As I watched the Philadelphia Phillies rally for two runs in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-4 in Game 4 of the NLCS Monday, it occurred to me that this October has been a real rough ride for closers.
I did some research on the 20 postseason games that have been played so far (including the AL Central play-in game between Detroit and Minnesota), and I determined that there have been 7 blown saves in the ninth inning or later in those 20 games. That seems like a really high number to me.
A few of these implosions have been of the spectacular variety, too. One of the things I learned in reviewing the box scores from these games is it's not a very good idea to put men on base when protecting a lead in the late innings of a playoff game. Walks, hit batsmen and bonehead errors have cost teams dearly during this postseason. Several of these rallies have occurred with two outs. Here's a look at the four most outrageous meltdowns of the 2009 baseball playoffs:
Oct. 8: Dodgers 3, St. Louis 2 -- The Cardinals possessed a 2-1 lead heading into the ninth inning and closer Ryan Franklin retired the first two men he saw. Then, all hell broke lose. St. Louis left fielder Matt Holliday misplayed a fly by James Loney into a two-base error. Franklin lost his cool, walked Casey Blake, surrendered a game-tying single to Ronnie Belliard, walked Russell Martin and gave up a game-winning single to the immortal Mark Loretta.
Oct 11: L.A. Angels 7, Boston 6 -- "Oh, Paps! How could you let us down like this?" cried ESPN and Red Sox Nation (Is that redundant?). Closer Jonathan Papelbon had never allowed a run in the postseason in his career. That is, until he tried to protect a 6-4 lead against the Angels in the ninth inning of this game. Papelbon retired the first two hitters. Then, he completely lost it. Erick Aybar singled. Paps foolishly walked Chone Figgins to bring Bobby Abreu to the plate representing the go-ahead run. Why would you walk Figgins? He's a slap hitter. Throw him a strike and the worst thing that will happen is he'll hit a single. He's not threat to tie the game. Anyway, Abreu doubled in a run. After an intentional walk to Torii Hunter loaded the bases, Vladimir Guerrero came through with a two-run single to give the Angels the lead. You lose, Paps.
Oct 12: Philadelphia 5, Colorado 4 -- Huston Street had a 4-2 lead and he seemed to be doing OK. The Phillies had Shane Victorino on second base, but two were out. As long as Street could keep the ball in the ballpark, you'd figure he'll get the save, right? Well, Street lost all conception of the strike zone and walked Chase Utley. Dumb move, as that brought Ryan Howard, the best RBI man in the National League, to the plate representing the go-ahead run. Howard lashed a game-tying double into the right field corner. Next, Jayson Werth singled to bring in Howard with the eventual game-winning run. Shouldn't have walked Utley....
Oct. 19: Philadelphia 5, Dodgers 4 -- This time, it was Jonathon Broxton's turn to gag. While trying to protect a 4-3 lead, he created his own mess by walking Matt Stairs and beaning Carlos Ruiz (pictured). That put runners on first and second and got the Phillies back to the top of their order. Broxton had two outs, though. Ehh...he blew it. Jimmy Rollins delivered a two-run double and gave the Phillies a 3-1 lead in the series.
A couple lessons learned from watching these playoffs: 1) It's not over until it's over, even with two outs in the ninth, and 2) Don't walk people with a lead, for cryin' out loud.