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Phils, Giants head east grappling for momentum

Phils, Giants head east grappling for momentum

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants had their chance to put away the dangerous Phillies in Game 5 on Thursday night, but couldn't. Now the two teams are back east to finish the National League Championship Series, with San Francisco holding a one-game advantage.

The Phillies have to like their chances in Game 6, not only because they're back home, but also because they'll be starting Roy Oswalt, who has never lost at Citizens Bank Park. The Giants, meanwhile, will counter with left-hander Jonathan Sanchez.

Here are some storylines heading into Game 6.

How do the Giants respond?
San Francisco was one win away from advancing to the World Series in front of its hometown fans, and while the Giants are still just one victory from going to the Fall Classic, Thursday's 4-2 loss has got to feel like a big disappointment.

It's not as if the Giants are going to wilt under Philadelphia's bright lights. They are, after all, used to tight ballgames and near-heartbreak. Although they haven't faced pressure such as this before, Giants manager Bruce Bochy is convinced the torture they've experienced all season has prepared them for this situation.

"These guys, they've been battle tested," Bochy said of his team. "We know we're playing a club that's loaded with experience, and they are [battle-tested], too. But I like the way my team has handled everything thrown at them, and they'll go out there and give it their all. That's all you can ask."

Plus, as confident as the Phillies are in having Oswalt and Cole Hamels on the bump, should the series go to seven games, the Giants feel just as positive with Sanchez and Matt Cain slated to face them.

Did the Phillies steal back momentum?

Sure, the Giants still are leading the series and only need to win one of two, but for some reason, it just doesn't feel like they're in complete control. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said during Friday's workout that he likes the position his team is in back at home with Oswalt and Hamels ready to go.

"I think the fact that we did win [Thursday], and we got a good chance now to win because of who we got pitching. And basically, because we're home and our fans are going to be out here to see us play, and also, we like to play in Citizens Bank Park, of course," Manuel said. "That gives us a little advantage, but then we've got to win. The bottom line is we've got to win tomorrow."

The Phillies are a team that's been there, done that, and if they get the slightest whiff of vulnerability from the Giants, one would have to think they'd pounce on it.

How will Wednesday's relief appearance affect Oswalt?
In theory, this isn't that big of a deal. After all, Oswalt pitched in Game 2 on Sunday, so Wednesday was his day to throw his side session regardless.

But Oswalt had already thrown that side session before his 18-pitch outing in the Game 4 loss. Although pitcher's arms are accustomed to throwing side sessions, they aren't used to throwing one and then another later the same day.

On Friday, Oswalt seemed confident the extra pitches wouldn't negatively affect him. Then again, the extra work could begin to slow the veteran righty earlier than normal, forcing the Phillies to turn to their bullpen sooner than usual.

Can Sanchez deliver again?
In the regular-season finale, Sanchez pitched the Giants into the postseason, throwing five shutout innings against the Padres to clinch the NL West title. In that outing, the left-hander stepped up and finished the job after Cain and Barry Zito couldn't in the two previous games.

Although Tim Lincecum pitched well in Game 5, Sanchez -- often the forgotten pitcher in the Giants' vaunted rotation -- has another opportunity to further cement his legacy in San Francisco lore with a fitting addition to the clincher against the Padres and his 2009 no-hitter. Regardless of the opportunity to clinch the pennant, Sanchez said Friday he's confident those experiences, as well as this postseason, will help him control his emotions on Saturday.

"It doesn't make a difference," Sanchez said. "I've been in that situation before. I faced San Diego. I faced Atlanta. They're postseason games, so it's going to be the same."

The Giants hope Sanchez can once again step up and send them to the next -- and final -- stage of the season.

Cash Kruth is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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