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Rollins back on track, and so is Philly
America’s last postseason memory of Jimmy Rollins had to do with words, not deeds.
Yes. That long ago.
You probably don’t remember much about Rollins’ effort to back up his words. That is because he batted .217. New York won in six.
Rollins hasn’t enjoyed much good fortune at the ballpark since that pre-Series boast. He strained a calf muscle while warming up for the Phillies’ home opener this year. It was a tone-setter. His regular season became a sad cycle of slumps and injuries.
The former All-Star shortstop struggled to his lowest batting average as a big leaguer (.243). He played in barely half of the Phillies’ games.
When teammate Chad Durbin was asked to estimate the percentage of time Rollins played in pain, the reliever replied, “Probably 100.”
But now it’s October. The Phillies’ season will be defined by whether they become the first team since the 1940s to claim three straight National League pennants. Rollins knows this. Better yet, he embraces it.
On Sunday, Rollins gave the regular season an emphatic shove toward irrelevance.
Philadelphia evened the NL Championship Series with a 6-1 win over San Francisco, and it was his bases-clearing double that clinched Game 2.
This is no time for Rollins to proffer another prediction. His team could very easily lose this series. The Phillies ceded home-field with their Game 1 loss, and these Giants are far superior to the Dodgers whom Philadelphia beat for the pennant last year.
Still, it took just one swing for Rollins to remind us how perfectly his swagger and smile are suited for this time of year. For the Phillies to make history, their leader must be cocky, not gimpy. On this night, he was.
“God gave me this talent,” J-Roll told a room of reporters. “I’m going to do something with it. That’s just the way it is.”
Rollins, 31, thinks of himself as a leadoff man. Three years ago he won the NL MVP as a leadoff man. He was the first batter of the 2008 World Series. He was the first batter of the 2009 World Series.
He led off when the Phillies began the 2010 regular season. He led off when the Phillies began the 2010 postseason. The role fits his ego and skill set. The show doesn’t start until he steps into the box. A certain status comes with that, and Rollins likes it.
Only now, the job doesn’t belong to him. After the first game of the first round, Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel moved Rollins to the No. 6 spot. He’s still there.
“Batting leadoff is definitely a lot more fun,” Rollins acknowledged. “There’s no doubt about it. Feels like you’re in the fire right at the beginning of the game. Batting sixth, you might not get up until the second inning, and the game has already happened.”
Manuel took a risk by dropping his star in the lineup — particularly at this time of year, even if there was a sound baseball reason for it. (Manuel likes how Rollins, a switch hitter, helps to balance that part of the lineup.) More importantly, Rollins didn’t question Manuel’s faith in him. And Manuel didn’t doubt Rollins’ ability to do perform precisely as he did Sunday night.
“When you show me you can do something, I trust in you,” Manuel said. “I know how good Jimmy Rollins can be.”
“Like Charlie would say, ‘It’s paaart of it,’” Rollins said, adding a pitch-perfect imitation of his manager’s drawl. “That’s what a good manager does. He keeps running his guys out there. He wants you to know that he has your back.”
So confident was Manuel that he semi-called Rollins’ shot in Sunday’s seventh inning. With the score still tight (3-1), Manuel told bench coach Pete Mackanin that he hoped Giants reliever Santiago Casilla would try a fastball low in the zone.
“He’s got a good chance to hit him,” Manuel remembered saying.
Manuel, ever the hitting savant, was absolutely right. Casilla came in with a knee-high fastball at 2-0, and Rollins whacked it to within a couple feet of a grand slam. It was all reminiscent of Rollins’ last extra-base hit in the postseason: the walk-off gapper that demoralized the Dodgers in Game 4 of last year’s NLCS.
Victory assured, the Philly fans chanted his name. “It feels good,” Rollins said, “when they lift you back up in a moment like that.”
He won’t be as warmly received by the crowd during Game 3. The series shifts to San Francisco — across the Bay from his native Oakland — and Rollins is eager to find out what sort of reception he will get. He described Giants fans as being “on the fence” about him, unsure whether they should cheer or boo.
“But it was never in a situation like this, so I’ll probably get some treatment,” he concluded. “It makes the game fun. That’s what you live for. If they don’t boo you, you’re probably not a good player.”
After Sunday, we know this: There is zero chance that he will be ignored by the fans in San Francisco, or Philadelphia, or anywhere else. The regular season is gone, and Jimmy Rollins is back.