Philadelphia Phillies defeat San Francisco Giants to extend National League Championship Series

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 22, 2010; 12:28 AM

SAN FRANCISCO - He could not have known it at the time, but in the third inning Thursday night, along the first base line of AT&T Park, the San Francisco Giants' entire season may have been skipping toward Aubrey Huff.

If he had closed his glove around one screaming ground ball, this city may still be still celebrating a chance to win its first World Series. Instead, it will be rife with tension in the coming days, as the National League Championship Series is shipped back across the country, to the home of the big, bad Philadelphia Phillies.

There were no heroes, really, in the Phillies' 4-2, season-saving victory in Game 5. There was a goat. It was Huff, the first baseman who shapes his team's soul as much as any player. Who can say what would have different if Huff had squeezed Shane Victorino's hot groundball, if he hadn't kicked it into center field and allowed two base runners to sprint home? What we know is this: The Giants led by a run before Huff's error. They trailed by a run after it, and they would not lead again.

And so the Giants will have to fly back to Philadelphia, where they will have to beat either Roy Oswalt or Cole Hamels in order to finish off the Phillies, the two-time defending National League champions. Tim Lincecum struck out seven, more than the number of base runners he allowed, in seven innings. Roy Halladay was shaky, pulled his groin in the second inning and lasted just six innings. The Giants had a rare opportunity Thursday night, and they let it bounce off their shin.

The Giants still have the series lead, 3-2, and they still like their chances. "As far as confidence goes," Lincecum said, "we've got a lot of it." But they had a chance to clinch, and defensive mistakes and leaving seven men on base led to giving the Phillies new life.

"We did exactly what we had to do," Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel said. "We won the game. Going back home, we have Oswalt going the first game and Hamels the second, and, like, we're going to have to like it. I do like. I figure we definitely kind of changed things around a little bit."

In late afternoon, the game promised greatness, nothing less. Willie Mays threw out a ceremonial first pitch, introduced as "simply the greatest player to ever play the game of baseball." Halladay and Lincecum were set to reprise their Duel For The Ages that fizzled last weekend. The Giants stood 27 outs from the World Series; the Phillies needed a historic comeback to cement a mini-dynasty.

And then the game started. It was a lot of things - sloppy, dramatic, weird, head-scratching - but not exactly great. The teams combined for two errors and many, many other plays that could or should have been made that decided both the flow and result of the game. They played the top of the sixth inning in a driving rainstorm.

Even Halladay was not immune. If you had to list the starting pitchers you would choose to win one game with your life on the line, you would not name many before you got to Halladay. On Thursday, though, he was only ordinary from the start.

Halladay walked Andres Torres, and Freddy Sanchez followed with a hit-and-run single to center field. The Giants had men on the corners, and Halladay started Huff with two balls. You could make a list of the things you didn't expect to happen after Halladay's first 10 pitches: two base runners, no outs and the pitching coach, Rich Dubee, standing on the mound for a chat.

And then Huff smoked the 11th pitch. He drilled a line drive down the first base line. "As soon as I hit it," he said, "I thought it was by him." But Ryan Howard dove and, somehow, snared the liner. Rather than a run and no outs, Halladay had stemmed the tide.

"We had him on the ropes early," Huff said. "That should have been a big inning. That kind of sucked the life out."

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