Pat Burrell has been an on-again, off-again whipping boy for the ever-fickle fans in Philadelphia during most of his time with the Phillies. He's the type of player fans and moody old columnists love to boo and hiss at when things are going poorly.
It's all too easy to focus on his limitations as a player, especially when the team is struggling. He doesn't hit for average. He's a lock to whiff over 100 times a season, but he doesn't homer at quite the same pace as teammate and NL MVP candidate Ryan Howard.
For all the criticism he's gotten over the years, it should be abundantly clear now that Burrell is the type of player who can help a team win a championship. He blasted two home runs in Philadelphia's series-clinching win over Milwaukee. He added another -- the go-ahead drive -- in a Game 1 win over Los Angeles, a game the Phillies really needed to have with their best pitcher, Cole Hamels, on the mound.
After all, there are plenty of things Burrell can do at the plate. He's patient and powerful -- a poor man's Adam Dunn. He's drawn more than 100 walks each of the last two seasons and has drawn 413 free passes in the last four. That patience won't lead to any batting titles, but it does mean Burrell is constantly sorting through pitches in search of one with which he can do considerable damage.
And that's a very real virtue this time of year. The pitching is so good and the margin for error so razor-thin that the ability to change the game with one swing of the bat is almost invaluable in October.
The first five innings from Derek Lowe might as well have been a dissertation on the subject. Lowe kept his sinker down in the zone and limited the Phillies to singles. You have to string together bunches of base hits to score even a lone run against a pitcher like Lowe, and Philadelphia couldn't even do that, beating his pitches into the ground for seeing-eye singles, outs and, worst of all, double plays.
But Burrell sorted and sorted, and when he finally got a pitch he liked from Lowe in the sixth inning -- one that was up in the zone -- he deposited it in the left field bleachers and the Fightin's never looked back.
The Phillies have other hitters capable of producing instant offense -- namely Howard and Chase Utley. With good reason, both Howard and Utley are more highly regarded than Burrell, and both will need to hit better if the Phils are going to get past the Dodgers.
But take note: So far, it's been Pat the Bat who has carried Philadelphia through its most important stretch of games in 15 years.
Yesterday's Hero: Chase Utley, who took a tough pitch from Derek Lowe well out of Citizens Bank Park to give the Phils life. Honorable mention to Burrell and Cole Hamels.
Yesterday's Goat: Rafael Furcal, whose error seemed to spark Philadelphia's big sixth inning. No dishonorable mentions from Thursday.
Quick Hits: The Phillies needed to win with their best pitcher on the mound in Game 1, now that pressure shifts to Los Angeles, which needs a good start from youngster Chad Billingsley to avoid a 0-2 hole heading back west. ... Daisuke Matsuzaka needs to attack Tampa Bay's hitters tomorrow night. The Rays are a good, not great, offensive team, but more importantly, Matsuzaka needs to go at least six innings to keep from burning through Boston's bullpen early in the series. ... David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia hit Rays' Game 1 starter James Shields well in 2008. Both struggled in the ALDS. It's crucial that they get off to a good start in the ALCS.