Rabbit, Run

A second baseman by trade playing third base for the San Francisco Giants like ... a second baseman by trade. And it caught up to him early and often Sunday, helping cost his team a run at the outset and putting them in jeopardy enough otherwise.

A pitcher reaching base to lead-off an inning and running the bases for the Philadelphia Phillies like he has a hellhound on his trail, or at least a swift center fielder ready to cut him down, then scoring the first of a five-run inning that put the Giants away for keeps in National League Championship Series Game 2.

Is this NLCS defying predictions, or what?

They thought it was going to be a shootout between Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum Saturday, until Cody Ross sent Halladay's postseason hitless innings streak into the left field seats to start the fun and the Giants ended up squeezing a one-run series-opening win out of Halladay when their own man was good, very good, but not really too close to his customary lights-out self.

They thought maybe Jonathan Sanchez and Roy Oswalt would match zeroes or at least single runs come Sunday, even when Ross — are we beginning to see a pattern here, or what? — took care of Oswalt's no-hit bid in the top of the fifth. After having been the Giants' only baserunner to date thanks to a second-inning walk, Ross with one out unloaded on 1-0 and sent one to the left field seats yet again. At this rate, even Phillies fans are going to hammer in his mailbox out there.

Until the bottom of the seventh came around, Sanchez and Oswalt were doing just what they thought these two lancers might do. Sanchez actually had his worst outing against the Phillies in six starts, the five prior leaving the Phillies with no more than four hits per, but come Sunday, he surrendered five while punching out seven and walking three. The Phillies' apparent strategy — don't let him get to a second strike if you can help it. On strike two, they reached base only twice.

Oswalt to that point was way stingier, having surrendered a mere 2 hits while punching out 8, paralyzing the Giants with his quivery fastball, especially when he threw it higher in the zone, and voluptuous enough curve balls. The Giants went only 2-for-18 on Oswalt heaters and that included 6 of the 9 punchouts. They also went 0-for-4 against Oswalt's often underrated changeup, especially when the pitch went toward the floor of the zone, and measuring Oswalt adjusting to Citizen's Bank Park rather spotlessly.

Which is exactly what the Phillies wanted when they landed him from a Houston Astros club going into not just rebuilding, but blow-and-build mode around midsummer. And wearing their silks Oswalt pitched himself into a tie for second (his company: John Smoltz and Orlando [El Duque] Hernandez) behind Orel Hershiser for the most consecutive postseason starts without a loss (nine).

They just weren't bargaining on a pitcher who has a little Rickey Henderson in his blood when the opportunity presents itself.

Oswalt led off the Philadelphia seventh with the Phillies holding a 2-1 lead and lined a 2-2 service right up the pipe for a base hit, the ball landing just in front of a diving Andres Torres, who seemed to have misjudged his playing angle. That sent Sanchez out in favour of Ramon Ramirez and taking second when Shane Victorino sacrificed up the third base line. Then Ramirez put Chase Utley on intentionally to set up a double play. Only Placido Polanco refused to stay on script and, on 1-0, singled up the pipe.

Here's where the fun began. Even the Giants could see Phillies third base coach Sam Perlozzo holding a stop sign, with Andres Torres, in center field for the Giants and as swift as they come, well prepared to gun one in. Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff saw the sign and positioned himself properly to cut the throw off, hustling to behind the mound.

The problem was that Oswalt proved a scofflaw and Huff proved to have misread the runner. Stop signs mean nothing to him. He didn't downshift for one second. If anything, he dropped the hammer into fifth gear, as if he'd been reading Rickey Henderson's playbook between innings just in case.

He blasted right through Perlozzo's stop sign just before Huff cut Torres's throw off, but Huff set to take the throw rather than catch it on the turn toward the plate. That was all the ammunition Oswalt the Rabbit needed to shoot down the third base line, glancing back twice to be sure of the incoming throw if there was one, then beating Huff's hesitation relay home just beneath Buster Posey's tag.

The Phillies probably still don't know whether to laugh — or call in an animal trainer.

"I ain't that good," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said after the game. "I'm not a cowboy. I might look like one, talk like one, but I'm not one."

"Obviously," shortstop Jimmy Rollins said after the game, with Oswalt sitting nearby, "Roy knew he could make it, so he kept running, or he was just too tired to stop. It was a nice slide, too. Roy, that was pretty nice. That was something I would do. Actually, I probably wouldn't have needed to slide."

Spoken like a man with a three-run double in his immediate future, following the Oswalt slide, which is exactly what Rollins hit after Ryan Howard swished, Jeremy Affeldt (relieving Ramirez) walked Jayson Werth on the house to load the pads for an all-hands force situation, and yet another San Francisco bullpen bull, Santiago Casilla, relieved Affeldt to face Rollins.

This was one of a few inexplicable moves by San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy. Why turn the slumping Rollins back to the strong side (left-handed) when he hadn't been hitting worth the proverbial tinker's damn from the right side? If you want him to whack it on the ground to end the inning, throw to his weaker side.

Not this time. Casilla fed Rollins two balls before sending Rollins something down and in. And Rollins almost predictably sent it up and out and banging off the right field scoreboard wall, sending home Utley, Polanco, and Werth, and leaving the Giants to Oswalt's none-too-tender mercies.

Oh, they managed to set up first and second on Oswalt with two out in the eighth. And Oswalt managed to get rid of Huff for the side, Huff lining out to center easily enough. They also managed to get first and third off Ryan Madson in the ninth, including a leadoff pass to Posey, but Edgar Renteria grounded out to short for the game.

But they also had poor Mike Fontenot playing third base, a position he'd played for only 47 games as a major league player, compared to over 200 at second base. And it showed, when he made a large throwing error in the first inning that helped gift the Phillies a run. He also misread and failed to take command of a third-inning popup, not to mention miscovering his base during that half-crazy Phillies seventh.

The first inning miscue was the tipoff. Utley had walked and stolen second and Polanco grounded one up the line. Fontenot picked it cleanly enough but showed his second baseman's throwing arm, throwing it low and wide enough to pull Huff off the pad, catching a big break when the ball hit Polanco's back leg, deadening it and probably keeping Polanco from taking second.

Then Sanchez walked Howard to load the pads and, after Werth looked at strike three, Rollins wrung out a walk to walk Utley home with the Phillies' first run. But a legitimate third baseman probably throws Polanco out, and Werth's strikeout becomes the side without a score.

Easy enough to figure, and to cause Giant fans to hope Bochy takes Pablo Sandoval out of the doghouse in time to face Cole Hamels in Game 3. A lot easier than trying to figure out what made Oswalt run. Not that the Phillies dare. Though a few actually tried.

"Roy's got those stiff hips," Rollins said, "and he looked like he was cardboard running down the line, but he got it done tonight."

He sure didn't look like cardboard to the Giants.

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