—Busch Stadium, St. Louis
David Freese was struggling. Going into his fourth inning at bat against Roy Oswalt, he was 2-for-13 with seven strikeouts in the series; one of those compliments of Oswalt. Just like that, the series changed for both Freese and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Freese’s sixth inning, two-run home run to center field helped extend the series, as the Cardinals won 5-3 on Wednesday night. Game 5 will be back in Philadelphia on Friday night.
Once again, the Phillies struck early, but not often. Jimmy Rollins led off with a ground-rule double to center field, followed by a Chase Utley triple to score Rollins. Hunter Pence than plated Utley on a single.
It could have been a more fruitful inning if not for two questionable calls by both the home plate and second base umpires. Pence was thrown out trying to steal second and Ryan Howard struck out looking. Replays showed Pence was safe and that Howard’s pitch was a borderline strike.
Charlie Manuel saw that as an opportunity to break the game open.
“I kind of wanted to push the game there, too, because we had just scored and we needed a guy in scoring position.”
The Cardinals cut into the lead with a run in the bottom half of the inning as Skip Schumaker scored on a double by Lance Berkman. Berkman advanced to third on an error by Shane Victorino, who clearly slipped on the outfield shadows (!) and made a backwards throw. Berkman would stay at third after Matt Holliday grounded out to shortstop.
Oswalt had an up and down evening. In the fourth inning, St. Louis struck for two to take a 3-2 lead. Oswalt walked Berkman to start, then hit Holliday in the arm to put two on. Pence then made a spectacular grab in right on a well-hit ball by Yadier Molina. Pence took an odd route, but saved some runs…until Freese knocked in two with a double to left field.
Freese then pushed the Cardinals lead to three with his monster blast in the sixth.
The Phillies got one in the eighth on a Fernando Salas wild pitch to make it 5-3 – that scored Michael Martinez, into pinch-run for Ross Gload who singled to start it. But with Chase Utley on second base, Ryan Howard struck out for the third time to end the rally.
In the fifth inning, the pesky squirrel from Game 3 returned and actually ran through the batters box during a pitch from Oswalt to Schumaker. They needed the speed of the squirrel the next inning, when Utley made a baserunning mistake.
On a ground ball to second base off the bat of Pence, Utley attempted to take third base as well, but Albert Pujols came off the base and threw a strike to third to get Utley by several feet. Instead of a runner at second base with one out, the man in scoring position was gone, and gone were the chances of cashing in. Howard would fly out, followed by a Victorino ground out to end the inning.
Howard struggled yet again, going 0-for-4 with three more strikeouts. Over the last three games, the middle of the order, which has been in a freefall lately, combined to go 3-for-36 with 12 strikeouts and only two RBIs.
Howard is struggling through a 1-for-12 with six K’s, Victorino a 1-for-12, and the combination of Raul Ibanez and John Mayberry a 1-for-12 with six strikeouts.
Manuel didn’t rule out a possible lineup change before Game 5. “I’m never committed to the lineup because I’m not afraid of changing it. But when you don’t hit, you get back and you look for things that you think can help you, give you an advantage of winning a game.”
The Phillies skipper might need to do something, or else the season filled with promise could be over far too soon.
Luckily for him, he’ll have Roy Halladay on the mound in Game 5, his ace that helped him win Game 1 with a shutdown performance after a rocky first inning. Roy will need to come up big and save his fledgling offense once again, something that has become commonplace with this team.