Oswalt for Phils, Sanchez for Giants in Game 2

If Roy Oswalt feels like a guy who got stuck in the middle seat
between two heavyweights on a cross-country flight, he doesn’t seem
to mind. Just so the plane lands safely.

Oswalt’s first postseason start in a
Phillies uniform came between Roy
Halladay’s no-hitter and Cole Hamels’ series-clinching shutout
against Cincinnati in the NL division series.

The
Phillies won, but Oswalt was not
himself. He gave up three earned runs over five innings and labored
to find the rhythm he had while going 7-0 with a 1.41 earned run
average in 12 starts in the last two months of the regular
season.

Before Saturday’s Game 1 of the National League Championship
Series, the
Phillies’ and Giants’ starters
combined to allow six earned runs over 52 innings of play in the
NLDS. Oswalt gave up three of them, which prompted a reporter to
ask him if he feels extra motivation for his Game 2 start against
the Giants on Sunday.

“Not really,” he said Saturday in his staccato monotone. “As
long as we win games, numbers to me aren’t a big thing. I want to
do well, but we won three in a row, so it doesn’t really
matter.”

In a series punctuated by fascinating pitching matchups, there
seems to be a feeling that Oswalt vs. lefthander Jonathan Sanchez
favors the Giants.

Certainly, Sanchez has been difficult on the
Phillies, and the 27-year-old
apparently has found the consistency and poise that had prevented
him from becoming a dominating presence. He has the stuff – a
fastball that’s consistently in the mid-90s and a breaking ball
that’s simply unhittable when he’s right.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy is so eager to match Sanchez against
the
Phillies’ lefty-leaning lineup that
he moved him up to Game 2 and dropped righthander Matt Cain to Game
3. The move also allows the Giants to go lefty-righty-lefty-righty
in the first four games of the series.

Sanchez has come up big at important times for the Giants. He
pitched five scoreless innings in the 3-0 win over San Diego that
gave San Francisco the NL West Division title on the final day of
the regular season.

On that day, Sanchez was up against a determined club. In early
August, he had guaranteed the Giants would overtake the Padres and
win the division.

Sanchez then helped turn the division series in the Giants’
favor with a powerful performance against the Atlanta Braves in
Game 3. He took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and ended up
allowing one run and two hits while striking out 11, although he
didn’t get the decision in the 3-2 win.

The lanky Sanchez has given the
Phillies headaches, going 3-1 with a
2.48 ERA in five career starts covering 29 innings. He won both of
his starts against the Phils this season with a 1.38 ERA, striking
out 13 in 13 innings.

Sanchez can be wild, so walks and strikeouts often run up his
pitch count early. But in recent months, he pretty much has shed
his erratic ways, and the result was a 4-1 mark with a 1.03 ERA in
his last seven regular-season starts.

“It used to be that if one of my friends on the field made an
error, I couldn’t put it past me,” said Sanchez, who pitched a
no-hitter in 2009. “It would send me down. Now I’ve learned to just
focus on the next hitter and get the guy out.”

Inconsistency rarely has been an issue for the 33-year-old
Oswalt, who is 9-0 with a 2.10 ERA in 10 career starts at Citizens
Bank Park. But his inability to locate his pitches in Game 2
against the Reds could have been the result of inactivity. As a
tune-up for the playoffs, Oswalt pitched one inning in the final
regular-season game Oct. 3. He went five innings his previous
start, Sept. 28.

Oswalt is not one to make excuses, but he did acknowledge that
the long layoffs between starts present challenges.

“Sometimes you feel like you needed to throw a lot more,” he
said. “Sometimes you feel you need to stay fresh when you get out
there. So it’s kind of a funny place to be. I threw a simulated
game a couple days ago just to kind of stay in rhythm, and I’ll
probably throw some more on flat ground, just to have muscle memory
when you get out there.

“It’s a little different when you get out on the mound every
five days vs. nine or 10 days.”

Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or
rparrillo@phillynews.com.