Opening Night: Fifth inning

derek-loweMaybe Brett Myers has settled in? After all, he seems to be on a roll here after working out those early-inning jitters. Following Yunel Escobar’s third-inning double, Myers retired eight of nine before Chipper Jones belted a double.

He bounced back from that hit by whiffing Brian McCann for his fifth strikeout. However, Myers has not tossed a single perfect inning. The Braves have scratched out a hit in every frame so far.

Meanwhile, Derek Lowe appears to be loose as a goose. After Chipper Jones made a nice pick and throw to nail Jayson Werth in the fourth, the pitcher and third baseman were yucking it up near the mound. Call it just another game for the veteran righty.

Lowe also has been quite economical. Through five innings, he has thrown just 64 pitches (43 strikes) with three whiffs and a single.

Lowe is making it look easy.

Opening Night: third inning

derek_loweOK, maybe Brett Myers is just getting his work in? That can be the only explanation considering the Braves are tee-ing off on him. In fact, little Yunel Escobar ripped one high off the wall in deep left-center for a double. Myers was lucky, too, because it came inches away from being the fourth homer of the game.

Then again, before his late June demotion to Triple-A last season Myers was leading the Majors in homers allowed by a wide margin.

But unlike his first two frames, Myers stayed away from trouble. After the double, the pitcher whiffed Chipper Jones, got Brian McCann to pop out and Garrett Anderson to ground out to end the frame unscathed.

Nevertheless, Charlie Manuel got J.A. Happ up in the ‘pen.

Meanwhile, Derek Lowe made it once through the Phillies lineup and finally got the first hit of the season. The honor goes to Carlos Ruiz whose ground-rule double inside the third-base bag.

So far the Phillies are 1-for-10 this year.

Pregame: Tonight is the night

LOS ANGELES – The consensus around here with the media types is that tonight’s Game 5 is bigger than most people believe. It’s big, sure… it is, after all, the NLCS. But aside from the obvious, Game 5 will decide which team goes to the World Series.

Yeah, that’s right … the winner of tonight’s game will go to the World Series.

Obviously, if the Phillies win it’s all over, and in that regard things look pretty good for them. Cole Hamels, the team’s best pitcher, has been close to Koufax-esque during the playoffs. Since the Dodgers countering with Chad Billingsley, a pitcher who struck out four of the first six hitters he faced during Game 2, but then retired just four more hitters for the rest of the game, it appears to be a matchup that favors the Phils. Billingsley damn-near melted down in Game 2 and then he and his teammates began chirping at each other.

But if the Phillies don’t get it done tonight at Chavez Ravine, it gets tougher back in Philadelphia beginning on Friday night. For one, Hiroki Kuroda, the lights out pitcher that has baffled the Phillies in three starts this year, will pitch against Brett Myers. The Phillies’ pitcher wasn’t so sharp despite winning Game 2, and has a gimpy ankle to go along with it.

If there is a need for Game 7 on Saturday, Derek Lowe will make his third start of the series against a Phillies pitcher to be determined. Typically, Saturday will be Jamie Moyer’s turn in the rotation, however, the veteran lefty has lasted just 5 1/3 innings in two starts in the playoffs for an ERA of 13.50.

So there it is – tonight is the night. The Phillies definitely do not want to return to Philadelphia this weekend without the Warren Giles Trophy. Otherwise, it might just slip out of their hands.

Here are tonight’s lineups:

Phillies
11 – Jimmy Rollins, ss
28 – Jayson Werth, rf
26 – Chase Utley, 2b
6 – Ryan Howard, 1b
5 – Pat Burrell, lf
8 – Shane Victorino, cf
7 – Pedro Feliz, 3b
51 – Carlos Ruiz, c
35 – Cole Hamels, p

Dodgers
15 – Rafael Furcal, ss
16 – Andre Ethier, rf
99 – Manny Ramirez, lf
55 – Russell Martin, c
7 – James Loney, 1b
30 – Casey Blake, 3b
27 – Matt Kemp, cf
33 – Blake DeWitt, 2b
58 – Chad Billingsley, p

Sixth inning: Big swings

Yes, the Phillies continue to struggle with the bats. Derek Lowe entered the sixth having thrown just 75 pitches, which puts him in excellent position to give the Dodgers’ bullpen a big rest tonight.

However, the Dodgers’ offense isn’t exactly lighting it up either. Though the Dodgers have put five runners in scoring position (resulting in a pair of runs), they are just 1-for-6 with the ol’ ducks on the pond. Because of that the Phillies are a lucky break and a big swing away from changing things around.

In the sixth, the lucky break came when Rafael Furcal’s throwing error on (another) ground ball hit by Shane Victorino gave the Phillies their first real threat.

The big swing came a few pitches later when Chase Utley knocked one into the right-field seats to knot the game at 2.

Earlier this week manager Charlie Manuel said he believed Utley was very close to breaking out of his second-half and post-season malaise. Earlier tonight I wrote that Utley will be the key to this series…

Looks like the second baseman made Charlie and me look smart.

How about that?

Pat Burrell made Mike Gill look smart by popping a 3-1 pitch into the left-field stands to give the Phils a one-run lead. At the same time, the homer forced Joe Torre to summon reliever Chan Ho Park to finish the inning.

Just like that Derek Lowe’s gem turned into a short night… sometimes it’s funny how fast fortunes change in this game.

Lowe’s line:

5 1/3 IP, 3 R, 2 ER, 6 H, 1 BB, 2 K, 2 HR – 90 pitches, 55 strikes

Let’s see how Hamels handles pitching with a lead.

End of 6: Phillies 3, Dodgers 2

Fifth inning: Fernando!

Here’s one for you:

The great Fernando Valenzuela is here at the park doing the commentary for the Dodgers’ Spanish language radio broadcast. I know this because Mike Radano came running over a few innings ago screaming, “You know how they say there are so many celebrities at games at Dodger Stadium? Yeah well, guess what? I just took a leak next to Fernando Valenzuela!”

Sometimes it’s a who’s-who of baseball greats in the men’s press box restroom. Besides, it’s good to know that even ex-baseball greats have to answer nature’s call, too.

Anyway, Phillies fans know all about Fernando Valenzuela. In 1981 the Phillies were the first team to beat him and derail “Fernando-mania!” Fernando also pitched against the Phillies in ’83 NLCS and was the only Dodger to win a game that series.

Better yet, Fernando pitched eight games for the Phillies during the strike-shortened ’94 season. In fact, I remember going to a game at The Vet with my old pal Ben Miller where we saw Fernando’s first game with the hometown team. In his first at-bat he clubbed a double.

I also remember Darren Daulton breaking his collarbone when he got nailed by a foul ball. As soon as it occurred you knew something bad happened because the noise from Daulton’s broken bone sounded like a gun shot.

Anyway, Cole Hamels faced four hitters in the fifth and notched a pair of strikeouts. So far Hamels has thrown 84 pitches with six strikeouts.

How much longer can Hamels go?

Derek Lowe continued to deal in the fifth, recording his 10th and 11th outs on ground balls before Carlos Ruiz and Hamels knocked out back-to-back singles. As a result, the Phillies got their first runner in scoring position.

It stayed there, though, when Jimmy Rollins flied out to left to end the inning.

End of 5: Dodgers 2, Phillies 0

Fourth inning: Dealing or slumping?

Don’t look now, but it appears as if a pitching duel has broken out.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise, though. The old cliché is that playoff baseball is all about pitching and defense is transcends mere cliché-dom. It’s rock hard fact.

Be that as it is, the Phillies are going to have to break out the bats soon. Maybe sooner than soon. That’s because the Dodgers posted another run during the top of the fourth when Cole Hamels sawed off Matt Kemp on the first pitch of the frame only to have him fight it off for a ground-rule double.

Kemp moved to third on a ground out and came around to score when Blake Dewitt popped a sacrifice fly to deep center. Interestingly, Hamels threw a pitch high in the strike zone to Dewitt, which made it much easier for him to hit a fly ball.

Hamels is not at his sharpest tonight. His change is good, but he doesn’t seem to have a handle on his curve or the best command on his fastball.

Lowe, on the other hand, is locked in. He got Chase Utley for his first strikeout, forced Ryan Howard to hit a soft grounder to second for another out, and then whiffed Pat Burrell to end the inning.

The Phillies look as if they left the offense in Milwaukee.

End of 4: Dodgers 2, Phillies 0

Third inning: Change of pace

The second time around the lineup for Cole Hamels looked much sharper. Perhaps showcasing his fastball during the first inning was part of his ploy to spring the change up on them later.

Hamels fooled Rafael Furcal into some bad swings before he grounded out for the first out, then looked to have another ground out on Andre Ethier, but Ryan Howard muffed it at first even though it was (wrongly) ruled a hit.

Certainly, Jimmy Rollins will let Howard know that he has to make those plays.

Manny Ramirez was fooled by a few off-speed pitches, too, before he popped out to short. Actually, it was kind of odd seeing Ramirez make an out because he looks so locked in at the plate.

Hamels is going to need some help from the bats, though. Derek Lowe was one of the hottest pitchers in all of baseball during September with a 3-0 record and 0.59 ERA in five starts. Perhaps the best tact for Lowe was taking him down like the way Shane Victorino did on a close play at first to end the inning.

Dodgers are out-hitting the Phils, 3-2.

End of 3: Dodgers 1, Phillies 0

Second inning: Settling in

The time between the innings is a little longer during this series as compared to the rest of the year. The reason, of course, is that Fox needs a few more ticks to sell some stuff and show those commercials.

Commerce, man. Commerce.

Longer inning or not, Cole Hamels settled in and breezed through the second inning on just X pitches. He whiffed both Casey Blake and Derek Lowe for his first clean frame and third strikeout.

Whatever jitters Hamels had in the first were worked out in the second.

On another note, I was on the Mike Gill Show this afternoon where the host, Mike Gill, made an interesting point. I said the difference in this series could very well come down to the ability of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard to produce against the Dodgers’ right-handed heavy pitching staff. To that, Mike said the Dodgers likely would take a similar tact as the Brewers in the NLDS and pitch around Howard, forcing Pat Burrell to the plate in some key situations.

You know what? That Mike Gill knows his stuff. If the Dodgers aren’t going to allow Howard to beat them, Burrell’s at-bats become that much more important.

But when Burrell led off the second with a single down the line to left, he was quickly erased when Jayson Werth grounded into a double play.

That’s a pretty good indicator that Derek Lowe’s patented sinker is working well.

End of 2: Dodgers 1, Phillies 0