot’s throw to first base pulled Aubrey Huff off the bag to put runners at the corners. Ryan Howard walked on eight pitches to load the bases. Jayson Werth struck out looking on a pitch that appeared to be high for the second out, but Rollins walked on five pitches to score Utley to make it 1-0.
Raul Ibanez struck out swinging to end an interesting inning. The Phillies scored a run, got no hits and struck out three times while Sanchez threw 35 pitches.
It was a small victory, which lead to a bigger one.
Giants right fielder Cody Ross broke up Oswalt’s no-hitter with one out in the fifth with a solo home run to left-center field to make it 1-1. It was Ross’ third homer in four at-bats in the series, which had everybody wondering if the Phillies can possibly keeping pumping him fastballs over the plate and live to see the World Series.
But the Phils struck back in the bottom of the fifth to take a 2-1 lead. Shane Victorino doubled into the left-field corner, and the Phillies showed good things can happen when they put the ball in play. Utley flied out to right field, and Victorino advanced to third. Victorino scored on Polanco’s sacrifice fly to center field.
The Phillies evened the series and with Hamels facing Cain on Tuesday in Game 3, they are confident they can keep winning on the road.
“It puts us back at 1-1,” Rollins said. “They snuck a game out, and that’s what good teams do, but scoring runs is how you win ballgames. You need great pitching, there’s no doubt about that. But if you don’t put anything across the board, it really doesn’t matter. So hopefully we relax a little bit more when we have runners in scoring position and come through. We have hitters that like to hit in that situation, and it was just a matter of time.”