By Thom Henninger
A year ago, the Philadelphia Phillies returned home after splitting the first two games of the World Series with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Phillies scratched for a run in the bottom of the ninth to claim a one-run victory in Game 3, then won two more at home to win a five-game affair.
The Phillies didn’t repeat their Game 3 success last night, as Cole Hamels struggled with command again in an 8-5 loss to the New York Yankees. History tells us it’s a pivotal loss.
Teams have split the first two games of a best-of-seven World Series 51 times prior to this fall’s Yankees-Phillies matchup. The winner of Game 3 has prevailed in 36 — or 71 percent — of those 51 World Series.
Tonight’s Game 4 looks to favor the Yankees, as they send CC Sabathia to the mound against Philadelphia’s Joe Blanton. New York manager Joe Girardi is turning to his Game 1 starter on three days’ rest, while Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel has committed to using four starters in the Series and calls on Blanton.
Blanton was successful in Game 4 a year ago, working six innings of a 10-2 victory over the Rays. On Sunday night he faces the dangerous Yankees, a team he has never defeated in four career starts as a member of the Oakland Athletics.
Sabathia is 5-3 with a 3.16 ERA in eight career starts following three days off. Opponents have batted just .228 against him in those outings. Two of those starts have been in the postseason, and they include eight solid innings against the Angels in Game 4 of the ALCS on Oct. 20. The Yankees took a three-games-to-one lead with Sabathia holding the Angels to five hits and a single run in eight innings of a 10-1 victory.
The Yankees southpaw has given up just five earned runs in four postseason starts this fall. The only time he has given up more than a single earned run or taken a loss was World Series Game 1 on Wednesday, when he was touched for two solo homers by Chase Utley.
Hamels’ loss in Game 3 may have Manuel second-guessing whether to stick with Blanton tonight. His Game 1 starter Cliff Lee could be used on three days’ rest, something the left-hander has never done in his big league career.
Saturday’s loss was just the second postseason defeat at home since the Phillies started their push to the World Series title a year ago. They are now 11-2 at Citizens Bank Park in this span, with the only other loss coming against Colorado in Game 2 of this year’s NLDS.
The Phillies can’t afford to lose two in a row before the home crowd, or their season will be all but finished. Not only do they need a strong outing from Blanton, they need Ryan Howard to break out of his funk.
Howard and Alex Rodriguez had been the big guns for their teams going into the World Series, and together they were 2-for-17 with 12 strikeouts in the first two games. A-Rod broke through with a two-run homer off a camera down the right-field line in Game 3, his first hit of the Series, while Howard was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. The Phillies slugger has now fanned in seven of his last eight at-bats.
Howard isn’t the only struggling Phillie. The top four hitters in the Philadelphia lineup — Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Utley and Howard — are collectively 8-for-45 (.178) in the Series. Rollins had the sole hit among the group in Game 3, and that isn’t going to cut it in Game 4.