While the Phillies found themselves up two-games-to-one, Burrell's performance at the plate in the first three games of the series was pitiful. In ten plate appearances, Burrell had reached base just twice, both times on walks, and his offensive struggles were hurting his team. It was then that longtime teammate and friend Jimmy Rollins took it upon himself to straighten Burrell out. To tune him up, if you will.
Rollins firmly told Burrell that whether his back was hurting or not, it was time to step up. The message got through.
Burrell took some extra swings prior to Game Four and carried the Phillies by driving in four runs on three hits - two of them home runs - as the Phillies beat Milwaukee 6-2 to advance to the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. After the game, Burrell let the media know that it was Rollins who gave him a kick-start and also served notice that he was not going to be held down, back injury or not.
So, why is Pat Burrell the key?
Teams are always careful with Ryan Howard, but in the playoffs, they're going to be even more careful. Evidence the barrage of sliders, mostly out of the strike zone and all of them down, that Howard saw against Derek Lowe in Game One of the NLCS. While the Phillies don't want Manny to be Manny, the Dodgers don't want Ryan to be Ryan. That means that Howard will either have to wait patiently and pick on any mistakes that he gets or simply allow the Dodgers to work around him, even taking some walks if that's how they're going to approach him. That task becomes all the more important if Pat Burrell is on fire.
With Burrell swinging a hot bat behind Howard, L.A. will do all they can to keep Howard off base and may decide to go right after him in some spots. That will open them up to tossing up some mistakes, giving Howard something that he can work with at the plate and hopefully, an opportunity to do some damage of his own.
If Burrell limps his way through the series, the Dodgers then can simply work their way around Howard and go after Burrell.
It's much easier for teams to work around Howard than it is for them to work around Burrell, since Howard is much more of a free-swinger and is less willing to take a walk when it's there for the taking. While taking Burrell's bat out of the lineup by walking him might be one strategy for the Dodgers to employ, that leaves them with Jayson Werth to deal with behind Burrell, which can also be a tricky proposition.
Burrell can also help his club defensively. He made a couple nice plays on balls hit to left field in the post-season and has a strong enough arm that he'll be able to cut down runners trying to be too aggressive on the basepaths.
Keep in mind that Burrell is a free agent after the World Series and he's stated that he wants to stay in Philly. A big performance in the post-season will do a lot to keep him in town, since it will be much more difficult for GM Pat Gillick (or whoever takes over for him) to let Burrell walk if he plays a major role in any success that the Phillies have in October. And if they do let him get away, a big post-season performance stacked on top of his 33 home run season will add a few dollars to the asking price for his services on the open market, while the Phillies would likely be able to enjoy a potentially deeper hometown discount to re-sign Burrell.