Rollins, Phillies refuse to lose in Game 4

The Dodgers were three outs from victory with an All-Star closer on the mound, and we were getting used to the idea of a tied National League Championship Series.

Jonathan Broxton’s fastball was touching 100 miles per hour, and it looked like Joe Torre’s team was about to regain home-field advantage. Come to think of it, the pitching matchup for Game 5 — Vicente Padilla for L.A., Cole Hamels for Philly — was starting to look pretty favorable for the Dodgers.

Then Broxton wobbled, walking one batter and hitting another. But he jammed Greg Dobbs for the second out in the ninth. The Dodgers were one out away. This was going to be a huge win for them. Matt Kemp homered, Casey Blake snapped his slump with a clutch RBI and the lineup wasn’t looking so awful anymore.

Then Jimmy Rollins swung.

And everything stopped.

Except the ball.

“Perfectly,” Rollins said afterward when asked about one of the best-placed walk-off hits that anyone could remember. “They were kind of squeezing the gap, but that ball just came out far enough to beat everybody.”

Well, it certainly came out far enough to beat the Dodgers, 5-4, in a Game 4 that will be celebrated and lamented, analyzed and relived, for the next 48 hours and maybe much longer than that.

There are big hits, there are game-winning hits and there are hits that will be remembered by fans who didn’t have a rooting interest in the game. J-Roll’s roll belonged in the third category from the moment it touched down in perhaps the most optimal stretch of sod at Citizens Bank Park — almost exactly halfway between Kemp in center and Andre Ethier in right.

Tiger Woods couldn’t have hit the spot any more precisely if he consulted a panel of physicists before taking his 9-iron out of the bag.

The expert placement enabled pinch runner Eric Bruntlett and catcher Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz to score the tying and winning runs, respectively.

Yes, Ruiz, who is not fast, scored from first. Without a play at the plate. Think about that.

“A perfect spot,” Phillies pitcher Brett Myers said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Bruntlett or Carlos run that fast all year. They were chugging.”

For the Phillies, the impact is obvious: They are one win away from a second consecutive NL pennant, and it certainly looks like they will get it. They have Hamels, Pedro Martinez and Cliff Lee available to start the next three games, in some order, and the Dodgers must win them all.

But there was probably more pain in the visiting clubhouse than there was elation on the home side, because this loss came with more than ordinary October baggage. There is some history between these teams. In fact, there is some NLCS Game 4 history between these teams. And the Dodgers were similarly despondent after the fourth game of last year’s meeting.

downlevel description

This video requires the Adobe Flash Player. Download a free version of the player.

A better bullpen was supposed to prevent a similar catastrophe in 2009.

If you remember — and Dodgers fans certainly do — Torre’s guys had a 5-3 lead entering the eighth inning of that game. Then Shane Victorino tied it with a two-run home run off reliever Cory Wade, and Matt Stairs put the Phillies ahead with a shot that landed somewhere in the San Gabriel Mountains last week.

The pitcher who surrendered the Stairs home run?

Jonathan Broxton.

Now, some things have changed in the past year. Broxton was a full-time closer for the first time. He made an All-Star team. He negotiated his first five appearances of this postseason without blowing a save opportunity, walking a batter, or surrendering a home run.

But he hadn’t encountered Stairs. Yet. No Dodger pitcher had in this NLCS. And then with one out and the bases empty in Monday’s ninth, here he came as a pinch hitter.

The TBS telecast cut to a replay of last year’s epic home run. You could bet that a lot of people on both teams were flashing back to that moment. And I wonder if Broxton was one of them.

Well, Stairs didn’t hit a home run. He walked on four pitches. It was pretty obvious that Big Jon didn’t want to give the affable Canadian any fat fastballs to hit. Stairs took his base, and the quicker Bruntlett replaced him as a pinch runner.

At that point, though, the Dodgers were still OK. Ruiz, you see, was a double-play candidate. With one ground ball, Broxton could ensure that the series would revisit Chavez Ravine for Game 6. And the guy was touching 100 mph, for crying out loud. Keep the ball over the plate and down, and the outcome would probably be good for the guys in gray uniforms.

Oops. The first pitch, a 96-mph heater, stung Ruiz on the elbow.

Broxton hadn’t hit a batter since April 23. Almost six months ago. And that was the mistake that hurt the most.

When he hit Chooch,” Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said, “that set us going.”

Rollins? Well, he’s two years removed from winning the NL Most Valuable Player Award. He has been clutch before. And so it wasn’t too shocking when he turned around that 1-1 fastball — it registered 99 mph — for the fourth walk-off win in Phillies postseason history.

But let me put it this way: The Phillies were so moved by what Rollins did that they toasted him with Don Julio in a private room within their clubhouse after Monday’s game. They talked about winning “one more,” reliever Scott Eyre said.

When asked how many times he had been part of a toast like that, following a non-clinching game, Eyre said, “None. That’s a first for me. That was exciting.”

Rollins was asked about the tribute afterward. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. Then he flashed that familiar smile.

So, you get the idea: This wasn’t an ordinary win. This wasn’t even an ordinary postseason walk-off win. In the seconds it took for Rollins’ double to split the gap, the Phillies went from losing to winning, from being tied in the series to comfortably ahead.

And prior to Monday’s ninth, Rollins was in the midst of an unspectacular postseason. Maybe even disappointing. When he stepped to the plate, he had a .216 batting average — and only one RBI — in eight playoff games.

The three hitters after Rollins — Shane Victorino, Chase Utley and certainly Ryan Howard — had been much more impressive this month. An outsider might think that the Phillies would have preferred for one of them to be holding a bat with the series in the balance.

Not so.

“Jimmy’s a great hitter,” said Myers, a teammate since 2002. “He shines in big moments. Sometimes, with the way his postseason’s been going, you don’t necessarily expect somebody to do that.

“But in that situation, definitely, you want him at the plate. … That was the best swing I think I’ve seen him take all year. It was nice and easy, nice and relaxed.”

And after winning a World Series last year, where did this rank among the most emotional games these Phillies had seen?

“We were down to our last out,” Myers marveled. “That was amazing. Last out. I mean, wow. Off a guy that throws a hundred. That’s crazy. That’s huge. Jimmy stepped up, big-time. That’s what big-time players do.

“This was one of the greatest moments. I can’t even explain it.”

Who could? On the other hand, maybe this is all pretty simple. The Phillies are the defending champions. They didn’t look too impressive through 26 outs on Monday night, but Rollins simply refused to become No. 27. One win away from a return to the World Series, Philadelphians could raise a glass to resiliency.