It took all of one at-bat to realize that the Philadelphia Phillies were destined to go to the World Series.
And it took another bunch of runners left on base for the Dodgers to realize that they had opportunities, but pretty much blew it each time.
Game 5 of the NLCS belonged to the Phillies for the entire game, as they cruised to a 5-1 victory, punching their ticket to the World Series. Cole Hamels was just awesome, and even when runners did reach base, the Dodgers resorted to their old ways of failing miserably when it came to driving them in.
It's hard to imagine just what in the hell happened to Chad Billingsley, but he was atrocious once again. For someone that had a 3.14 ERA in the regular season and pitched brilliantly in Game 2 of the NLDS in Chicago, everything fell apart. We all know about his bad performance in Game 2 (and his whining afterwards), so this start was huge for him. He got up 0-2 on Jimmy Rollins, ran the count to 3-2, then threw a fastball that was smoked out to right. The crowd was dead already, and this gave them even more reason to just sit on their hands. Ugh.
A double play from Chase Utley helped out Billingsley in the 1st, and only 1 run was scored. It got worse in the 3rd. Jimmy Rollins walked and stole 2nd, but there were 2 outs. It didn't matter as Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell had RBI singles to go up 3-0. After an intentional pass to Shane F'n Victorino, that was it for Bills, finishing with 2.2 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 3 K. Chan Ho Park relieved and thankfully kept the game close when Pedro Feliz grounded out.
It's not like the Dodgers were getting killed, it just felt that way. But going into the 5th, it was 3-0 Phillies. The crowd would periodically pick it up a little, and there was a glimmer of hope that with Greg Maddux on the mound pitching well, something could happen.
Well, something did happen. Rafael Furcal had the worst inning of his life.
3, count 'em, THREE errors later by Furcal, and the Phillies went up 3-0. In fact, 2 errors were on 1 play where he booted a would-be double play ball, then made a horrendous throw home that scored another run. Then Carlos Ruiz grounded one to him with 2 outs, but the throw to 1st was in the dirt, scoring another. Much like Billingsley, I never thought I'd see Raffy just mentally be taken out of the game like that. Wow, I really did feel badly for him.
The game was virtually over then, but Casey Blake and Matt Kemp did single to open the bottom of the 5th, so it got somewhat interesting again. Then Blake DeWitt grounded into ANOTHER double play, and Jeff Kent struck out. That was DeWitt's 2nd DP of the game, and he just looked totally fried after that. I know the announcers thought it was weird that Joe Torre pulled him, but I think it was the right call. He was just completely done at that point, why risk making it even worse?
I'm sure nobody was shocked to see who provided the lone highlight of the night - Manny Ramirez. He was the only one to tag Hamels as he hit a solo shot into right to make it 5-1. The Dodgers were so inspired by that that they... did a big pile of nothing from that point on. Manny's last AB was a single up the middle in the 8th, a fitting end to a spectacular postseason. This October, he finished at a .520 AVG, .667 OBP, 4 HR, 10 RBI, 11 BB. Unreal numbers.
For all of the big hits the Dodgers got against the Cubs, it just wasn't happening this round. Take away both Manny Ramirez and all of Game 3, and their offense was downright embarrassing. Time and time again chances were blown with runners on. It's hard to believe just how lousy they were in those opportunities, but they were. And that's why they're on the outside looking in.
As poorly as the NLCS ended, nobody should lose sight on the fact that this was a great run from September on. They were easily one of the hottest teams in baseball over that span, and it was a lot of fun to watch. Manny was obviously a key factor in all of that, but the pitching staff was on fire as well. It really was a great time to be a Dodger fan.
This coming offseason will be HUGE for them, as there are a ton of decisions to be made. I can't recall the last time the Dodgers faced so many decisions like this, so it will be an interesting ride over the winter. There will be plenty of discussion not only about resigning Manny, but guys like Derek Lowe and Furcal, too. In my mind, the Dodgers will either look nearly the same or completely different from their postseason roster. It will be great to watch it all unfold.
For now, I'll salute the Dodgers for a great end of the season, including their first postseason series win in 20 years. Hopefully this will be the foundation for even more success in 2009.