Giants, Phillies ready for anything
S.F. doesn't make things simple, and the Phillies have no plans on helping make it easier
PHILADELPHIA -- Theoretically, the Giants still remain firmly in control of the National League Championship Series, as Game 6 looms Saturday.
They still lead this series, three games to two, as the scene shifts three time zones eastward to Philadelphia. They still have great starting pitching ready to trot out there Saturday and (if necessary) Sunday.
And just as important, they still have their "this-is-how-we-wacky-Giants-do-everything" mojo intact -- and they're guaranteed to be trotting out those wacky-mojo quotes at every opportunity between now and game time. Guaranteed.
"With this club, as you know," said their relentlessly even-keeled manager, Bruce Bochy, "we don't do anything easy."
But here's what history tells us:
It's a good thing they're used to doing nothing easily -- because this, officially, won't be easy.
What are the Giants about to get themselves into as Jonathan Sanchez gears up for his rematch with the Phillies' Roy Oswalt at Citizens Bank Park? There are some fascinating history lessons to be told.
• OK, let's start here. When the Giants took that three-games-to-one lead Wednesday, it was tough not to like their chances in the big picture. Before this year, there had been 72 best-of-seven postseason series in which a team took a 3-1 lead. The teams with that lead won 61 of them. That's nearly 85 percent of the time.
• And in the LCS, in the quarter-century since the format switched to best-of-seven, 24 of 30 teams with a three-games-to-one pad went on to win the series, according to the indispensible postseason website whowins.com. That's 80 percent of the time.
• But here's where that picture begins to look slightly less scenic for the Giants: Twelve previous teams took that 3-1 lead in the LCS, with a chance to clinch the series in their home park in Game 5 -- BUT knew they'd have to play Games 6 and 7 on the road if they didn't. And 25 percent of those teams (three of 12) forgot to win any of those last three games.
• Now let's move along to exactly where this series stands now: Six of those 12 teams leading 3-1 lost Game 5 at home and had to hit the road for the final two games, as the Giants do now. HALF of those teams (three of six) lost the series. (The teams that hung on: the 2005 Astros, 1998 Padres and 1997 Indians. The teams that didn't: the 2007 Indians, 1996 Cardinals, 1986 Angels.)
• If we apply this down-3-1 scenario to Phillies postseason history, it isn't going to make the folks walking the streets in Manayunk very happy. We find that the Phillies have fallen behind three games to one in four previous series -- and never won any of them. In fact, despite heroic Game 5 pitching performances by the likes of Curt Schilling (1993 World Series) and Cliff Lee (2009 Series), they've never even used those performances as a springboard to force a single Game 7.
• But they've never returned home down 3-2 either. And this generation of Phillies teams has been spectacular at home. They've played 19 home playoff games in the past three postseasons, and won 15 times. And this October -- in a postseason in which home teams have generally been a mess -- the Phillies are 3-1 at home. The other seven playoff teams are a combined 7-15 in their home games.
• And then there's Giants history, not that any Giants fan would be advised to spend more than about 1.8 seconds studying it. Three times now in franchise history -- spanning both the New York and San Francisco editions -- the Giants have held a three-games-to-two lead in a best-of-seven series and headed out to try to finish off the series away from home. All three times, that didn't work out so well. The 2002 Giants lost a tragic World Series Game 6 in Anaheim and then dropped Game 7, too. The 1987 Giants let two in a row get away in St. Louis. And John McGraw's 1924 New York Giants started this unhappy trend by losing twice in Washington.
Luckily for these Giants, it's pretty much impossible to make a case that anything that happened to High Pockets Kelly in 1924 would have any meaningful effect on Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval in 2010. But it's not good for the ol' karma, anyhow.
Nevertheless, what the Giants have going for them isn't any page in the history books. It's that they have two starting pitchers ready to roll in these games who have gone a combined 13-3 since the start of September.
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That would be Sanchez (6-2) and Matt Cain (7-1). And even though those two spent a good chunk of the season following each other in the rotation, only once since the All-Star break have the Giants lost back-to-back when they started -- on Aug. 7 and 8, in Atlanta.
"He's a big reason why we're here," Bochy said of Sanchez on Friday, "because of his growth. And I think our staff feeds off of each other."
But the Giants haven't quite cornered the market on happiness with the way their starting pitching is set up these next two days, either.
When Phillies manager Charlie Manuel decided to pitch Joe Blanton in Game 4 instead of bringing back Roy Halladay on short rest, this was exactly how he hoped to play his poker hand, even if Blanton got him buried in a three-games-to-one hole.
The way the manager figured it, he had to win three more games somehow or other in this series. And his best shot to do that, he concluded, was to line up his H2O parade of aces on normal rest in Games 5, 6 and 7.
Halladay took care of his end Thursday. So that kept the season alive to allow the Phillies to start Oswalt in Game 6, in a ballpark where he has never lost at any point in his career (10-0, 2.20 in 12 career starts, 6-0, 2.00 in eight starts since joining the Phillies in July).
And if the Phillies win behind Oswalt and find themselves still inhaling and exhaling Sunday, they can go into Game 7 matching up Cole Hamels against Cain, who has NEVER won in Citizens Bank Park in his career (0-2, 5.29 in three starts). So the Phillies will be counting on their home park this weekend for more than just extra gate receipts.
"It's nice to be going home," Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino said. "The atmosphere is going to be loud. It'll be exciting. And we're lucky we have Roy Oswalt to go out there and try to get us a 'W.'"
Now hold on here. Before Game 5, Victorino uttered virtually an identical sentence to that last one -- except he substituted "Halladay" for "Oswalt." And little did he know that some people actually pay attention when he talks. So when one alert media inquisitor called him on that old "Pregame Quotes for Dummies" trick, he laughed.
"Whoever it is," Victorino said, "we're lucky to get these guys out there. Every day it's lucky to get these guys out there. I'm really excited to get these guys the opportunity to get another start."
There is one red flag here, though: In the wake of the 18 pitches Oswalt threw in relief in Game 4 -- added to the pitches he launched warming up for that outing, heaped atop the between-starts side session he'd also thrown that day -- it's fair to wonder how fresh he'll be when he hits the mound Saturday.
But Oswalt was adamant Friday that this was no big whoop. And Manuel seconded that motion, saying Oswalt has "a rubber arm."
"I don't think it's going to hurt him at all," the manager said. "When he tells you he's ready, I think he's ready."
So when the Phillies compare their current lot in postseason life with the semi-parallel crisis they faced last year after tumbling into a three-games-to-one canyon against the Yankees in the World Series, they like this situation a lot better.
Last year, Cliff Lee did what Halladay did this year, and won Game 5. But after that, they were LEAVING home, not heading home. And they had no idea, as they pulled out of town 12 months ago, who their starting pitchers were for either Game 6 or 7.
Eventually, they ran Pedro Martinez out there in Game 6. And after Pedro had finished getting mugged for four runs in the first three innings, they never did have to figure out who would do the honors in Game 7. But they were so desperate then, let's just say a prime option would have been bringing back Lee on TWO days' rest.
This time around, that word, "desperation," wouldn't describe them -- not with the pitchers they have lined up to perform that S.O.S. act this year. But when two teams this good trot out there to play games this big, ultimately, none of this pregame wisdom means a darned thing, anyhow.
Not the history of the Giants. Not the history of the Phillies. Not the history that involves John McGraw. Not the history that involves Pedro Martinez. None of it.
All that matters now is the unique magic of a critical Game 6 on a Saturday night in October. So by game time, you can bet on this: These are two teams that won't be interested in reviewing history. They're only interested in making history.
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.