Matt Stairs hadn't gotten many plate appearances lately - he'd had only two at-bats through the Phillies' first seven postseason games. And, as he came to the plate in the eighth inning Monday night, he couldn't even call on experience - he had never faced Jonathan Broxton.
But the scouting report on the Dodgers' closer is rather simple. He throws a slider, but his best pitch, the one he calls on in every tight situation, is his blazing fastball, which has been known to reach into the upper 90s.
So, Stairs waited. He waited for Broxton to fall into a 3-1 count, and with the Phillies and Dodgers tied in Game Four of the National League Championship Series, he turned on a 95-mph fastball on the inner half of the plate, launching it to the pavilion beyond the right-field wall.
It was the biggest homer of Stairs' career, 16 seasons in the making.
With one swing, Stairs - a short, stocky, 40-year-old wannabe hockey player from Canada - gave the Phillies a 7-5 victory, stunning a rally towel-waving crowd of 56,800. With their first win in six games this season at Dodger Stadium, the Phils are one victory from reaching the World Series for the first time since 1993.
"In hockey, you shoot as hard as you can, so I've always figured, why not swing as hard as I can?" Stairs said, revealing his grip-it-and-rip-it secret to hitting. "I think it's one of those things where you've been here for a month. You want to get that one big hit where you feel like you're part of the team.
"Not that I don't feel like I'm part of the team, by no means, but when you get that nice celebration coming into the dugout and you're getting you're (butt) hammered by guys, it's no better feeling than to have that done."
With the third pinch-hit home run by a Phillies player in an NLCS game, Stairs' place on the club - and in franchise history - has been cemented.
Earlier in the inning, Shane Victorino belted a two-run home run in the eighth inning to tie the game a 5-5.
The Phillies will have a chance to secure a World Series berth with a victory in Game Five Wednesday night.
|Matt Stairs launches his first career postseason home run to put the Phillies up 7-5 in the eighth inning of Game Four. Stairs home run puts the Phillies on the brink of their first World Series appearance in 15 years. (Photo: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)|
Stairs' homer was the first pinch-hit homer in an NLCS game since St. Louis' Chris Duncan went deep in 2006. Victorino collected his 11th RBI of the postseason. Closer Brad Lidge recorded a four-out save to secure the victory. Chase Utley had three hits and made a diving catch for a double-play that saved two runs in the sixth inning.
Cole Hamels watched from the Phillies' dugout Monday night as Dodgers RHP Derek Lowe made his fourth career start on short rest. Someday, perhaps, Hamels will do the same. For now, though, the Phillies haven't asked their ace lefty to pitch with less than the standard four days between starts, and pitching coach Rich Dubee said they probably won't until at least next season. Not after Hamels, frequently injured early in his career, finally stayed healthy for a full season and logged 227 1/3 innings, second-most in the National League. Likewise, Hamels said he hasn't volunteered to pitch on short rest, mostly because he knows the Phillies prefer to handle him with care. Hamels, who had never pitched more than 187 1/3 innings before this season, will start Game Five on Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium. "It wasn't even in my mind because they've convinced me or talked to me enough to where because of the workload I have gone through, they don't want to push me to my limit," Hamels said Monday night before Game Four. "I think pitching every five days is a good assessment of what I can do, and I can be at my best. I don't think they want to risk it with me trying to go an extra day early for one more win because it takes four."
Shane Victorino ducked to avoid getting hit by a pitch in the third inning of Game Three. But he still got socked in the wallet. Victorino was fined $2,500 by Major League Baseball after exchanging words with Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda, who threw a pitch near his head. The situation escalated into a benches-clearing brawl. Phils reliever J.C. Romero was docked $1,000 for jawing with Manny Ramirez, while first-base coach Davey Lopes was fined $500 for chirping at Dodgers third-base coach Larry Bowa. Kuroda ($7,500), Ramirez ($2,500), Dodgers first-base coach Mariano Duncan ($1,000) and Bowa ($500) also received fines from MLB vice president Bob Watson. The players may appeal the fines through their union. The coaches don't have the same recourse.
Jimmy Rollins went 1-for-13 in the first three games of the NLCS. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel credited the Dodgers for changing their approach to how they pitch Rollins. "He's been kind of in-between at the plate, as far as between fastballs and breaking balls, and he's been late on fastballs and too early on slow stuff, especially when he chases it down off the plate," Manuel said. "His swing has not been short and quick like when he's hitting good. He can correct that." Rollins went 1-for-4 with a first-inning single in Game Four.
The Numbers Game: 11 - Postseason RBI for CF Shane Victorino.
He said what? "My whole career, even back in the early days, my approach was try to hit the ball out of the ballpark. And it's something I enjoyed doing. In batting practice, I try to hit every ball out of the ballpark. I'm not going to lie - it's fun. I try to hit home runs and that's it. I'm not going to hit a single and steal second base. So I think the biggest thing is to get up there, swing hard and elevate." - Matt Stairs after his game-winning homer in Game Four.
The View From L.A.
Manager Joe Torre took exception to the fact that pitcher Hiroki Kuroda and six others were fined on Monday by Bob Watson, Major League Baseball's director of on-field operations, following a benches-clearing fracas in the third inning of Game Three on Sunday night in which no punches were thrown.
"They want you to play with passion, but they don't want you to show it," Torre said.
Kuroda was fined for throwing a pitch over the head of Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino, three times what any of the other players or coaches involved were told to pay.
|Rafael Furcal slides safely under Carlos Ruiz to score in the fifth inning in Game Four of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)|
"To me, if passion for the game is what you ask people to pay their money to watch, then when that passion shows up and no blows are exchanged ..." Torre said. "I can understand if there is rolling around in the grass. But I'm not sure what kind of message that was."
Matt Kemp was out of the starting lineup despite getting two hits in Game Three because manager Joe Torre felt he was pressing at the plate. Juan Pierre started in center field and went 2-for-3 with a double. Kemp did enter the game as a pinch hitter in the sixth inning and remained in center field the rest of the way, going 0-for-1 with a walk.
Chan Ho Park and Cory Wade became the first two Dodgers pitchers to blow saves in the same postseason game since saves became an official statistic in 1969. Park threw a wild pitch in the sixth inning, allowing Ryan Howard to score the tying run from third base. Wade gave up a two-run, game-tying homer to Shane Victorino in the eighth.
James Loney went 2-for-4 and is hitting .417 (5-for-12) in the series. He went 3-for-14 (.214) in the Division Series against the Chicago Cubs. Loney is hitting .367 (11-for-30) in seven career postseason games.
Manny Ramirez extended his record by driving in a run in his eighth consecutive LCS game. He has collected at least one RBI in 10 of his last 11 LCS games. Ramirez singled in the fifth inning to drive in Rafael Furcal from second.
Derek Lowe gave up two runs in the first inning, then shut out the Phillies on three hits over the next four innings before being lifted after five. Lowe has allowed no more than two earned runs in six of his 10 career starts in postseason play. He also has not allowed more than two earned runs in any of his past 12 starts, including three starts in this postseason and his final nine regular-season starts.
The Numbers Game: 12 - Games played by the Dodgers and Phillies this season before there was a victory by the visiting team, the first one coming when the Phillies won Game Four of the National League Championship Series on Monday night. The Dodgers swept a four-game series from the Phillies at Dodger Stadium on August 11-15, and the Phillies turned the tables by taking four from the Dodgers on August 22-25 at Citizens Bank Park. The home teams won the first three games of the NLCS.
He said what? "He is the manager. He has made the decisions all year long. ... That (fifth) was by far my best inning. I felt fine." - Derek Lowe, who was lifted by manager Joe Torre after five innings and 74 pitches. He had given up two runs in the first but had shut down the Phillies thereafter and had retired them in order in the fifth. The Dodgers' bullpen went on to blow the game, giving up four runs in the eighth inning.