Sam Donnellon: Nice to see Rollins join the Phillies’ party

AT SOME POINT he had to join the party. It was implausible, the
thought that the
Phillies could win the last game of
the 2010 season without the help of Jimmy Rollins.

And yet he looked so awful on the right side of the plate, so
feeble on the left side of the plate this postseason, that Giants
manager Bruce Bochy’s solution to escape a seventh-inning jam last
night was to somehow get to Rollins’ place in the order.

Rollins had mustered just two hits in the playoffs, one a little
gift that dropped between three Giants infielders to begin the
fourth inning last night. In the press box, probably in the stands,
in the living rooms and bars across the Delaware Valley, too, there
was an uneasy argument even that pinch-hitting for the
Phillies’ franchise shortstop was
the sharpest course of action. Especially when Bochy intentionally
walked hitless Jayson Werth to load the bases, then replaced
lefthander Jeremy Affeldt with righthanded Santiago Casilla,
forcing Rollins to bat lefthanded.

“I never considered it at all, really,” manager Charlie Manuel
said after Rollins’ three-run double in the seventh broke open the
Phillies’ 6-1 victory over San
Francisco in Game 2 of the NLCS. “When you show me you can do
something, when I see it and trust in you . . . This is a game
where you can really go bad . . .

“I’ve got a lot of faith in him and I stand there and pull for
him. I know how good he can hit and I also know how much he wants
to be up there.”

It’s why none of us are managers. It’s why players love to play
for Charlie Manuel. Whether through his periodic struggles at
leadoff, or his recent struggles to bat as well or run as well as
we are accustomed to seeing, Rollins never quite lost his manager
the way he lost some of us.

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

And he did, throughout some key at-bats against Cincinnati, and
again the other night. Play Wilson Valdez, some said. Bat Jimmy
leadoff where he will feel more comfortable, went the touchy-feely
theorem.

Which is why Rollins’ bases-clearing double off the
right-centerfield wall wasn’t just about sealing a critical
victory. It was about hope, promise, and ultimately – for anxious
fans unaccustomed to seeing their team behind in a postseason
series – relief.

“I was glad I was the person up there at the moment and able to
come through,” Rollins said. “But you don’t celebrate until you win
four games. And once we get to that point, you can look back and
say that was a big hit. But for now, it just gave us a little
breathing room . . . “

The
Phillies head to San Francisco for
the next three games of this series with a little more air in their
lungs, a little better karma now. They chased a pretty good pitcher
in Jonathan Sanchez. It took a lot of pitches and a lot of grueling
at-bats and yes, missed opportunities, but they scored six runs and
chipped away at a Giants bullpen that was supposed to be San
Francisco’s edge. It was a very un-Phillielike rally, fueled by the
leadoff hitter sacrificing the pitcher to second and Bochy then
playing his dangerous game of matchup by having his pitchers issue
two intentional walks, the second to get to Rollins.

Rollins’ double was the
Phillies’ fifth extra-base hit of
this series. While this already eclipses their three-game total
against Cincinnati, it masks this: The
Phillies have recorded consecutive
hits just once in the postseason, back in the second inning of Game
1 of the NLDS.

Rollins came to the plate with one hit in his back pocket, a
bloop in front of the pitcher’s mound that the Giants misplayed
into a hit to start the inning. Rollins didn’t score, but twice he
attempted steals on balls fouled off. He ran all-out and fast both
times and for the first time in more than a month, he looked
something like his old self.

Or his best self.

“If you cover me every day, you know where I’m coming from,” he
said. “You figure out things. You solve problems. Sometimes there’s
going to be confusion. But once you lose confidence, you’re not
going to be able to play at this level.

“God gave me this talent. And I’m going to do something with it.
That’s just the way it is.”

There’s a lot of baseball left to be played, a lot of questions
still to be answered about the
Phillies’ ability to support their
three aces against a Giants staff of the same. But if Rollins has
figured out things, solved problems, rejoined the party?

Well, that answers a whole bunch of questions.

Send e-mail to

donnels@phillynews.com.

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