Phil Sheridan: Phils’ small lineup change produced big results

Sometimes you can start a rock slide by knocking just a couple
of pebbles loose.

Charlie Manuel likes it when the runs are rolling down on
opposing pitchers like boulders. He has seen his regular lineup,
these players hitting in their usual order, do that often enough
that he’s very slow to make significant changes.

So it was noteworthy Sunday afternoon when Manuel posted the
lineup for Game 2 of the National League Championship Series. Chase
Utley, whose name is permanently visible in the No. 3 spot on the
dry-erase board in the
Phillies’ clubhouse, was moved up to
the No. 2 spot. Placido Polanco, a consummate two-hole hitter, was
moved down to Utley’s usual spot.

The reasoning wasn’t complicated. The Giants were starting
lefthander Jonathan Sanchez in Game 2.

“Split [Ryan] Howard and Utley up,” Manuel said. “Same reason I
always do it. I want to kind of just have a righthanded hitter
between them.”

Manuel is always doodling lineups on scraps of paper and
napkins, anything handy. For all of that musing and scribbling, he
doesn’t mess around with the actual hitters all that often. He
believes in his guys and likes them to be comfortable and
confident.

“That’s what a good manager does,” Jimmy Rollins said. “He has
your back, regardless. As a player, you may not do anything, but I
know I’m going to be out there tomorrow.”

“Stay right with you, son,” Manuel said. “I’ll go down with
you.”

So there were none of the big changes that wannabe-managers
yearned to see. Wilson Valdez did not replace Rollins in the
lineup. Raul Ibanez did not sit down so righthanded Ben Francisco
could play. Rollins did not move up to the leadoff spot. Carlos
Ruiz, the team’s hottest hitter all season, stayed in his customary
No. 8 spot.

Manuel wanted to get that rock slide of runs going, but he
wasn’t ready for the dynamite just yet. A few pebbles would be
enough.

“Sometimes,” Polanco said, “one at-bat is all you need to turn
things around.”

In their first must-win game of this postseason, the
Phillies buried the San Francisco
Giants under six runs’ worth of rubble. In this pitching-dominated
October, that was an embarrassment of offense.

Utley and Polanco were involved in every run the
Phillies scored.

First inning: Utley drew a walk off the wild-early Sanchez and
stole second. Polanco reached on a throwing error, which also
allowed Utley to scoot over to third. Howard walked to load the
bases. Rollins walked to force in a run.

Fifth inning: Just after Cody Ross hit his regularly scheduled,
no-hitter-ruining home run to tie the game at 1, the
Phillies answered. Shane Victorino,
hitting in Rollins’ old leadoff spot, stroked a double. Utley hit a
long fly ball to right, Polanco another fly ball to center.
Victorino went station to station for the go-ahead run.

“We didn’t come out with a 10-, 15-hit barrage,” Victorino said,
“but we were able to manufacture runs.”

Seventh inning: Roy Oswalt, who pestered Sanchez with a long
at-bat in the fourth, stroked a single to center to lead off.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy brought in righthander Ramon Ramirez to
face Victorino, who laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Oswalt to
second.

If Polanco had been in his usual spot, Ramirez probably would
have gone after him. Instead, he intentionally walked the
lefthanded Utley. Polanco followed with a single to center. Oswalt,
bless his baseball-player heart, took a wide turn around third, ran
past the stunned Sam Perlozzo’s stop sign, and made a well-placed
slide to score ahead of the throw.

“Nice slide,” Rollins said. “Looked like something I would do,
except I wouldn’t have had to slide.”

The lineup change affected when Bochy brought in his relievers.
Lefty Jeremy Affeldt came in a batter later, striking out Howard.
After an intentional walk of Jayson Werth loaded the bases,
righthander Santiago Casilla came in to flip Rollins over to the
left side.

Bases loaded, two out. Rollins tripped the rock slide with a
bases-clearing double off the wall in right-center.

Rollins, who has made no secret of his preference for leading
off, said it best: “Today, I was in the right spot.”

After a strangely uneasy Game 1 and two-thirds of Game 2,
Citizens Bank Park erupted with the festive sounds of postseason
celebration. Normalcy had been restored.

After falling behind, one game to none, for the first time in
eight postseason series, the
Phillies are back on familiar
ground. They were 1-1 after two games in the last two World Series,
as well as the division series and NLCS last year. The
Phillies went 3-1 in those four
series.

“We were pretty loose,” Polanco said. “The fact this team has
been to the playoffs the last four years helped. We turn the page
and try to win the next game.”

They are in fine shape going into Game 3. Whatever lineup Manuel
comes up with, Cole Hamels will be in the ninth spot.

Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or
psheridan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at
http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.