Friday, October 22, 2010

Can Phillies complete comeback?

What Roy Halladay did Thursday night is not unprecedented.

Some fans remember well, and others would love to forget, Curt Schilling's gutsy performance in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS. With the Boston Red Sox facing elimination, Schilling led them to victory while sutures struggled to hold together a ruptured tendon in his right ankle.

Admittedly, a strained groin is not the same as a bleeding ankle, but Halladay adjusted to the pain and the sinking fastball he was forced to abandon. After the Philadelphia Phillies took the lead in a crazy third inning, Halladay made it stand up as his team went on to win 4-2 and send the NLCS back to Citizens Bank Park.

The law of averages tells us that the Giants will win one of the next two games and advance to the World Series, and the way this series has gone for the Phillies, that's a good bet to make. The hitting just isn't there like it was in 2008 and '09, but then again, teams have a way of rallying around a wounded teammate. Boston did it in '04 and the New York Yankees seem to be doing it in the ALCS for Mark Teixeira.

Either way, this is turning out to be a thrilling postseason. It's the first time since 2004 that both LCS's have reached Game 6. And with both teams that were down 3-1 winning Game 5, it makes an improbable comeback in one of the series seem more likely.

How likely is it for the Fightin' Phils? Of the six times it's been done since the LCS went to the best-of-seven format in 1985, three have come in just the last seven years, and three of the six teams won the last two games on the road. The latter fact doesn't hurt or help the Phillies, but their success in the postseason centers around playing well in their own digs. Since 2008, Philadelphia boasts a 15-4 playoff record at home. That's the kind of clout the Texas Rangers wish they had right now.

Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels (if it gets that far) will do their jobs, but the offense must do theirs. Manager Charlie Manuel can help that along - and atone for a plethora of bad choices in Game 4 - by putting Jimmy Rollins back in the leadoff spot for Game 6. He's proved that he's at least close to where he was before his latest injury setback. Since Game 2, he's 5-for-15, and he swiped second and third base in the seventh inning of last night's triumph. Shane Victorino, meanwhile, is clogging the top of the order with a measly three hits in the series.

If the Phillies continue hitting at their present .190 clip, their season will end at Citizens Bank Park. That hasn't happened yet in the postseason (their playoff runs in '07 and '09 ended on the road) and for a hostile fan base so used to seeing their team succeed in October, it won't be a pretty sight. It's in the Phillies' best interests and the well-being of Philadelphia to reward Halladay's effort, stun the Giants and punch their third straight ticket to the World Series.

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