Poised Phillies bullpen shows rare cracks
Fill-in reliever Oswalt's misstep creates steep uphill climb
SAN FRANCISCO -- They bent. And then they broke.
A Philadelphia bullpen that had been perfect this postseason inherited a Game 4 lead on Wednesday and watched it whittle away over the final four innings.
To be fair, however, the Phillies' true relief corps was hardly at fault for a heartbreaking 6-5 loss to the Giants. With the exception of a three-batter span in the sixth, they matched San Francisco's bullpen admirably.
It was after manager Charlie Manuel's decision to turn the game over to starter Roy Oswalt in the ninth that the Phillies' hopes at evening up the best-of-seven series ended. The previous four relievers that followed starter Joe Blanton limited the Giants to one costly RBI hit.
That knock -- a two-run double by third baseman Pablo Sandoval -- came at the expense of right-hander Chad Durbin. Handed a 4-3 lead in the sixth, Durbin began the frame by issuing a leadoff walk to Pat Burrell.
"I think I was too cute with Burrell," Durbin said. "I have to go after him in that situation."
A high fastball to Cody Ross was lined into left for a double, bringing up Sandoval with two runners in scoring position. With first base open, Durbin was instructed not to throw anything near the strike zone. The reasoning for such instructions instead of issuing an intentional walk?
"Because we know he'll chase bad balls," Manuel said. "We were trying to strike him out on bad balls."
Sandoval fell behind, 1-2, but Durbin's fifth pitch of the at-bat wasn't high enough to fool the third baseman, who drove a fastball into the gap in left-center to plate the go-ahead run.
"Maybe the ball being away from him was a pitch he could handle a lot better," Durbin said. "The pitch before was in and up, and if we go in there and up again, the worst-case scenario is he pulls it foul. The best case is that he swings and misses. And if nothing else, it sets up the next two pitches in the dirt."
Durbin needed 38 pitches to get out of the sixth, but he stranded Sandoval on second. Rust would have seemed a viable explanation for Durbin's labors, but he refused to blame anything on the fact that he had pitched just once since Oct. 3.
"It's not a good excuse," said Durbin, whose other postseason outing was a six-pitch appearance on Oct. 8. "We have plenty of time to throw [bullpen sessions] and on flat ground [in between]."
Those two sixth-inning runs marked the first runs the Phillies' bullpen had allowed this postseason. The group entered having tossed nine scoreless frames and had an active postseason scoreless-inning streak of 12 going back to the 2009 playoffs.
Jose Contreras, Antonio Bastardo and Ryan Madson turned in scoreless outings. Contreras relieved Blanton in the fifth and stranded Aubrey Huff at first. Madson worked around a hit, a walk and an error by Jimmy Rollins to get out of a precarious jam in the eighth.
"That's the kind of team we've got," Madson said. "When we're down, we're not going to lay over."
The Phillies opted not to turn to Brad Lidge in the ninth, hoping to save the closer until they took the lead. Lidge never got that chance, as it was Oswalt who shouldered the loss in San Francisco's walk-off win.
"The ninth inning is never easy," Lidge said. "Throwing out of the bullpen is never easy. We appreciate that he did it. In a game like that when you're using a lot of relievers, it's nice to have him volunteer to do that."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.