Good luck comes in 3-hole for Polanco, Phils

AGAINST THE EVIL lefthandedness that was Jonathan Sanchez, the
Phillies, logically, needed a
righthanded hitter to come through.

Charlie Manuel bet it would be Placido Polanco. He bet it so
hard that he dropped Polanco to the No. 3 slot and moved regular
No. 3 hitter Chase Utley into Polanco’s No. 2 hole.

Manuel was right.

“Charlie’s a genius,” said
Phillies leadoff hitter Shane
Victorino.

Polanco made Manuel look like it.

In the first inning, with Utley on second, Polanco made contact
– important against Sanchez, a strikeout artist – and grounded to
third base. Mike Fontenot’s throw was low and wide, moving Utley to
third. He later scored on a bases-loaded walk.

Polanco then supplied the sacrifice fly in the fifth inning that
scored Victorino and gave the
Phillies a 2-1 lead.

Polanco’s unlikely RBI single to centerfield in the seventh
cushioned things further, the first blood in a four-run rally that
clinched the win and evened the NLCS at a game apiece.

“That’s exactly what we needed out of ‘Polly,’ ” said Manuel the
Genius. “Polly’s that kind of hitter. Tonight, he got some
situations where he was able to produce.”

It was unlikely because it scored pitcher Roy Oswalt from second
base after Oswalt ran through a stop sign from third-base coach Sam
Perlozzo.

It was unlikely, also, because it came off righthander Ramon
Ramirez, who had just intentionally walked Utley. Polanco was
hitless in four career tries against Ramirez, and he seemed
anything but locked in. And, fighting a back issue that already
cost him one game and a chronic elbow issue that causes frequent
difficulty, he was 2-for-15 in the playoffs.

Still, as a key offseason addition, Polanco was the
Phillies’ second-best hitter this
season, at .298. Besides, he has credentials. An All-Star, Polanco
was the MVP of the 2006 ALCS with Detroit, and he’d been to the
playoffs with the Cardinals, too. He entered last night with a .277
postseason average in 28 games.

This was not his first rodeo, so Manuel rode him.

“It satisfying. It was a good feeling,” Polanco said of his RBI,
the ninth and 10th of what is becoming a distinguished playoff
career.

“You get more relaxed as you play a lot of games in the
postseason,” Polanco said.

Polanco then scored as part of the two-out, three-run double by
Jimmy Rollins.

Rollins, a switch-hitter, might have been Manuel’s righthanded
hope, but Rollins had been frigid in the postseason and,
historically, Sanchez iced him: Rollins was 1-for-16 before his RBI
walk and his single last night, so he remained in the No. 6
spot.

Polanco was 3-for-9 against Sanchez. He even contributed this
season, when Sanchez crushed the
Phillies, surrendering five total
hits in two starts. Shane Victorino had four. Polanco had the other
one.

“I didn’t even know that,” Polanco said.

Manuel did.

Maybe that made the lineup choice simpler.

Jayson Werth, remaining in the No. 5 hole, could have served as
the big righthanded bat, but he didn’t. Sanchez struck out Werth
twice with runners in scoring position and induced a weak grounder
in their third faceoff.

It was not Rollins or Werth.

Manuel placed his hope in Polanco.

It is a move he has used against tough lefthanded starters
before, so the starter couldn’t dominate lineup centerpieces Utley
and Ryan Howard, both of whom hit lefthanded.

“I want to have a righthanded hitter between them,” Manuel
said.

He picked the right one.

Genius.