Monday, May 3, 2010

The Second-Best Walk Ever

Remember this?

That was Brett Myers' incredible, unbelievable, improbable 9-pitch walk against CC Sabathia in the first round of the 2008 playoffs, the walk that sparked the demise of Sabathia and the Brewers and really sent the Phillies off on their journey to become World Fucking Champions. We all remember what happened, Brett's two-out walk extending the inning, Jimmy following with a four-pitch walk of his own, and Shane Victorino clearing the bases with a grand slam.

Fast-forward to last night. With the Phils trailing 5-3 in the 4th, up stepped Jamie Moyer with two outs and the bases loaded. Already haven given up five runs himself on a three-run home run by David Wright and a two-run home run to that asshole Rod Barajas, it was not out of the question for Charlie to lift Moyer for a pinch-hitter. In fact, it probably is a move most managers would make. You don't want to waste a bases-loaded opportunity. But Manuel left the old man in, and what unfolded was eerily familiar. Johan Santana, the dominant lefty for the Mets, was on the hill facing a poor hitting pitcher, just like the dominant lefthander of the Brewers, CC Sabathia, facing Brett Myers on that October night. Inexplicably, Santana couldn't find the zone, falling behind 3-1. Moyer didn't foul off as many pitchers as Myers did in his infamous at-bat, but he did work the walk, and the Mets ace, just like the then-Brewers ace, completely lost him composure.

Moyer's walk forced in a run, 5-4 Mets. Sabathia's led to another walk. In both instances, Shane Victorino stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded. And in both instances, he took a mighty hack and sent the ball deep into the leftfield bleachers at Citizens Bank Park. Shane took the first pitch from Santana high for ball one. Coming off a bases-loaded walk for the pitcher, I was all set to go off on my speech that Shane had to see a strike before swinging. But before I could even get the thought in my head, Santana let loose, and Shane jumped all over it. I didn't even have time to get angry at him swinging, because the second he made contact, you knew it was gone. 8-5 Phils, and there was no looking back.

It was like watching a replay of that game two Octobers ago, albeit with less on the line. Though the eventual 11-5 victory did vault the Phillies back into first place in the NL East, a half game ahead of the previously red hot Mets.

That wasn't necessarily the expected outcome when the Mets rolled in to town Friday night, not with Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer slated to bookend Roy Halladay. Kendrick has pitched so incredibly poorly this year that you can't ever expect the team to win when he takes the mound, and for the Sunday Night Baseball match-up, a struggling Moyer was going against a healthy and rolling Johan Santana. Hell, even Roy's start wasn't a gimme given how well Mike Pelfrey had been throwing in the early going, though we've grown accustomed to winning with Halladay on the hill.

Well Friday night just confirmed what seemingly everyone but the Phillies themselves already knew: Kyle Kendrick is not a major league pitcher. He gave up three home runs and four runs in five innings to help keep his ERA well above 7.00 (7.61), as the bats struggled against lefty Jon Niese, unsurprisingly dropping the series opener with the worst Phillies starter since Adam Eaton on the mound. I hope it's the last time we see Kyle Kendrick. Ever. He seems like a good enough guy and all, and he certainly had some surprising early success in his career, but there is just no denying it, he's not major league material. This team has enough pitching problems with the bullpen uncertainty and the injuries. It can't continue to roll out Kendrick to the tune of 7-8 runs every nine innings of work. Just can't.

Of course, it was easy to move on from Kendrick's fourth shitty outing in five starts because Saturday marked game 1 of the Flyers-Bruins series, followed by Roy Halladay coming in to save the day. Let's just say Saturday didn't start out so well either.

The Flyers came out in the first period and looked like a team that hadn't played in a week. They were slow, sluggish, a step behind, whatever you want to call it. The only guy who looked like he had any jump whatsoever was Mike Richards. But he couldn't do it all alone, and the Flyers fell behind 2-0 after one, with both goals coming in frustrating fashion. On the first, Matt Carle, who had an absolutely atrocious game, started playing around in his own zone instead of chipping the puck out quickly when he had a chance. Instead of making the simple, smart play, Carle turned back in his own zone, turned the puck over, and the Bruins were able to get control for an awesome shift that led to that first goal. It all started because Carle failed to get the puck out when he had a chance, trying to do too much. It was fucking stupid. Then on the second goal, Danny Briere completely lost his defensive zone coverage on Patrice Bergeron off a faceoff, letting the Olympian get behind him and bang home a rebound.

It looked like it was going to be one of those games. The Bruins came out and took it to the Flyers, and they showed no signs of slowing down. But Philadelphia came out in the second as a new team. Ryan Parent got the Flyers on the board, and even after giving up a power play goal to Satan, they answered as Chris Pronger fired one from the point on the power play, heading into the final stanza down just a goal. Mike Richards was playing great, assisting on both goals, and the Flyers were finally getting some sustained pressure. After getting outshot 15-8 in the first period, they outshot the Bruins 11-6 in the second.

The Flyers came out in the third the same way they did in the second, buzzing around Tuukka Rask and generating a ton of chances. But then, Danny Briere was at it again. The Bruins won a puck battle on a dump-in, and Briere, instead of following his man, in this case David Krejci, just stood around staring at the puck. As Pierre McGuire put it, he was checking air. As Braydon Coburn, who had an even worse game than Carle, chased Milan Lucic, who as carrying the puck, Kimmo Timonen rotated up to mark his man. Briere was supposed to stay with Krejci. Instead, he just stayed all by himself at the bottom of the circle, watching the puck as Krejci slipped past him and was left one-on-one with Boucher.

A one-goal deficit turned into a 4-2 mountain with less than 13 minutes to go. It was Briere's second costly blown defensive assignment of the game. I don't care how awful of a defender you are, that's inexcusable, especially in the playoffs. The fact he lost his man on the second goal of the game should have been a wake-up sign not to let it happen again.

At that moment, I thought the game was over. Rask has been tremendous all playoffs, all season really, and he was playing well again Saturday. I thought the goal would take the wind out of the Flyers' sails, taking away all momentum, especially on the road. But then the captain answered the bell, depositing a rebound past a down and out Rask to get the Flyers back within one and a little over 7 minutes left to play. Not dead yet.

And then Briere, who assisted on the Richards goal, did everything he could to try and make up for his brutal mistakes, tying the game on one of the most spectacular individual plays in a long, long time:

It was thrilling and exciting and of course I was ecstatic, but after getting pumped and going a little a crazy, the next words out of my mouth were, "Now you owe us another one, Danny." Darroll Powe almost got one for him, but Rask made a great play to deny him, and the game went to overtime.

With Briere's game-tying goal and the Flyers' dramatic comeback, I had a good feeling about the OT … until it actually got underway. In the first minute alone, Boston had about a half dozen incredible chances to win the game. Thankfully, Brian Boucher was up to the task, making some spectacular stops, including a pair against former Flyer Mark Recchi. As odd as it sounds in a game in which he surrendered 5 goals, Boucher played great. He stopped 41 shots, and kept the Flyers in it the entire way. He really didn't have a shot to stop any of the goals that got by him, the way Rask did on Chris Pronger's goal. The guy just seems to step up his game in the postseason as a Flyer. It's pretty crazy.

The Flyers survived that initial flurry and had some great chances themselves, particularly Dan Carcillo, who got sprung on a breakaway by Claude Giroux after Claude pulled off a picture-perfect stick-lift to steal the puck in the neutral zone. Sadly, Carcillo couldn't beat Rask, and the game remained tied. The Flyers looked like they had another great chance developing as Braydon Coburn lugged the puck up the ice with two forwards with him. It was forming a nice 3-on-2, when Coburn inexplicably slowed down his pace to crawl, making the play offsides. I completely lost my shit at that moment. I don't know what the hell happened to this guy, but ever since he took that puck to the face against Pittsburgh two postseasons ago in the Eastern Conference Finals, he just hasn't been the same player. He's regressed incredibly. And Saturday was possibly his worst game yet. Turnovers, sloppy passes, losing puck battles, inexplicably halting an odd-man rush by slowing down at the blue line with the puck, making the play offsides. Where is the guy who looked like a future perennial all-star? The guy who anchored the defense with Timonen and added a dynamic offensive threat, joining the rush and using his size and speed to his advantage? I miss that Braydon Coburn. A lot. Because the maddeningly inconsistent, often missing-in-action one we've been forced to watch most of last season and most of this year is getting tiresome. Come back, Braydon Coburn of 2007-08. This team needs you.

Those few chances aside, however, the Bruins dominated the extra session. It was only a matter of time before they snuck one by Boucher. 13:52 in, they finally did, as a puck found its way to Mark Savard, who scored the overtime winner with a big slap shot:

That was a shitty way to end it. Somehow, the Flyers have to find a way to put it all back together for three full periods. Saturday, they got blitzed in the first period, then played better in the 2nd and 3rd, eventually tying it up, but then were destroyed in overtime. Boston outshot the Flyers 15-4 in the OT. Hopefully it was just a case of them getting the rust off from the layoff and then being a little too tired, overexerting themselves with the comeback. Whatever the case, they can't come out tonight the way they did Saturday, or they'll be facing a 2-0 hole. By the looks of game 1, though, this series has the makings of a close, most likely long battle. Hopefully the Flyers can even it up before coming back to Philadelphia Wednesday.

All was not lost Saturday, however, because of one Roy Halladay, who as nothing short of brilliant. How brilliant? Well, how does a complete game, three-hit shutout with six strikeouts and just one walk sound to you? Oh, and a single and run scored himself for good measure? Sounds fucking awesome to me, which is exactly what Halladay has been thus far for the Phils. His 10-0 victory to improve to 5-1 on the year was already his third complete game and second shutout as a Phillie … in six starts. What I'm trying to say is the guy is good. He completely silenced the Mets, which heading in is what you expected the Phils would need.

Why? Because Mike Pelfrey entered the game with a sub-1.00 ERA and a 4-0 record. But thanks to one hell of an inning, he left with an ERA of 2.40 on the season. The Phils were unimpressed with Pelfrey's numbers, knocking him around for six runs in the fourth inning, highlighted by Shane Victorino's three-run blast. Pelfrey's line looked like the polar opposite of Halladay's: 4 innings pitched, 8 hits, six earned runs. Every Phillie in the lineup got a hit except Polanco, and everyone (excluding Polanco) either scored a run or drove one in. Shane had two hits and three RBIs. Chase had three hits and three runs. Werth had two hits, two RBIs and three runs. Raul and Juan Castro each drove in two. And Curbball had a two-hit game with a run scored and an RBI. Excellent way to salvage the Saturday.

Heading in, that's as good as I expected the weekend to get sports-wise. But I was in for a treat. It all started with the Canadiens evening the series with Pittsburgh behind two goals by Mike Cammalleri, including this mid-air swat:

Then the Phils gave me a pleasant surprise by beating Johan Santana worse than he's ever been beaten before. No, really. The 10 runs Santana surrendered were the most runs he's every given up in one game in his career. And he did it in just three and two-thirds of an inning on 8 hits, 2 walks, 4 home runs (Chase, Shane, Howard and Polanco) and just one strikeout.

But things didn't exactly start out so great. Old man Moyer gave up three runs in the first inning on a three-run bomb by David Wright and his new steroid-aided Jersey Shore-aided body, which prompted me to have this exchange with Arkansas Fred:

Me: Your boy sucks
AF: My boy??????? I'd slap you if I were there

Fast-forward to moments after Shane's grand slam

AF: Well I'll be
Me: Correction, Johan sucks

The Phils scored 9 runs in the fourth inning, all nine coming with two outs. Chase led off with a double, followed by a Howard fly out, and Werth hitting a dribbler in front of the plate, grounding out as Utley moved to third. Then Raul singled in Chase. Then Castro singled. Then Ruiz walked, followed by the best pitcher-on-pitcher walk since Brett Myers. That's when Shane went all grand slam on Johan, Polanco (who homered in the first along with Howard) singled and Chase hit his two-run bomb. Goodnight, Johan. Howard followed with a single and Werth doubled him in before Raul grounded out to end the inning, making it two straight hits, followed by two straight walks, followed by five more straight hits, making for nine straight batters reaching base safely. That's what I call a good inning.

From there, the old man settled in, pitching a perfect 5th and 6th before getting lifted, and the Phils hung on for the 11-5 win, back in first. If you would have told me Jamie Moyer would give up five runs in the first four innings on a three-run homer to David Wright and a two-run homer to Rod Fucking Barajas, I'd have guaranteed you the Phillies would have lost with Johan on the mound. And I would have been gloriously wrong.

The moral of the story is the Mets, despite a recent hot streak, are still not as good as the Phillies. They couldn't even take a series in which they faced Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick, even with their ace starting one of those games. And Johan is clearly afraid of the old man.

BallHype: hype it up!

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