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CBSSports.com Senior Baseball Columnist

After choking in Game 2, Phils ready for heavyweight fight


PHILADELPHIA -- Well, well, well. Welcome to the City of Brother, What in the Name of Benjamin Franklin Happened Sunday night?

Cliff Lee blew a four-run lead? Can't be.

Chris Carpenter was yanked after three innings? Come on.

The Cardinals went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position in the first two innings alone ... and then clobbered Lee, storming back with a 5-4 Game 2 Rocky-esque knockout of the Phillies to even this Division Series at 1-1?

Yes ... and yes.

This game spun out of control early, veered toward the absurd, turned toward the unexpected and landed at perfect. It was the latest delicious chapter of What You See Isn't What You Get, that fabulous new manuscript being written as we speak in Major League Baseball.

The Red Sox were in the playoffs ... and then they weren't. The Cardinals were more Deadbirds than Redbirds, trailing Atlanta by 8½ games in early September and, well, go see if you can get the Braves to tell you their sorry story. Terry Francona? Gone. Tampa Bay? Alive.

St. Louis? By the third inning, you had them going back to Missouri down 2-0 in this series. But by game's end, you were thinking back to them blowing a 3-1 sixth-inning lead in Game 1, and you were thinking, Dang, they really had a chance to stick the heavily favored Phils in a 2-0 hole.

"It's going to be a heavyweight fight, man," Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "They have confidence, they have swag and they believe in themselves."

NLDS: Cardinals at Phillies
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This wasn't supposed to be a heavyweight fight. This was supposed to be the first step on the Phillies' path to coronation. From the time Lee joined Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels last spring, you needed a record book nearby when watching Charlie Manuel's crew because the "rotation for the ages" was on deck to make history at any moment.

And it did. The starters turned in a 2.86 ERA, fourth-lowest by a Phillies' rotation since 1912. The rotation set franchise records for wins (76), strikeouts (935) and fewest walks (221). The Phillies set a club record with 102 wins.

But this news flash just in: After pouncing on Halladay with Berkman's three-run homer in the first inning of Game 1, the Cardinals ambushed Lee with five runs in his six-plus innings to rectify their blown game Saturday and send this series back to St. Louis even at a game apiece.

Halladay settled down after his wobbly start, retired the final 21 Cardinals he faced and regained the upper hand. Lee didn't.

"It's what we've been doing the last month or so of the season," Cardinals second baseman Ryan Theriot said. "We've got a good offense. When we get down early, there's no panic. We just do what we've been doing."

By midgame, the sea of red in Citizens Bank Park -- a park-record 46,575 -- expecting a non-stop October party was library-quiet. Stunned was only the beginning.

"Oh man, you could hear a pin drop out there," Rollins said. "That's something you normally don't get at Citizens Bank Park."

Neither is Lee not being able to hold a four-run lead.

"I take full responsibility," Lee said. "Anytime you give a pitcher a four-run lead in the first two innings, he's in a pretty good spot. And that was the situation I was in, and somehow squandered it away."

Funny thing is, when the TBS cameras hooked up Tony La Russa for an in-game television interview during Carpenter's beating, the livid manager unloaded on plate umpire Jerry Meals.

"What I would add could get you in trouble, but I'm going to do it anyway," La Russa vented. "We're pitching with two different strike zones. Against a good club, or any club, that's an advantage you don't want to give up."

The only problem with that was ... the two-strike-zone charge simply wasn't true. According to PitchFX at the Web site BrooksBaseball.net, a graphic tool that charts pitches, the strike zone for the ineffective Carpenter was roughly the same as for Lee, who was dominant over the first three innings.

To his credit, Carpenter looked squarely in the mirror postgame.

"Everybody's human," Carpenter said. "If you miss 15 to 20 pitches, we might have something to talk about. But everybody's going to make mistakes. I thought Jerry did a fine job."

Carpenter, who pitched on three days' rest for the first time in his career, had other issues that angered him.

"I physically felt great -- shoulder, elbow, body," he said. "Mechanically, I wasn't as sharp as I'd like. And mentally, if I'm being honest with you, I wasn’t as sharp as I'd like. I wasn't locating. That's a lack of concentration ... I wasn't getting ahead in the count.

"Walking Hunter Pence, that's inexcusable."

That was in the first inning, following Rollins' leadoff double (a few inches higher, it would have been a homer) and a walk to Chase Utley. Then, Pence walked, and this was Carpenter? Loading the bases with walks? All three runners scored.

"You take away those two walks, maybe they only score one run," Carpenter said. "Facing a right-hander, bases loaded, no one out ... that's not how you draw it up in the pitcher's meetings."

But as we've seen over the past week from Baltimore to Tampa Bay to Atlanta and beyond, that's both the joy and the agony of this whole shebang. It so often doesn't play out like you map it out in the meetings. Matt Moore throws seven shutout innings against a potent Texas lineup in only his second major-league start as Tampa Bay kicked off its postseason the other day?

And everybody knew coming in, the Cardinals' bullpen leaked more than Nixon's White House. But as La Russa spun through six relievers after Carpenter -- including four in the seventh-inning alone -- they combined to hold the Phillies scoreless over six innings, surrendering just one measly hit.

"My back started to hurt there," Theriot quipped of waiting for all those relievers to come in from the bullpen and warm up.

Physically, the Phillies are the healthiest they've been all season. Given that, and the pitching, they were heavy favorites coming in. But, as Cardinals left fielder Lance Berkman said, "[Lee] probably struggled with his command more than he usually does."

The guy, after all, is not infallible: Include his two World Series starts for Texas against the Giants last October, and in his past three postseason starts, Lee now has surrendered 26 hits and 14 earned runs in 17 2/3 innings pitched, a 7.13 ERA.

"I think it's huge," Berkman said of the Cards storming back to win against Lee. "I don't think you can underestimate the importance of this series being tied 1-1."

No question, the Phillies have their hands full. And up next for St. Louis in Game 3 is Jaime Garcia, who, in two no-decisions against Philadelphia this season, compiled an 0.60 ERA and limited the Phillies to a .189 batting average.

Anybody thinking this was going to be a Tasty-Kake walk for Philadelphia -- especially you folks who went quiet in Citizens Bank Park Sunday -- better think again. Rollins is a street fighter, and he knows a heavyweight fight when he sees one.

"I think they had to be the hottest team going into the postseason," Pence said. "Their run has been remarkable, and they have some extraordinary players. This is two Goliaths going at it.

"We thought it was going to be good baseball and a good series, and that's what we're getting."


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