Thursday, September 17, 2009

Double Steals, Double Plays and Grand Slams

Defying the laws of daylight, it was dark outside pretty much all day yesterday. This was a discouraging scene — both because it played a part in my awful day at work and because it looked as though it may rain any time and I was headed to the Phils game at night. But that darkness turned out to be nothing more than an idle threat, as not a drop of moisture fell from the sky, and the cool air made for a perfect night at the ballpark.

Upon taking my seat in section 106, I was greeted to the sight of a two-out Chase Utley single followed by another single by Ryan Howard, this time to right allowing Chase to go first to third. Then, with Raul up and the count 2-2, I see Howard take off for second. The Nationals throw down to second, and immediately, Chase breaks home. Howard, with his new and improved speed, beat the throw to second, picking up his seventh stolen bag of the season, and Chase got such a tremendous jump that there wasn't even a throw home — a perfectly executed delayed double steal.

It was the second time this season that I saw a Phillie steal home in person.

Speaking of Jayson Werth … boy did that guy have a great game. Really, he's had a great season: All-Star, 30-plus home runs, great play in the outfield. And it was his great play in the outfield that really got the Phils going. Still holding a 1-0 lead from that first-inning steal of home by Chase, Joe Blanton was struggling through the sixth inning. It was one of those nights for Blanton — he was striking out a ton of hitters, but he was also shaky with his control and getting hit around a little bit.

The sixth inning was the epitome of his performance. He led things off by striking out Josh Willingham. That was followed by a single from Ian Desmond, the shortstop Washington called up last Thursday against the Phillies and has just gone and hit nearly .600 since. Blanton followed that up with a six-pitch walk to Justin Maxwell, putting runners on first and second with just one out … in a one-run game. Not good.

That's when the Nationals showed their true colors. After a visit from Rich Dubee, Blanton fell behind Will Nieves 3-1. He dropped in a slider to make it 3-2, and with a 3-2 count, the Nationals started the runners. That didn't work out so well. On that 3-2 pitch, Nieves hit a liner to right field. Werth came on, made the catch and threw back to first to double up Maxwell for the 9-3 double play to end the inning. That was just the beginning of Werth's big night.

After the Phils eked out another run in the bottom of the inning thanks to some horrendous defense by Washington, the Phils kept their two-run lead with some strong defense of their own. Chan Ho Park came in to relieve Blanton, giving up a leadoff single followed by an error on Howard to put runners on first and second with no outs. Christian Guzman followed with a poor bunt, allowing the Phils to get the lead runner. Still runners on first and second, now one out. That's when Ryan Howard did this. Two big double plays in back-to-back innings in a tight game. That's why the Phillies are in first and the Nats are in dead last.

Then Werth put the icing on the cake. After Jimmy and Shane both grounded out to start the bottom of the seventh, all it took was Chase Utley to get hit by a pitch for the two-out rally to start. Utley stole second, Howard was walked and I turned to silver fox and Adam EatShit and proclaimed that Raul was about to go deep. I could feel it. Instead, Ibanez worked a 9-pitch walk, fouling off three straight 3-2 pitches before taking a ball to load the bases. One pitching change and five pitches later, Werth cleared the bases with a towering grand slam.

Obviously, Werth had no interest in seeing a closer last night. He's had enough. That was all she wrote for the Nats. The magic number is down to 11.

Sadly, just as was the case with the Eagles Sunday, it's not all good news. Chan Ho Park, who has been excellent since moving from horrible starter to reliable reliever, is out indefinitely after hearing a pop in his hamstring on his last pitch in the seventh inning.

It'd be nice if Clay Condrey and J.C. Romero (and Scott Eyre) would come back here sooner or later. I'm guessing this doesn't bode well for J.A. Happ's desire to start in the playoffs, but time will bear that out. With his success and experience in the bullpen this season, Happ may be too valuable as a lefthanded reliever come playoff time, especially with Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Pedro Martinez and Joe Blanton looking like a fearsome foursome for the postseason.

Oh, and it was nice to see Greg Dobbs is still alive, even if all he did was ground out last night. Welcome back, Greg.

BallHype: hype it up!

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