Commentary

Reds self-destruct in NLDS Game 2

Four errors fuel Philadelphia's seven unanswered runs in disastrous 7-4 loss

Updated: October 10, 2010, 9:44 AM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Once again Friday night, the Philadelphia Phillies and Cincinnati Reds made a little postseason history.

Just not quite the kind of history they had in mind.

Certainly not the kind of history they'd made two nights earlier.

Definitely not the kind of history you tell your grandchildren you witnessed.

And clearly not the kind of history that will get any of the distinguished history-makers an invitation to do "The Late Show with David Letterman" or "The Early Show." Or possibly even "The Jerry Springer Show."

Someday, people who don't know any better will look back at the 2010 National League Division Series and see that the Phillies came back after Roy Halladay's Game 1 no-hit classic to beat the Reds 7-4 in Game 2. But other than the fact that the same team won both games, these were two nights at the ballpark that had about as much in common as Marilyn Manson and Pavarotti.

[+] EnlargeJay Bruce
AP Photo/Matt SlocumJay Bruce takes pride in his defense. That defense let him and the Reds down in Game 2.

If Game 1 was a masterpiece, Game 2 was more like an 18-car pileup. One minute there were those plucky, resilient Reds, roaring out to a quick 4-0 lead on Roy Oswalt. Next thing they knew, they looked like they were on a mission to fill up the "E" column instead of the win column. Seven Phillies runs (in two trips through the order) -- and five unearned runs -- later, the Reds' season was in guarded but critical condition.

"We had that game," said Reds right fielder Jay Bruce, in the silent, stupefied locker room of a team still trying to figure out why it was heading home down two games to none in this series. "We were in control. It was there for us.

"And then," Jay Bruce said, "some things happened."

Oh, some things happened, all right. Things that hadn't happened to any team in any postseason game ever played. Things that hadn't happened to the Reds in any kind of game in more than 70 years.

Things like … four errors in one game … two different two-error innings … and three (count 'em, three) hit batters in a span of five hitters.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that made the Reds the first team in history to hit at least three batters and light the old "E" light on the scoreboard at least four times in the same postseason game. Ever.

That proves right there that it isn't easy. But hold on. We're not done.

There were more than 2,400 games played in the big leagues this season. No team pulled off that four-error, three-HBP daily double in any of those games.

In fact, no team has done that in any game in the past eight seasons. Last time it happened: July 20, 2002 (by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, against the Toronto Blue Jays). That was more than 20,000 games ago.

And the last time any Reds team did all that in the same game? Don't cue up the videotape, because they last did it on May 14, 1939. Let's just say nobody was tweeting about that one.

So now that we've established the degree of difficulty, ask yourself which was harder -- doing what the Reds did in Game 2 or becoming the second team in postseason history to have a no-hitter pitched against them in Game 1? Hmmm. Tough call when you think about it.

But what links both of those games is that they were so untypical of the way the Reds played all season.

You don't expect a team that led the league in runs scored, home runs and batting average to get no-hit. But this team was. We saw it with our own eyeballs.

And you don't expect a team that tied for the fewest errors in the league -- and blew away their franchise record for fewest errors in a season -- to spend a night fumbling and bumbling its way to October disaster. But the Reds did that, too. We've got witnesses.

"That was very uncharacteristic of our team to make that many errors," said Bruce, still staggered by the game-turning fly ball he'd lost in the lights only minutes earlier. "But that's baseball. That's why you play -- because you never know."

There were two teams playing in this game, though. And while the Phillies didn't exactly have a pristine night themselves, you didn't need to consult Tim McCarver to tell which of these two teams was playing its 34th postseason game in the past 36 months and which was playing its second postseason game in 15 years.

"You've got to learn what these games are all about," Phillies reliever J.C. Romero said. "We actually went through that in '07. You could tell our team was a little overwhelmed when we won the division the last day of the season. And then we went into the playoffs and went three-and-out. And we learned. We learned from that."

But the Reds were in no mood to file this mess under "Learning Experiences." They were still picking through the rubble, trying to figure out what happened. And they still weren't so sure that what went on out there Friday happened because this was their first visit to the big October amphitheater.

"I don't think that at all," Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips said. "We love this. We lived for this game. We dreamed about playing in a situation like this when we were little kids. So whether it's your first postseason or not, you've got to still catch the ball."

And Brandon Phillips couldn't have been more aware of that -- because two of his team's four errors came on balls he forgot to catch.

"Errors are going to be made," he said. "But that game should have been 4-0. I messed up. I feel like that was my fault. I lost that game. I'll take the loss for this, because we should have won that game."

Once, only a couple of hours before he uttered those words, Brandon Phillips actually looked as though he was going to be The Hero in this game, too.

For his first act, he'd waited exactly four pitches into the game to end the no-hitter suspense, with the Reds' first postseason leadoff home run since a Pete Rose shot off Catfish Hunter, in Game 5 of the 1972 World Series.

And by the top of the fifth, Phillips had already homered, doubled and singled -- leaving him a triple away from the first postseason cycle in history. But by the end of the night -- heck, by the end of the fifth inning -- it was tough to remember any of that.

With two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Phillips and Scott Rolen -- two Gold Glove leatherworkers who had made just 11 errors combined all season -- committed errors on back-to-back hitters. Then Chase Utley roped a two-run single. And that quickly, what looked like a Reds blowout was a 4-2 game.

Then came more ugliness in the bottom of the sixth: A leadoff walk. Two consecutive hit batters by two different Reds relievers. A bases-loaded walk to Shane Victorino. And now it was 4-3 -- and a comatose crowd in Philadelphia was suddenly wide awake and shrieking.

Phillips Errors are going to be made. But that game should have been 4-0. I messed up. I feel like that was my fault. I lost that game. I'll take the loss for this, because we should have won that game.

-- Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips

Still, the Reds thought everything was cool, because out of the bullpen, to pitch the bottom of the seventh, came the secret weapon they'd been waiting all series to unfurl -- the king of triple-digitation, Aroldis Chapman.

"When he came in there against their lefties, I thought it was, 'Game over,' " Phillips said. "I thought it was lockdown. But things happen, you know."

Except Chapman was about to embark on such a goofy inning, it was hard to say for sure whether the things that happened to him had really happened or not.

Like the 102 mph smokeball that may -- or may not -- have hit Utley in the hand leading off the inning.

About the only witness we had afterward who testified that the ball definitely drilled him was Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. But Chapman swore otherwise. His teammates agreed adamantly. And even Utley had to admit he was "not sure" if he'd been hit or not.

"I felt like I thought it hit me," he said. "So I put my head down and I ran to first."

He felt like he thought it hit him? How 'bout that for conviction? Theoretically, this man had just gotten whacked by a baseball traveling 102 miles per freakin' hour. He should have been in intensive care, not trying to figure out how he felt about whether this baseball had hit him. Right?

"Hey, he's a soldier for that," Phillips said. "If he hit me, man, I'm on the ground. I'm crying. I'm doing what Derek Jeter did. I'd be going crazy. He deserves an Oscar for what he did."

But nobody stopped Utley from going to first. So off he went. And the madness was just beginning.

After a Ryan Howard strikeout, Jayson Werth chopped a ball toward third base. Rolen charged, short-hopped it and tried to force Utley at second. At least it looked as though that's what happened -- except second-base ump Ed Rapuano thought otherwise. Safe.

Asked later, by a media inquisitor, whether he thought Utley was really safe, Rolen smiled and asked back: "Did you?"

So what could possibly follow a phantom hit-by-pitch and a phantom non-force at second base? A fly ball that disappeared. That's what.

Chapman reared back, fired and launched another 100 mph cannonball toward home plate. Jimmy Rollins lofted it into right for what looked like a routine fly ball. But not on this night.

Bruce loped over, seemed to everyone but him about ready to gather it in … but he couldn't find it in the lights. So the baseball whooshed on by him and headed for the warning track as one run scored. Then Phillips fumbled the relay throw as the go-ahead run scored. And the thunderclap that ripped through this ballpark was all the proof anyone needed that this game was never going to be the same.

The ever-classy Bruce would stand at his locker later and answer every question: "It just went in the lights and stayed there," he said. "I was hoping for some miracle or something, that it would just fall in my glove. But it didn't happen."

[+] EnlargeAroldis Chapman and Dusty Baker
Howard Smith/US PresswireDusty Baker expected to put Aroldis Chapman in the game and watch him roll through the seventh inning. That didn't happen.

As he turned to watch this baseball hip-hopping toward the wall, "that was the most helpless I ever felt on a baseball field," Bruce said, softly. "It's embarrassing."

But this wasn't just a story about the mistakes one team made. It was also a story about how teams like the Phillies start gunning their engines when the clubs they're playing open up the old express lane for them.

"It's like a snowball," Romero said. "You make mistakes with us, and we take it from there. At times you have to do it. That's the philosophy here. You get somebody down, you've got to pound them."

So they tacked on another run in the seventh, an insurance run in the eighth, turned it over to Brad Lidge in the ninth and headed off to Cincinnati, smelling their invitation to a third straight NLCS.

"I don't want to say guys in here are cocky," Lidge said, after converting his 11th consecutive postseason save opportunity -- the longest streak ever by a closer not named Mariano Rivera. "But when we go to the postseason and do what we normally do, I think the level of confidence is probably higher that just about any other team in baseball."

Maybe some day, in October 2013, we'll be hanging out in the Reds' clubhouse listening to them talk like this. Maybe some day, a team this young and talented will grow together to understand exactly what it takes to close out October baseball games it absolutely has to win.

But not yet. Not on this night. Not on this baseball field. On the kind of gorgeous October evening they'd dreamed about all their lives, they went out and made history Friday. But once again, this sure wasn't the kind of history they'd scripted in those dreams.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com