SOME PLAYERS have no problem watching the World Series. They are not watching their own funerals. They are not reminded of their previous failures. Roy Halladay, needless to say, is not one of those players.
When the veteran righthander returned to his Florida home after the Phillies lost the National League Championship Series to the Giants, the last thing he wanted to do was watch somebody else battle the team he was supposed to face.
"I couldn't watch it," Halladay said. "When you get that close and miss, it's just kind of like picking at the scab."
As Halladay owned the mound for eight strong innings last night, striking out seven and leading his teammates to a 3-2 victory at Citizens Bank Park, you could not help but wonder what might have happened had the Phillies not run into a red-hot Giants team in the NLCS. The good news, though, is that as much as the Phillies' offense continues to struggle, last night provided an adequate reminder of the potential of their All-Star-laden pitching staff.
The Rangers played without two of their biggest weapons from last year's playoff run, outfielder Nelson Cruz and reigning American League MVP Josh Hamilton, both of whom are rehabbing injuries in the minor leagues. But the way Halladay was dealing, it might not have mattered. He allowed six hits and one walk, throwing 116 pitches before watching Ryan Madson record his eighth save of the season.
The Phillies again struggled to string together much offense. The only hitters who produced anything substantial happened to be the two players who figure to be most impacted by the front office's decision to promote top prospect Domonic Brown to the active roster.
Ben Francisco, who entered the night hitting .216 overall and .100 in May, hit a two-run home run in the second inning off Rangers lefty C.J. Wilson. The hit gave the Phillies a 2-1 lead after the Rangers had scored a run in the first inning on a delayed steal that resulted in Elvis Andrus' swiping home. Veteran leftfielder Raul Ibanez provided the Phillies' third run in the fourth with his fourth home run of the season.
Francisco will likely find himself on the bench tonight, as Brown makes his 2011 debut against Rangers righthander Colby Lewis. The Phillies plan to give their 23-year-old rightfielder plenty of playing time, including starts against righthanded pitching. That leaves Francisco and John Mayberry Jr. to accumulate at-bats against lefties, some of which could come when they play leftfield, giving the lefthanded-hitting Ibanez an occasional rest.
"John runs a little bit better," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "I think Benny hits a fastball better; it's pretty close. John plays a little bit better defense . . . I guess I might want to get lucky. I want to put the guys in the game who are going to do something. I don't think that will work all the time. But I'd like to establish a guy that I can use most of the time."
The low-key Francisco shrugged off the Phillies' decision to promote Brown. If he is to swing his way back into Manuel's good graces, he will have to do so against lefties such as Wilson.
"I guess I have to go out there and when I play, play well," Francisco said. "It's up to me."
Apart from Francisco and Ibanez, last night brought more of the same. The Phillies managed only four hits overall, and struck out 10 times in seven innings against Wilson. They have not tallied more than six hits in any of their previous seven games, the club's longest streak in the integration era.
But with pitchers such as Halladay and Madson on the staff - not to mention Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt, who will face the Rangers tonight and tomorrow, respectively - the Phillies have the firepower to match up with anybody. After the first-inning steal of home, the Rangers managed only one more run. Pinch-hitter Endy Chavez led off the eighth inning with a double, moved to third on a groundout, then scored on a groundout by Mitch Moreland.
In the ninth, a two-out liner by David Murphy ricocheted off Madson's arm and into no-man's land for a single. Athletic trainer Mark Andersen watched Madson throw a couple of warmup pitches, but the veteran righthander remained in the game, which ended when Carlos Ruiz threw out Murphy trying to steal second.
It might not make up for last year's postseason, but the Phillies (27-17), who have endured their share of struggles, will certainly take the win.