Monday, November 2, 2009

Five Cuts: History offers the Phillies

1. With the sound of Alex Rodriguez's ringing double to left field, the Phillies' situation went from "bad" to "desperate" late Sunday night. Philadelphia is now down 3-1 in the World Series, a position from which very few teams have ever recovered: Those in this position have gone 5-28 in best-of-seven Series, and the last team to come back from a 3-1 hole was the 1985 Royals. Teams in the specific position of the Phillies, down 3-1 in the World Series without home-field advantage in 2-3-2 format, have won just two of 13 times: the 1979 Pirates and the 1958 Yankees.

Are there any lessons to be gleaned from those squads? Well, the '58 Yankees had the best offense in their league, and after scoring just 12 runs in four games, losing three to Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette, they turned it on at the end, with 17 runs in the last three contests, the last two started by the Braves' legendary duo on two days' rest apiece. It's unlikely that Joe Girardi will ask that much of his own top starters, although anything seems possible this month.

The '79 Pirates are a bit more interesting. They also split the first two games of the Series, as did these Phillies, lost Game 3 when their lefty starter, in Pittsburgh's case John Candelaria, couldn't hold an early 3-0 lead, and watched their ace reliever lose Game 4. Like this year's Phillies, they were an underdog going in, a freewheeling bunch whose rallying cry was the Sister Sledge disco hit, We Are Family. To win their Series, their pitchers stepped up, allowing just two runs over the last three games. Oh, Phillies fans who want to bury Cole Hamels should note that Candelaria bounced back with six shutout innings in Game 6 of that Series.

If the Phillies are to win the World Series, that's the path they'll need to take: improved run prevention, beginning with the starting pitchers.

2. They're not in a bad place to get that started on Monday night, as Cliff Lee takes the mound coming off his domination of the Yankees in Game 1. Lee has yet to allow more than one earned run in any postseason start, and all told he has allowed just five runs in 33 1/3 postseason innings over four starts, all Phillies wins. Since they acquired him just before the trade deadline, the Phillies are 12-4 when Lee starts, behind his 11 quality starts in 16 turns. He has replaced Hamels as the team's ace, and there were a number of people who felt that Charlie Manuel should have matched Joe Girardi by using Lee on short rest in Game 4.

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