DENVER - Between frosty breaths on the mound, Brad Lidge warmed to the challenge.
Philadelphia’s beleaguered closer stranded runners at first and second base on a bitterly cold night when he got Troy Tulowitzki to fly out to shallow left field Sunday, preserving the Phillies’ 6-5 win over the Colorado Rockies in Game 3 of their NL playoff series.
Huston Street allowed Ryan Howard’s sacrifice fly in the top of the ninth that scored Jimmy Rollins with the tiebreaking run after another apparent blown call by the umpires.
In a game that started with temperatures near freezing and ended past midnight, the defending World Series champs took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series. They can wrap it up Monday when they send Game 1 winner Cliff Lee against Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez.
The save was surely sweet redemption for Lidge. He converted all 48 save chances last year, capped when he struck out Tampa Bay’s Eric Hinske in Game 5 to clinch the Phillies’ World Series title. But he lost his perfect touch this season — he led the majors with 11 blown saves, went 0-8 with a 7.21 ERA and briefly lost his job in September.
“When the postseason starts, it’s a completely clean slate,” said Lidge, who is from Denver. “It’s definitely a treat to be able to play here right now, get a chance to pitch in front of family and friends.”
After Rollins led off the ninth with a single and moved up on Shane Victorino’s sacrifice bunt, Chase Utley hit an infield single to put runners at the corners.
The ball appeared to hit Utley’s left leg while he was still in the batter’s box and should have been ruled a foul ball, but home plate umpire Jerry Meals didn’t call the ball dead.
Umpires have had a rocky first week of the playoffs, including an admitted missed call in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the Yankees and Twins series.
But Lidge retired pinch-hitter Brad Hawpe before walking Carlos Gonzalez, who swiped second.
Jason Giambi, pinch-hitting for Dexter Fowler, fouled out to third baseman Pedro Feliz before Todd Helton walked, bringing up Tulowitzki.
The Rockies’ cleanup hitter has excelled in these situations this season, but not tonight. He flied out meekly to left to end it. Tulowitzki slammed his bat to the ground with both hands when he lifted the routine fly, then flung down his helmet once it was caught.
The temperature when Rockies right-hander Jason Hammel threw his first pitch at 8:08 p.m. was a crisp 35 degrees, tying the record low set when Cleveland hosted Florida in Game 4 of the 1997 World Series. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was the Indians’ hitting coach.
It was so chilly the players’ breaths swirled around them like smoke. The high Sunday at Coors Field was only 36 degrees, a far cry from the 50 that forecasters expected, and the mercury quickly dipped into the 20s for the rest of the night.
At least there was none of the icy mist, bitter wind, freezing rain and snow that blanketed the downtown Denver ballpark a day earlier, when the gametime temperature would have been 26 degrees.
“That might have been difficult for the Broncos to play in that yesterday, much less a baseball game,” Rockies manager Jim Tracy said.
Players and coaches looked like they were dressed for a day on the slopes, not a night at the ballpark, donning ski caps and extra gear to stay warm and dry, and they huddled by heaters and on warmed benches in the dugouts and bullpens.
Fans arrived at Coors Field looking like they had just come from the Broncos-Patriots game, and some of them had, toting thick blankets and winter gear, including some in ski masks and snow pants.
With the game pushed back a day, Manuel ditched plans to give 37-year-old right-hander Pedro Martinez his first postseason start in five years and went with rookie left-hander J.A. Happ instead. That neutralized the Rockies’ most potent lineup, sending third baseman Ian Stewart and Smith to the bench.
Tracy juggled his lineup, benching Hawpe, his All-Star right fielder who has slumped over the second half of the season, and replacing him with Ryan Spilborghs. He also moved catcher Yorvit Torrealba up two spots to fifth in the order to put his hottest bat behind Helton and Tulowitzki.
Torrealba had only a dozen career at-bats from the No. 5 spot, where he looked lost on this night, striking out three times and going 0-for-4.
Carlos Ruiz, a .255 hitter with 43 RBIs during the season, broke a 4-all tie in the 6th with his second run-scoring single, this one off Jose Contreras, who walked the two batters ahead of him. Ruiz sent a groundball up the middle to score Raul Ibanez from second base.
The Rockies struck back in the bottom half.
Gonzalez led off the seventh with a double — his third hit of the night and eighth of the series — and Fowler reached on an infield single when left-hander Scott Eyre injured an ankle coming off the mound to field the ball.
Right-hander Ryan Madson came in with runners at the corners and struck out Helton for the first out, but Tulowitzki’s high fly to deep left that might have easily gone out on a warmer night settled into Ibanez’s glove and Gonzalez raced home with the tying run. Madson then struck out Torrealba looking.
The Phillies put runners at second and third with one out in the eighth but right-hander Rafael Betancourt struck out Ruiz and left-handed pinch-hitter Matt Stairs, sending the shivering and towel-waving crowd of 50,109 into a frenzy.
Chad Durbin threw a 1-2-3 eighth to quiet the crowd.
Hammel retired nine of the first 10 hitters he faced, then had a blowup in the fourth, when he allowed three singles, three walks and three runs.
Utley put Philadelphia ahead 1-0 in the first when he sent a 93 mph fastball from Hammel into the Rockies’ bullpen in right-center.
Gonzalez’s shot into the second deck in right field off Joe Blanton tied it at 4 in the fourth.
Notes: Yorvit Torrealba Jr., 12, who was kidnapped in Venezuela this summer along with a couple of older relatives before being released unharmed, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to his father, who embraced his boy afterward. ... The wild-card Rockies went 44-17 at Coors Field under Tracy, who replaced Clint Hurdle on May 29.
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