To force a Game 6, the Philadelphia Phillies offense needed to figure out San Francisco Giants ace Tim Lincecum. They did not, but, helped by an umpire’s blindness, a bad hop, and a hit-by-pitch, enough runs were scored against the the unorthodox right-hander to send the NLCS back to Philly.

How they pushed them across makes the season-prolonging trip to Philadelphia far from deserving. Lincecum sent the first six down and, considering how well he was mixing his pitches and how fooled the Phillies were, he appeared to be well on his way to another dominating start.

Then came the third, a nightmarish inning for the Giants and their fans. Raul Ibañez led off with a blistering single to right and absurdity ensued. Ahead 0-2 on a completely overwhelmed Carlos Ruiz, Lincecum’s change-up missed its spot and drifted inside. It headed towards Ruiz, but its pace was slow, meaning Ruiz had plenty of time to react and move out of the way.

Did he? No. He just took the pitch right in the side without a flinch. Umpires can nullify a hit-by-pitch if they feel the hitter doesn’t make an effort to get out of the way. This was certainly a time for that rule to go into effect, but umpire Jeff Nelson pointed to first. With that, a rally was formed, and with what followed, Nelson made some more enemies in the crowd, in the Giants dugout, and on the field.

Opposing pitcher Roy Halladay was up with one goal in mind: to bunt the runners to second and third. In essence, he did, but, if Nelson was competent, he wouldn’t have. The ball was bunted off home-plate, but it trickled foul. Nelson signaled fair.

Halladay didn’t run, thinking it was called foul. He was thrown out at first by third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who received Buster Posey’s throw in time to get Ibañez at third but, with Sandoval well off the bag, Halladay’s goal was attained.

Shane Victorino capitalized, but needed a favorable hop to indeed deliver. He laced a fastball from Lincecum to Aubrey Huff, a ball the first baseman should have been able to snag but instead watched ricochet off his glove and hit hard off his knee.

The ball struck his left knee so hard the ball shot into the center-field grass on a couple of bounds. Both runners scored with ease. Two gaffes by the umpire and an error; the Giants lead was lost. Adding insult to injury, Placido Polanco followed by driving in the third Phillies run with a single.

But, as in Game 1, Halladay wasn’t at his best atop the mound, as the fourth inning indicated. San Francisco needed to put the disastrous third behind them, and then did, as Pat Burrell and the continuously clutch Cody Ross hit back-to-back one out doubles to trim the margin in half.

Yet, though Halladay had his hiccups from time to time, he wasn’t that hittable. No more production came San Francisco’s way in the fourth, nor in the following five innings.

Halladay pitched six, and the bullpen did the rest. Jose Contreras, once a fairly good starting pitcher, then a mediocre starting pitcher, and now a valuable reliever, retired two in the seventh and J.C. Romero put the finishing touches on the frame. The Giants were six outs away from having to go back to Philadelphia, an unenviable situation despite their series advantage.

Ryan Madson dominated in the eighth, striking out the dangerous trip of Posey, Burrell, and Ross primarily using a cut-fastball with devastating late break down. He used his changeup, seen as his best pitch, only once. Closer Brad Lidge, who hadn’t pitched since struggling in Game 1, sent down San Francisco in order as well.

As the Giants were unable to clinch a World Series berth with their best pitcher on the mound, they now must win one of the next two games in hostile territory. Their offensive struggles are worrisome, but if the umpires can regain their competence and eye-sight in Game 6 and if the Giants possess the ability to field well, San Francisco will be World Series bound. It will just happen a couple days later than they had hoped.

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