Burrell felt good entering Game 4
Left fielder predicted breakout game to teammate Rollins
MILWAUKEE -- Hours before perhaps the most significant game of his life, Pat Burrell walked up to longtime teammate Jimmy Rollins and gave him a message. The two had been friends since meeting at a scouting event in high school, so Rollins knows when to ignore his buddy and when to take him seriously.
Rollins considered what Burrell had just told him -- that his recently achy back felt fine, that he had worked out some kinks in the batting cage, that he knew the Brewers would pitch around Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. He considered Burrell's prediction of a breakout game. And then he decided that this was no joke.
"I said I was feeling pretty good," Burrell said.
"He said it, and I heard it and I paid attention," Rollins said.
Burrell then made good on his promise, smashing a three-run home run in the third inning and a solo shot later in the game, effectively ending the Brewers' season.
"I couldn't be more thrilled," Burrell said.
Nor could the Phillies. Sunday's game marked an offensive renaissance for a team that had mustered only nine runs over the first three games of the National League Division Series. Burrell wasn't hitting. Utley wasn't hitting. And Howard, on the rare occasions that the Brewers opted to pitch to him, wasn't hitting, either.
The team that led the NL in home runs, launching roughly eight of them per week, had hit only one over three Division Series games. The heart of the batting order, so productive over six months of the season, was doing almost nothing to help the Phillies win.
That all changed when Rollins led off the game against Jeff Suppan in Sunday's first inning, driving a homer just over the right-field wall, marking his first leadoff home run since June 16.
PHILLIES' BACK-TO-BACK PLAYOFF HOMERS
|The Phillies have gone back-to-back twice in postseason history, both in the National League Division Series.|
|Oct. 3, 2007||1||COL||Aaron Rowand, Pat Burrell||Jeff Francis||Bottom 5|
|Oct. 5, 2008||4||MIL||Burrell, Jayson Werth||Jeff Suppan||Top 3|
"It's been a long time since I hit a leadoff home run," Rollins said. "So when I came up to the plate, I looked up at the sky, and I said, 'This would be a great time for it.' I honestly said that."
Seems Burrell wasn't the only one making predictions. More than making up for their recent power woes, the Phillies hit four home runs in all, with the addition of a long ball from Jayson Werth, who went back-to-back with Burrell in the third.
The back-to-back homers proved to be the most significant, especially considering the context. Brewers manager Dale Sveum elected to intentionally walk Howard in the third inning with a man on second base and two outs, opting to pitch to Burrell instead.
Sveum had his reasons, chief among them being the fact that Burrell entered Sunday's play without a hit in 10 postseason plate appearances. He nearly missed Game 1 of the series with a sore back and seemed as cold as any Major League hitter could be.
"The goal coming into this series is not to let Howard hit two-pointers against you," Sveum said. "It's not that difficult of a decision."
But Sveum will wrestle with the result all winter. Burrell drilled his shot into the left-field stands before Werth added a shot to give the Phillies all the runs they would need.
For the Phillies, it led to a champagne celebration. And for Burrell, it led to vindication.
The longest-tenured member of the Phillies, Burrell has endured more criticism than perhaps any of his teammates, which bothered him just as much as his recent inability to produce. And so rounding the bases after his decisive homer, Burrell couldn't stop the emotion from coming.
"To not be a factor and not help your team win, it gets old," Burrell said. "It can affect you. I was just happy to be a factor and contribute. That's all it was. You take special pride in things."
"He's a hard worker, and he wants to win," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He likes our team, he likes Philadelphia and he talks about winning. I'll definitely stick with my players, the ones that I think can put it on the board. He has the talent, and you never know when he's going to get a big hit."
Now, just like that, there's no longer reason to worry about Burrell heading into the NLCS. If he's hitting, then the Dodgers will have no choice but to pitch to Howard and Utley. If Howard and Utley are hitting, then the Dodgers will have no choice but to pitch to Burrell.
It's the type of effect that the Phillies envisioned long ago, back in April, when they were trying to decipher this team on paper.
"To be in this situation, as long as I've been here with the organization, it makes it all worthwhile," Burrell said. "This has just been a great experience, and hopefully, we'll keep it going."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.