For five pitches, the Phillies looked unbeatable; then, reality hit.
The Phillies came out and delivered a double, triple and single to take a 2-0 lead over the St. Louis Cardinals Wednesday night and it looked like they were going to wrap up the NLDS in quick style. From there though, things went down hill quickly. Ryan Howard - who is now hitting .133 (2-for-15) in the series - struck out and Hunter Pence was thrown out at second attempting to steal. It was an ill-advised attempt considering that the odds of a Howard strikeout are pretty high these days. Suddenly, after jumping out to a 2-0 lead, the Phillies had two outs and the bases empty for Shane Victorino to lift a harmless fly ball to Matt Holliday in left field.
In the sixth inning, Chase Utley tried to outsmart and outplay Albert Pujols, which generally isn't a good idea, and was thrown out easily attempting to go first to third on a groundball. Utley was running on the pitch and was perhaps trying to ignite his ball club, but the play was desperate and failed miserably. Instead of having a runner on second with one out, the Phillies had a runner on first with one out. Had Utley not attempted the play, he could have advanced to third on a fly ball by Howard - one of the rare times that he put any wood on the ball - but again, a simple groundout by Victorino would have stranded him anyway.
Then, in the eighth, pinch-hitter Ross Gload singled and went to second on a balk. Michael Martinez pinch-ran for Gload and Jimmy Rollins hit a grounder to second baseman Ryan Theriot, who made sure that Martinez would not try to advance to third. Perhaps the play would have become a little more complicated for Theriot if Rollins actually ran out groundballs rather than getting in a 90 foot evening jog down the first base line.
That simple triumvirate of plays constitutes just some of the problems that face the Philadelphia Phillies these days. Much of the problem begins with Ryan Howard. Not only is he not hitting, but he's again looking to pull every pitch and launch it into the upper deck with each swing. The Cardinals have simply stayed down and away on him and he's played right into their hands by swinging over pitches or hitting weak groundballs. Howard really hasn't hit a ball hard in the last two games and his fly ball to center in the sixth inning of game four is the only ball he's gotten out of the infield in his last nine at-bats. Perhaps, the homecoming that everybody thought would be so great for Howard was more of a curse and he'll go back to being the productive Howard when the Phillies and Cardinals play game five Friday night.
Actually, considering the fact that Roy Oswalt has struggled against many of the key Cardinals hitters, namely Albert Pujols, Rafael Furcal, Ryan Theriot and Yadier Molina, you might have figured that the Phillies would need to put up some runs against Edwin Jackson if they were going to come out on top in game four. Coming into the game, those four hitters were 62-for-190 (.326) with eight home runs and 27 RBI lifetime against Oswalt. Of course, those four weren't the problem Wednesday night, since they combined to go 0-for-9 against Oswalt in the game. No, Oswalt's undoing was wildness and David Freese, who went 2-for-3 with a double, home run and four RBI against Oswalt. In case you're wondering, Freese was 1-for-4 with two strikeouts against Oswalt coming into the game.
The Phillies are simply a team with two identities. The first is the identity that they showed in games one and three when they attacked, got key hits and simply took advantage of what the Cardinals would give them. The second is the desperate, tight bunch of players who try to do too much on every pitch. Most likely, identity number one will show up Friday night when they return home and attempt to wrap-up this series. Of course, if all else fails, at least they've got Roy Halladay on the mound, which would help to cover up any mistakes or shortcomings that may rear their ugly heads.