By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 24, 2010; 1:36 AM
PHILADELPHIA - It was getting deep in the game now, deep in the series, deep in the season. An October epic was taking shape - a benches-clearing staredown, starting pitchers jogging in from the bullpen, runners thrown out at the plate, inning after tension-packed inning creeping by with the same tie score.
It was Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, a game the Philadelphia Phillies were built to win, but one the San Francisco Giants were resolved not to lose. And now, it was beginning to come together for the visitors, the stadium filling with nervous silence - a cheap, tiebreaking homer to right, a fluky double-play to end the eighth.
And then, all of a sudden - strike three! - it was over, the Giants converging elatedly around their black-bearded closer, Brian Wilson, near the mound. The final out of a taut, 3-2 victory was secured - a borderline-call strikeout of Phillies slugger Ryan Howard - and the Giants, improbably, were headed to the World Series.
Your unlikely series MVP: Cody Ross, the waiver-claim right-fielder who had three homers and three other extra-base hits in the series, including a double Saturday night.
"I can't explain this," Ross said in the champagne-soaked Giants' clubhouse. "It's the most unbelievable experience I've ever had in my life."
Your unlikely winning pitcher in Game 6: Left-handed specialist Javier Lopez, who faced Phillies sluggers Chase Utley and Howard a combined 12 times in the series, and retired them 11 times, including one apiece in Saturday night's seventh inning - as the Giants' makeshift bullpen strung together 15 outs without surrendering a run.
Your unlikely hitting hero: Giants third baseman Juan Uribe, who hit the go-ahead homer off Phillies set-up man Ryan Madson with two outs in the top of the eighth - a Citizens Bank Park Special, barely sneaking out over the short porch in right - breaking a 2-2 tie that had stood since the top of the third.
Uribe was just 2 for 25 this postseason as he came to bat against Madson, and he had sat out Game 2 with a sore wrist. But he did hit the walk-off sacrifice fly that gave the Giants the victory in the ninth inning of Game 4, and is remembered on the South Side of Chicago for his defensive exploits in the 2005 World Series.
On Madson's first pitch, a fastball outside, Uribe stuck his bat out and connected. In perhaps 27 or 28 other ballparks in the majors, it would have been caught by the right fielder, or at most bounced off the wall for a double. But in this bandbox, it was a home run, and the Giants had a 3-2 lead.
"We have a different hero every night," Ross said. "It's never just one guy, over and over."
The Giants call their brand of baseball "torture," and this game may have been its ultimate expression. They fell behind two runs early, constantly pitched out of trouble and stranded runners all over the joint. And Wilson's ninth inning was its own torturous affair. He issued two walks, putting the go-ahead runs on base for Howard. But on a 2-2 pitch, Wilson dropped a 91-mph cutter on the outside corner. Umpire Tom Hallion rung up Howard. Ballgame.
"Maybe here on the East Coast, nobody watches our games," said Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff, "but that's the way we've played all year. We're not going to pound people, that's for sure. But our pitching keeps us in every game."
And even before the Giants could get the game into the hands of their closer, they had to endure the sight of ace Tim Lincecum - summoned in the eighth inning, pitching on one day of rest following his Game 5 start - getting yanked from the game after yielding two one-out singles. In came Wilson, who got Carlos Ruiz to line into a double-play to Huff at first base to close out the eighth.
"He gave up a couple of hits," Manager Bruce Bochy said of the decision to pull Lincecum. "I had to go with my closer at that point."
The crowd of 46,062 was at the top of its game, waving white rally towels, chanting colorfully at Giants players and making an ungodly noise whenever the Phillies ran the bases or needed a big pitch. Or especially when the benches cleared and the NLCS threatened to go WWE.
Utley was batting with a runner on first and nobody out in the bottom of the third, in a 2-2 game, when he took a Jonathan Sanchez fastball in the back, right between the 2 and the 6. No big deal. Sanchez clearly had no concept of the strike zone on this night, and Utley started to take his base, something he had done 19 other times this season after getting hit by a pitch. Meantime, Bochy emerged from his dugout to yank Sanchez.
But then the ball happened to bounce near Utley as he jogging to first. He grabbed and - either fiendishly or helpfully, depending upon your perspective - tossed it toward Sanchez. Though it landed several feet from the Giants' pitcher, he stared down Utley and uttered an expletive, which Utley, standing now on first base, returned to him.
It was only when Utley came off the bag and took a step toward Sanchez that the benches and bullpens began to clear. Although there were no punches thrown, each team's full 25-man roster - with the exception of Giants left-hander Jeremy Affeldt, who kept throwing in their bullpen - plus coaches and managers were in the middle of the diamond, as the umpires tried to separate the sides and restore order. Ultimately, a warning was issued to both benches, as everyone finally cleared the field.
Of perhaps more significance than the Utley-Sanchez dust-up was the fact Bochy did ultimately yank Sanchez from the game once the dust settled, bringing in Affeldt to face Howard with two on and nobody out.
Affeldt struck out Howard - the big man struck out a total of 12 times in the series, tying an NLCS record, and has K'd in 30 of his last 56 postseason at-bats, dating to last year's World Series - and proceeded to retire the next five Phillies in order, as well. It was a game-saving effort on the part of Affeldt, who managed to secure the same number of outs (six) as Sanchez had, but in a decidedly more tidy manner.
"I know our guys, and I know we can hit better than that," Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel said. "When you look back at our team, that would probably be the downside of our club this year. We were very inconsistent in our hitting."
The Giants threw a parade of left-handers at the Phillies - Sanchez replaced by Affeldt, who was replaced by Madison Bumgarner, who was replaced by Lopez. A quartet of southpaws, which remains the best way to attack the Phillies.
The Phillies will always feel they should have won the game. They had many opportunities to break it open. They stranded the bases loaded in the fifth - after third base coach Sam Perlozzo held Rollins at third on Howard's double into the left-center field gap - and squandered a Raul Ibanez leadoff double in the sixth.
But it was a series in which the Phillies frequently looked one something short - one bench player, one hit, one reliever, one big pitch.
The Giants, younger, hungrier and just crazy enough to think they could win, had vanquished the NL's two-time defending champs. They are back in the World Series for the first time since 2002, seeking the franchise's first championship since 1954, when it played in New York.
And be forewarned: There will be torture involved.