Monday, August 9, 2010

A Comeback, a Shutdown and a Halladay Surprise

My face is a nice tint of tannish red, if that's even a real thing, after sitting out in the deadly sun to witness Roy Halladay break faces. It may or may not look like a bastardized version of that Jersey Shore cast member inducted into the Phillies' Wall of Fame.

What I'm trying to say is, in that insanely bright, ridiculously prevalent sun yesterday, it was hot. All sorts of hot. But not as hot I'm sure every Mets fan was on Friday.

I watched the Phillies take a 1-0 lead in the first inning Friday night and then proceeded to shower and head up north to see the old parents and, most importantly, my dog. When I got in my car, I tuned in to Franzke and L.A., and grew incredibly disgusted when Joe Blanton gave up runs in consecutive innings — the 3rd and 4th. So disgusted that I thought if I kept subjecting myself to listening to Joe Blanton surrender runs, I was going to go on a road rage tear the likes of which the world has never seen, killing millions before ultimately dying in my own fiery wreck. I decided perhaps it would be best if I switched on over to some music to try and remain calm and, you know, alive during my drive.

How this calms me down, I have no idea, but it does. Maybe it's because Queens of the Stone Age is unleashing on the anger I want to bestow upon the world when Blanton sucks balls. Though to be fair, he didn't give up a single run after that, actually finishing with a tremendous line of 7 innings pitched, 2 runs, 4 strikeouts and no walks. Not bad. But I couldn't take that chance, not with my crazy hands at the wheel.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I ended up at Paul lil' Jon Runyan's house with silver fox during the 8th inning, just in time to witness Bobby Parnell completely and utterly implode along with Pedro Feliciano. It was glorious. Three straight singles to start things off — first by Sweeney, then Werth and finally Ben Francisco — tied the game at 2. Then Curbball followed up by continuing his torrid pace, making it a fourth single in a row for the Phils, plating Werth, 3-2 Phils.

That was all she wrote for Parnell, the hard-throwing righty that Mets fans actually think might be good some day. Luckily, that day was not Friday. In came Pedro Feliciano to quell the Phils, but the hits just kept on coming. Wilson Valdez laid a bunt that Feliciano couldn't make the play on, making it five straight singles, this one to load the bases. Ross Gload followed with a bases-loaded walk, 4-2 Phils. The Jimmy Rollins made it 5-2 with an RBI single. Feliciano did get Raul Ibanez out on strikes, but that was it for him. Another pitching change did little to dampen the fire. Polanco got sac fly to score Vadez, 6-2, and Sweeney followed with an RBI single, 7-2. Six runs in the innings, and suddenly the Phils turned a 2-1 deficit in the 8th into a 7-2 lead in the 9th, needing just three outs to secure yet another victory.

Of course, nothing is that easy for the Phillies in 2010, especially when the game gets put in the hands of that bullpen. Danys Baez relieved Chad Durbin to start the 9th, got two of the first three hitters out before Jeff Francoeur singled. The Mets had two runners on and two outs, down by five runs. I hate Baez as much as the next guy, but with a five-run lead and a little wiggle room, I would have left him in, saved some of the more vital guys' arms. Charlie felt otherwise, bringing J.C. Romero, and Romero, who all the sudden can't get anyone out or throw a strike, tossed up a meatball to Mike Hessman. Hessman destroyed it for a three-run homer, turning a five-run lead into a save situation.

And of course, Charlie brought his closer in. Luckily, Lidge didn't do anything horrifying this time around, striking out Jesus Felicano looking to end the game. It would have been devastating to watch the Mets' bullpen implode and pretty much hand the Phils a victory only to have the Phillies' bullpen do the exact same thing. It almost happened, but as they say, almost only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades, which allowed us to laugh at this guy instead of joining him with a pained face.

There's not a whole lot better than watching Mets fans as their team melts down right before their very eyes, especially in Philadelphia.

However, it was the Mets fans doing the laughing on Saturday. This was your classic pitching duel, Mets ace Johan Santana and Phillies World Fucking Champions hero Cole Hamels plain dealing. Unfortunately for the Phillies, it was Santana who came out on top, 1-0. Not that it was Hamels' fault. Not at all.

Cole pitched 7 innings of nearly flawless baseball, striking out 11 Mets while surrendering just six scattered hits. Unfortunately, one of those six hits was an unexpected opposite-field home run by Jeff Francoeur in the 7th, which gave the Mets the lone run of the game. And that's a shame, because Cole really was breezing, his fastball electric and his changeup unhittable. He deserved better. He deserved to win. Only problem was, so did Johan Santana.

As I'm sure you're all well aware of, the Mets have never had a pitcher throw a no-hitter. Not once. And they still don't. But through 5 and two-thirds on Saturday night, Santana held the Phillies without a hit. And in actuality, he should have taken that no-hit bid into the 7th because he started the 6th by striking out Cole Hamels, then getting Jimmy Rollins to ground out to short, and then striking out Raul Ibanez … who reached on said strikeout when the ball bounced away from Henry Blanco for a wild pitch. So instead of a no-hitter through 6th, Santana had to face another Phils batter in the inning. And with another chance, Placido Polanco broke up the no-htter with a single up the middle. Johan got out of it from there, but it was evident that that hit gave the Phils the confidence that had been lacking all game.

Francoeur homered the 7th, meaning the Phils trailed in the bottom half. But things finally began to look up. Santana gave up a leadoff double to Jayson Werth, suddenly looking mortal. Now all the Phils needed was to get him over to get a hit. That's when things went a little haywire. Ben Francisco, who probably hasn't been asked to bunt since high school, showed bunt on the first pitch, pulled it back and fell behind 0-1 when it was called a strike. I didn't like having Ben bunt at all, now he was down 0-1. To his credit, Francisco tried to hit the ball the other way, but fouled it off. Now he had two strikes and just needed to make contact. He did, but it was to the left side, a grounder to short. Off the bat, I thought, "Oh well, we'll still have a runner on second with one out." Except that's not what happened. Not at all.

Why? Because Jayson Werth made his second boneheaded base-running blunder in three games. Just two nights after getting picked off 2nd at a crucial moment in Florida, Werth took off for third on a ground ball hit to his right (the left side) right to shortstop. All Jose Reyes had to do was lob the ball the third to get him out. Which is what he did. Unbelievable. I like Jayson Werth. I think he's a great player. I would for the Phillies to re-sign him, even though that seems like a remote possibility. However, if he's going to be doing shit like this, well, he needs a swift kick in the ass. I don't know what the hell is the matter with this guy, but he needs to wake up. Honestly, this is the same Jayson Werth that has been a tremendous base-runner for the Phillies, the guy who stole second and third off Billy Wagner to spark the Phils into the postseason. Now he's getting picked off second and trying to get to third on grounders to short? What the hell? Wake the fuck up, Jayson! You're killing me with that shit.

Here's another thing that bothered me in that inning, though I understand the logic. Ruiz followed Francisco's fielder choice by popping out for out No. 2, and Valdez got a bunt single to keep the inning alive, runners on second and first with two outs in the 7th, the Phils trailing 1-0 to a pitcher that is dealing. With the pitcher spot up, naturally he went to a pinch-hitter, unlike that one time, and with the lefthanded Santana on the hill, he preferred a righty. Fine, I get that. The only problem is the only righty he had on the bench was John Mayberry, a younger guy with an extremely long swing and a grand total of one at-bat on the season. A guy that really had just about no chance to get a hit off Santana and his filthy changeup.

A hundred times out of a hundred, I'd feel more comfortable with Ross Gload against Santana than Mayberry. But Charlie stuck to the right-lefty match-up, and naturally, Mayberry weakly flew out to center, threat over. I just don't like the fact that the Phils were relying on a guy that hadn't even played for them, hadn't even been in the big leagues really at all this season in a spot like that. Against Johan freakin Santana. Like I said, I'd have gone with Gload, who actually does pretty good against lefties.

Though Gload would get his chance. To start the 8th, Johan gave up back-to-back singles to Rollins and Raul before getting Polanco to ground into a fielder's choice. That was it for Johan, leaving after 7 and a third with runners on 1st and 2nd. In came K-Rod, that raving douche. Mike Sweeney greeted him with a hard liner … right to first baseman Ike Davis, two down. But then K-Rod walked Werth to load the bases, and up came Gload. I liked our chances here, however, Rodriguez won a tough battle, getting Gload to ground out harmlessly to 2nd.

That was all she wrote, as Ruiz struck out to lead off the 9th, then Dobbs continued to not get hits, blooping out to second, and Dom Brown went down on strikes to end the game. Annoying. Cole pitched brilliantly, but it wasn't enough. Sometimes you're going to lose a game like that to a pitcher like Santana. It's just annoying that it was the Phils with runners in scoring position in the 7th and 8th, yet the Mets were the ones who found a way to score a run.

That meant the Phils would need to win on Sunday to take the series against the pathetic Mets. The good news? Roy Halladay was on the mound. The bad news? So was R.A. Dickey.

In case you forgot, R.A. Dickey owned the Phillies back in May, kicking off the three-game series in which the Phils would get swept and not score a single run by striking out 7 Phillies over 6 innings and combing with Raul Valdez for the shutout. Not good.

However, Dickey hasn't been the same pitcher of late as he was early on. Teams are starting to figure out his knuckleball and crushing his fastball. With the Phillies playing confident ball of late and Halladay on the mound, I fully anticipated witnessing a Phils victory.

I got there fairly early, meeting my dad, cousin and grandfather in our seats in the 7th row on the third base line. The sun was beating down right on us, and I was sweating my balls off from the moment I sat down until the time the game ended. It was not a pretty sight. Not at all. And neither was the start of the start of the game.

Jose Reyes led the game off by doubling to right off Halladay —  though nearly getting hosed by Domonic Brown at second. That guy can throw a baseball. Then Angel freakin Pagan singled to score Reyes, stole second, watched as Halladay got Carlos Beltran to pop out, and then stole third. What the fuck, Roy? When Pagan stole second, Halladay didn't look over. And when he stole third, he didn't even look back at him at all. Terrible. Halladay did get David Wright out on strikes, but Ike Davis singled in Pagan to make it 2-0 Mets. Before you could blink, Halladay had given up as many runs in the first inning as he has been averaging per nine innings. Unreal.

And that first inning would set the stage for the pattern of the day. Roy would have no problems taking care of Carlos Beltran and David Wright, New York's three and four hitters, but he also wouldn't be able to get Jose Reyes or Angel Pagan out, the Mets' one and two hitters.

Though after that rocky first, Roy would settle down, and after a slow start, the Phils got going against Dickey. It all began in the 2nd when Werth hit was looked to be an extremely high pop-up to center. From my seat, I could see the ball jump off his bat, but it looked way too high to be a home run. Carlos Beltran thought so too.

But the ball kept carrying and carrying and carrying, landing over the fence as Beltran face-planted into the wall. The scoreless streak against Dickey was not more, and Halladay did manage to get Reyes and Pagan out in the third, as well as Beltran, going grounder, strikeout, strikeout to set the Mets down in order. That's when the Phils exploded.

In the 3rd, Rollins got things going with a one-out double. Then Polanco reached on an error by Reyes, and Gload made it hurt by driving in Jimmy with an RBI single to left. The play was a lot closer than you'd expect. Fernando Martinez threw a seed to home, and Rollins, with his bad foot, isn't running like himself. However, Jimmy made a great slide and tied up the game. Then Raul pulverized one to straightaway center, crushing it right off the ivy of the brick wall, 5-2 Phils.

Ibanez may have been horrendous in the first half, but he's been downright indispensable here in the second half. Without him, the Phils would be cooked. But ever since Chase and Ryan and Shane have been hurt, Raul and Ruiz have been carrying this offense. Yesterday was more of the same for Ibanez.

And the Phils weren't done. Werth followed up his solo homer with a double, and two batters later, Brian Schneider drove him in, 6-2 Phils. With Halladay on the mound and cruising after that tough first inning, that looked like it would be more than enough for the win. Dickey had already been chased, meaning the Mets had to rely on the bullpen that had blown it Friday for the remainder of the game, while Halladay was beginning to get in a zone. Even Jimmy Rollins leaving the bases loaded in that 3rd inning to end it couldn't dampen the mood.

Roy struck out Wright and Davis to begin the 4th, then got Martinez to ground out, 10 straight Mets out, three straight perfect innings. Halladay was turning it on, and this one was over. That's the feeling you got. Even when he gave up a leadoff single to star the 5th, didn't matter. He got Ruben Tejada to ground into a double play, then struck out Luiz Castillo. The man was dealing.

That is, until the dynamic duo came up again. For the second time in the game, Reyes led off an inning with a double, again ripping one to right in the 6th. Angel Pagan followed with an RBI single to plate Reyes and got to second as Brown fumbled the ball in right. Halladay just couldn't get Reyes and Pagan out. But he still had no trouble retiring the middle of the order, striking out Beltran and Wright yet again, then getting Davis to ground out.

Meanwhile, the Phils' offense stalled against the Mets' long relievers, failing to get another run. Now a 6-3 game, things weren't as comfortable as they once seemed. And it was still hot. Real hot. Something was off. And that something was Roy Halladay.

Suddenly, the cruise control was off. In the 7th, he gave up a leadoff single to Martinez, followed by a double to put runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs. Tejada drove Martinez in by grounding out to Rollins. Then some guy named Chris Carter, and I'm not talking about the wide receiver, smoked a double off Roy to make it a one-run ball game. Unreal. Then Roy walked Reyes, and up came Pagan. I was terrified, but I should have known better. Even without his best outing, Halladay wasn't going to go down like that. He got Pagan to fly out, then whiffed Beltran yet again, keeping the Phils ahead 6-5 with just six more outs needed.

Sadly, the Phils couldn't muster up anything. Now the game was turned over to Madson and Lidge, a great thing in 2008, but a terrifying proposition in 2010. Thankfully, Madson set the Mets down in order in the 8th. That was a nice change of pace.

Of course, some insurance runs sure would be nice with the game most certainly being turned over to Lidge in the 9th. Wilson Valdez got a one-out single, but then was erased on a fielder's choice ground out by Greg Dobbs, who still can't hit. Then this happened, I swear to god. Greg Dobbs took off on a pitch and got caught stealing. Now, I don't know what happened. I'm not a coach, I'm not in the clubhouse, I don't know the signs. But I have to think that Jimmy Rollins missed a hit-and-run sign, right? I mean, that's the only explanation. Because Rollins didn't swing, and Dobbs ran. So it had to be a missed sign, right? If not, if Greg Dobbs, one of the slowest base-runners on the team, was stealing on his own, he should be fucking cut today. That's just insanity. Truth be told, he should be cut anyway, because the asshole can't hit or field, and now he's getting caught stealing. Ridiculous. I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt there and say Jimmy missed a sign. It's the only thing that will allow my head not to explode.

Instead of any insurance, Dobbs got caught stealing to end the inning. Now it was a Lidge time, and Brad promptly gave up a leadoff single to Thole, couldn't throw a first-pitch strike to save his life and had me wanting to kill myself. But then he got Tejada and Carter to ground out, and Reyes to fly out to end the game. The Bridge to Lidge looked to be back for one game. Man, I hate that saying, the bridge to Lidge. But hey, the Phils won, they're still right there and I lost about 35 pounds of sweat.

And Roy won a game in which he surrendered 5 runs, making up for one of the 8,000 times he's given up 2 or less and somehow lost or got a no decision. Baseball makes no sense sometimes.

BallHype: hype it up!

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