Commentary

A Giant test in NLCS Game 2

To pull even, Phillies must solve left-handed nemesis Jonathan Sanchez

Updated: October 18, 2010, 2:05 AM ET
By Nick Pietruszkiewicz | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Jonathan Sanchez doesn't think much about that night, offering nothing more than a nod and a no-big-deal shrug. Just another start; granted, it was a good one, but nothing to get carried away over. Move on, his body language says. Nothing to see here.

"I pitched pretty good," was the extent of his in-depth analysis.

But his manager, the one who watched the 27-year-old lefty on that warm late-August night at Citizens Bank Park handcuff the Phillies recognizes that start meant a little more -- to Sanchez and to the Giants. Without it, without those eight innings, who knows, maybe San Francisco isn't here, its year over after the final out of the regular season and not continuing on into the October chill. Without it, without those seven strikeouts and 98 pitches that night, Sanchez most likely doesn't have his start bumped up from Game 3 of this National League Championship Series so he could pitch in Game 2 against these Phillies, in this park. Without it, without his two-hit performance, the Giants suffer a three-game sweep, lose for a fourth consecutive time and fall seven behind the San Diego Padres in the NL West, which would have been San Francisco's biggest deficit in the division in more than a month and second-largest of the season. Without it, without that one measly run he permitted against a Phillies' offense which had pounded Barry Zito and Matt Cain for 17 runs the two previous nights, Sanchez loses a third consecutive start and falls under .500 for the season at 8-9. Without it … OK, you get the picture.

So, yes, Bruce Bochy says, that outing deserves more than a nod and a shrug.

"Great game he threw [on Aug. 19]," Bochy said. "We were fighting from getting swept, and he stepped up. And, really, it was indicative of how he pitched from that point on, with the big games that he pitched in and the poise that he showed, including the last game of the season against San Diego [when he threw five shutout innings to get the Giants into the postseason]."

And so Sanchez will have the ball put in his hand Sunday night instead of the righty Cain, a rotation flip-flop that if it works as Bochy hopes will give the Giants a second win in Philadelphia and send them back to San Francisco with a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven series. The Phillies know the stakes after their seven-game Game 1 winning streak ended. They know, too, what happened when last they saw Sanchez stand atop a mound for that 5-2 San Francisco win in August.

"He's been tough on us," Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "He's done a real good job every time we've faced him. He throws his slider to the backdoor, and when he's throwing that he can be really tough. … Usually it's the other way around. We win Game 1 and somehow find a way to lose Game 2. Now we have to find a way to win Game 2. We just got to make sure we get back to even, because you don't want to go 0-2 going out to San Francisco."

[+] EnlargeJonathan Sanchez
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireJonathan Sanchez was simply brilliant in the NLDS, fanning 11 Braves in 7 1/3 innings and allowing just two hits.

So, to get that done, to avoid having to take that cross-country flight Sunday night in a 2-0 hole, they have to beat Sanchez. If that doesn't sound all that pleasing to them, they might want to avoid taking a look at these facts:

• The Phillies' .175 batting average against Sanchez is the worst against any active pitcher. He is 3-1 with a 2.86 ERA against them over his career, and 2-0 with a 1.38 this season.

• The combination of Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez are 7-for-59 (.119) with 21 strikeouts against Sanchez.

• Beginning with that start against the Phillies, Sanchez closed the regular season 5-1, allowing more than five hits in only one of those nine outings and seven times permitted one or zero earned runs.

• He tossed an 11-strikeout, two-hit, one-run, 7 1/3-inning masterpiece his last time out, a no-decision in his first-ever playoff appearance, that coming in Game 3 of San Francisco's NLDS against the Braves.

And all of those starts down the stretch, with the Giants locked in a three-way race with the Padres and Colorado Rockies, carried significance. So, though, this is only the second time he will make a playoff start, he knows about pitching in games that matter.

"[I was] just prepared to throw the third game, but they moved me up," Sanchez said. " … I think that's a good move, to put me to pitch here on the road. I've been doing pretty good on the road the last month."

The Phillies must now face him after striking out 13 times in Game 1 against Tim Lincecum and the Giants' bullpen, and with the specter of leaving home in an oh-no-what-just-happened hole.

"I'm concerned with that," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "I think we struck 13 times [in Game 1]. I think, yeah, I think we need to hit better. We gotta hit better and we have to score more runs, of course. … How are we going to change it? This guy [Sanchez] has got good stuff. He's a good pitcher. He has a good slider. And he's got good stuff. But we've got to try to get up there, get good balls to hit and see if we can't put some balls in play and score some runs on him."

If they don't, well, they don't want to think about that. They don't want to think about that, before Roy Halladay was roughed up in Game 1, the only starter in what Rollins calls the Phillies' Bermuda Triangle -- Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels -- who struggled even a bit in the NLDS will go against Sanchez in Game 2. That would be Oswalt.

"As long as we win games, numbers to me is not a big thing," said Oswalt, who gave up four runs and two homers in five innings of a no-decision in Game 2 of the NLDS against the Reds, a game the Phillies ended up winning 7-4. "I want to do well, but we won three in a row, so it doesn't really matter."

This, Game 2 at Citizens Bank Park, matters. A lot, especially to a Phillies team that wants to forget what happened in Game 1, and forget what happened that August night when last they saw Jonathan Sanchez.

"Tomorrow's a new day," Utley said.

Nick Pietruszkiewicz is an ESPN.com MLB editor.