Frustrated with last year's playoff defeat, the Philadelphia Phillies went out and added Cliff Lee over the winter to an already comically terrifying starting rotation. They did that while keeping the rest of the roster intact, and immediately they became the overwhelming favorites to advance out of the National League to the World Series. With Lee, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt, who could even dream of keeping up during the year? Who could even dream of getting through that in the playoffs?
Well, I don't know how Ruben Amaro's going to respond, and I'm kind of afraid to find out, but 2011 has brought more disappointment - earlier disappointment than Amaro and the Phillies suffered a year ago. Because in 2011, the Phillies matched up with the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, and they lost.
After the Cardinals staved off elimination at home on Wednesday, this series came down to a decisive Friday night Game 5 in Philadelphia. The Cardinals were to throw their ace, Chris Carpenter, on full rest, but the Phillies were to counter with Halladay, and there's nobody you'd rather have pitching the biggest game of the season than Roy Halladay. Roy Halladay is the best starting pitcher in baseball, and so the Phillies were in the best possible hands.
But as Grant Brisbee detailed Friday afternoon, the Phillies with Roy Halladay are not unbeatable. During the season, the Phillies lost eight of the 32 games that Halladay started. Individual baseball games are unpredictable, liable to be decided by surprise performances or weird bounces, and Carpenter turned in just enough of a surprise performance Friday night to lead the Cardinals to a 1-0 series-clinching victory.
Which isn't to say that Carpenter was the only player to surprise. There were two other Cardinals to surprise as well, and they happened to be the first two batters of the game. On Halladay's fourth pitch in the top of the first, Rafael Furcal ripped a triple - his second leadoff triple of the series. In the next at bat, Skip Schumaker worked Halladay for ten pitches before lining a double. The double scored Furcal to give St. Louis a quick 1-0 lead.
And that was it.
Seriously, that was it, for the rest of the game. All 54 outs were recorded without another runner crossing home plate, and so Roy Halladay's second consecutive subpar first inning proved to be the entire difference.
There were jams. It's not like there weren't any other baserunners. Carpenter worked around a one-out double in the second. In the fourth, Raul Ibanez flew out to the track with two on and two out. In the eighth, Halladay escaped unscathed from a bases-loaded, one-out situation.
But none of the subsequent jams turned into runs, allowing the 1-0 score to hold up. After making a poor start earlier in the series pitching on short rest for the first time in his career, Carpenter this time went the distance on full rest, finishing with 110 pitches. He came out and closed the ninth without so much as opening the door, retiring the Phillies' 2-3-4 hitters on eight pitches.
Fittingly, it was Ryan Howard who made the final out. Howard finished 2-for-19 in the series, and he fell to the ground injured as Nick Punto and Albert Pujols handed his routine grounder. As the Cardinals mobbed each other in the Philadelphia infield, the crowd stood, stunned, while Howard lay wincing, tended to by a trainer.
So it's the Cardinals and the Brewers. The improbable Cardinals, who weren't supposed to be here a month ago. Their Cinderella run continues, while the Phillies are left to wonder how this ever happened with one of the greatest rotations ever built.