Victorino makes lineup switch pay off
Batting second, center fielder belts game-changing slam
PHILADELPHIA -- Playoff games aren't played with pencils and paper, though at times it certainly might seem that way. Take Thursday's Game 2 of the best-of-five National League Division Series, for example. The Phillies needed offense, especially against the Brewers -- especially against CC Sabathia -- and so manager Charlie Manuel spent his pregame time scrawling out an altered lineup.
First, he bumped Shane Victorino, more of a power threat from the right side of the plate, up to the No. 2 hole against the left-handed Sabathia. Then he dropped Jayson Werth, who Manuel sensed was pressing, into the sixth spot.
"I don't ever question what Charlie does," he said, lounging two seats to Manuel's right. "Obviously, I don't think anybody should."
Few can question Manuel after what Victorino accomplished. Batting against a somewhat wild Sabathia with two outs in Thursday's second inning, Victorino drilled his first career grand slam into the left-field stands, giving the Phillies a lead that they would never relinquish. Four runs scored. Sabathia sulked. And the Phillies, thanks in large part to that slam, took a 2-0 series lead on the Brewers heading to Milwaukee.
It was the first grand slam in Phillies postseason history, and the second home run of Victorino's brief postseason career. Yet on this chilly night, with a potential trip to the NL Championship Series in the balance, the Phillies weren't too interested in history. They were interested in Victorino.
"He definitely got the results today that we needed," shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "When Shane gets locked it seems like he can stay there for a while, and hopefully he will."
Locked in for most of September, Victorino on Thursday ensured that his October stat lines would include more of the same. Doubling in the first inning, he then stole third base almost entirely off Sabathia. And he doubled again to lead off the sixth, marking the sixth time over his last 14 games that Victorino has produced at least three hits.
Last 10 grand slams in postseason play
|2007||ALCS||J.D. Drew||Red Sox|
|2005||WS||Paul Konerko||White Sox|
|2004||ALCS||Johnny Damon||Red Sox|
"Shane had a huge night for us," Phillies closer Brad Lidge said. "He's very confident, and he believes in what he can do. He just had a great approach. He was extremely quick with his hands hitting the ball. It was impressive to watch -- a lot of credit to him."
And some to Manuel, as well. Managers might only be able to do so much, but Manuel's one simple lineup swap produced some significant results. Aside from Victorino's three hits, the slumping Werth produced two doubles and scored a run out of the sixth spot, putting at least a temporary plug on his late-season woes.
"It was a good move," Werth admitted, discarding his ego. "Right man, right spot."
Right swing. Victorino's home run rate may have decreased this season, but his overall power was up -- and his flair for the dramatic remained steady as always. So perhaps it was fitting that Victorino, and not a prime run producer such as Chase Utley or Ryan Howard, stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in the second inning.
Already worked into a frenzy following two walks in the second inning to load the bases, th crowd erupted once Victorino sent his grand slam hurtling toward the wall. Tens of thousands of white towels waved in unison, in what's become a Philadelphia playoff custom. And Victorino trotted around the bases -- not a custom yet, but certainly something he could come to enjoy.
"Did that really just happen?" Victorino recalled thinking as he rounded the bases.
It really did. And the Phillies, now leading two games to none, are far better for it.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.