Patient Phillies able to neutralize Sanchez
Hitters drive Giants starter's pitch count up early, then pounce
PHILADELPHIA -- Subdued by Jonathan Sanchez's wildly effective approach over the course of the past two seasons, the Phillies entered Game 2 of the National League Championship Series with the desire to be selective. They exited it having verified that that patience can indeed prove to be a virtue.
On their way to evening this best-of-seven series with a 6-1 victory over the Giants on Sunday night, the Phillies forced Sanchez to labor through a 35-pitch first inning and then fall victim to the more aggressive approach they utilized once his pitch count started to build in the middle innings.
"He's effectively wild, but at the same time, he can put two pitches on you and put you in a hole real quick," Phillies right fielder Jayson Werth said. "You need to be aggressive with him, and at the same time, selective. The guy is a good pitcher. There's no doubt. Just look at what he's done this year and in years past. We made him work early, and I think that was definitely one of the big parts of the game."
Just two Phillies took a swing before drawing a strike in their first plate appearance of the evening. By the time the third inning concluded, they had seen just one of their first 14 batters -- leadoff hitter Shane Victorino in the second inning -- swing at the first pitch of a plate appearance.
Given that Sanchez issued a Major League-high 96 walks this year, taking this kind of patient approach wasn't exactly unique. But when the Phillies drew three first-inning walks, including one with the bases loaded, and drove the southpaw's pitch count to 77 pitches through the first four innings, they found it to be a successful approach.
"Any time you can drive a starting pitcher's pitch count up and get to the bullpen, that's what it's about," Victorino said. "We were able to do that. He settled down after that first inning. He lasted a little longer than we wanted. But we were able to get into that bullpen, and again, that's what it's about."
After ending his 100-pitch, six-plus-inning outing by allowing Roy Oswalt's single, Sanchez saw the Phillies construct a four-run seventh against three different Giants relievers. Jimmy Rollins delivered the big blow with a three-run double. But the knockout punch might not have been delivered had the Phillies not proven so patient during the first inning.
Sanchez began his evening with a three-pitch strikeout that was followed by one of the two five-pitch walks he issued in the first inning. A Mike Fontenot throwing error also aided the Phillies, who saw Rollins draw a bases-loaded walk just before Raul Ibanez became Sanchez's third strikeout victim of the first inning.
"There was no plan," Phillies third baseman Placido Polanco said. "It just happened that way. We just focused and tried to make him throw strikes, and if he throws them, hit them."
Sanchez threw first-pitch strikes to just six of the first 14 batters that he faced. From the fourth through the sixth innings, he threw first-pitch strikes to nine of the 12 batters he faced. But as he made adjustments, so too did the Phillies, who recognized his desire to start getting ahead early in the count.
Victorino opened the bottom of the fifth by hitting a 2-1 changeup to left field for a leadoff double. Chase Utley pulled back on a bunt attempt before hitting a 1-0 fastball deep enough to right field to move Victorino to third base and in position to score when Polanco slapped a first-pitch fastball to center for a sacrifice fly.
"The game is really going to talk to you," Polanco said. "The game is going to dictate what you have to do in certain at-bats. In my case, I had a guy at third base and I wasn't going to go take. I was looking for a pitch I could handle, and I got it with the first pitch."
Sanchez righted himself with a seven-pitch second inning and managed to throw 10 pitches or fewer in three of the final five full innings he pitched. But while proving selective and aggressive, the Phillies managed to solve a pitcher who had been on a roll.
Including his impressive effort against the Braves in Game 3 of the NL Division Series, Sanchez had posted a 1.06 ERA in his previous eight starts. But the 51 innings that encompassed that run did include 22 walks.
In his four previous starts against the Phillies dating back to the 2009 season, Sanchez was 3-1 with a 1.82 ERA.
"I saw them the same," Sanchez said. "They were taking pitches like they did when I pitched against them before."
This time, the result proved to be a little different. And so too is the landscape of the NLCS, which now shifts to San Francisco all squared.
"Every game is important," Polanco said. "The fact that we bounced back tells you a lot about this team. We turned the page. Whether we win or lose, we turn the page and focus on the next one."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.