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.