Friday, August 6, 2010

The Most Bizarre Final Innings Ever

Last night was game 1 of our three-game slow-pitch softball championship series, so I missed most the Phils game. (We won, by the way.) The last thing we heard, the Phils were up 2-0 and Roy Oswalt was tossing a two-hit gem in his second outing as a Phillie. The next thing we know, we walk in the door and the Phils trailing 4-2 in the top of the 8th. Awesome.

We found out later that J.C. Romero walked in a run as the wheels came off in the 7th, with Oswalt giving up a single and walk to start the inning, then Romero and Contreras blowing it even further from there. Man does this bullpen stink.

Then the 9th inning happened, one of the weirdest, ugliest, unbelievable innings of baseball I've ever seen in my entire life. Down two runs with a flame-throwing youngster on the hill, the Phils had the heart of their order coming up to face a guy that had thrown some 30 pitches the night before. You really couldn't ask for a better setup to try and redeem another choke job from the bullpen. And things got even brighter when Placido Polanco started things off by reaching on an errant throw by Hanley Ramirez. I don't what's worse, the Phillies' bullpen or Florida's defense. Seriously, those guys suck hard at fielding.

That was all the spark the Phils needed. Over the past three seasons, the Phillies have been a team that absolutely punishes opponents late in games, capitalizing on mistakes and coming from behind to win. That's been mostly absent in 2010, but as the Phils get hotter and hotter, even with their two offensive stars and starting centerfielder out of the lineup, you can see these guys beginning to get that come-from-behind confidence back. And that was on full display last night.

Following Ramirez's error, Ross Gload, wearing an 0-for-4 collar on the night before this at-bat, roped a sinlge up the middle. I was beginning to get excited. Then the red-hot Raul Ibanez stepped to the plate and took a mighty hack. When he hit it, I thought for sure it was a fly out. He got so far under it and hit is so high, there was no way it was going out. Except that it almost did. Carrying through the humid Florida air, the ball disappeared against the white of the Goya sign in left-center, and for a moment, I thought it had cleared he wall for the go-ahead three-run homer. It didn't, but it did result in an RBI double, plating Polanco to make it a one-run game with runners on second and third and still no one out.

Jayson Werth followed with a great at-bat himself, singling just past the drawn-in, diving Ramirez, tying the game at 4-4, still no one out and runners at the corners. Sweet.

That's when things really turned screwy. Everyone's favorite late-season rookie sensation Domonic Brown (who had already singled and scored a run on Curbball's two-run double in the 6th) stepped to the plate. I called for his first home run, feeling almost certain he was about to get his first in grand fashion. Instead, he ripped a single to first. Ibanez was off on contact, and got gunned at the plate. No run, runners on 1st and 2nd, one out. With Carlos Ruiz at the dish, a guy who has been absolutely crushing the ball of late, especially against the Marlins, the Phils were still in a great spot, especially considering Chooch had already driven in two runs.

But then, inexplicably, Jayson Werth got picked off of second. It was like he was trying to steal on first movement, and he was a dead duck, with no chance to get back. Two outs. It was unbelievably bad. I understand his thinking, getting to third with less than two outs, giving Ruiz a chance at a sac fly to take the lead, or even scoring on a wild pitch. But if you're gonna go, you have to make it, have to know for sure you're going to make it. Turns out, Werth wasn't even sure that Nunez was going home with the pitch. And he was toast. That right there killed the rally, even if Ruiz was still up with a runner on.

That 9th inning alone was sort of a microcosm of Werth's season this year. He does some great things, then just looks completely awful. He started the season out playing as good as anyone in baseball, tearing the cover off the ball, playing flawless defense. Then he couldn't hit a beachball, flailing and lunging and getting caught looking, while he uncharacteristically made a few bad errors in the field. Then he got hot again, then cooling off this series. And last night, he ties the game with an RBI single in the 9th, then gets picked off of second in the very same inning to all but assure the Phils wouldn't take the lead that looked inevitable.

To put a capper on the weirdness, Domonic Brown got caught stealing to end the inning. Admittedly, with Ruiz already having two strikes on him, I was on the same page as Brown and the Phillies. I send, "They should send Brown now, try to get him in scoring position." Problem is, the Marlins were on the same page too, pitching out and getting Brown easily. Unbelievable. The Phils had just mounted a great comeback, taking advantage of an ill-timed error, to tie the game AND had runners on first and third with no one out. Then they ran into three outs, not getting another run. I honestly don't think I've ever seen that before. Ever. Stunning.

At that point, Adam EatShit said what we were all thinking, that the Phillies were definitely going to lose this game now. Given this team's bullpen and the way it had squandered what could have been a gigantic inning — albeit tying the game in the process —  it seemed like a gut-wrenching loss was on the way. Especially with the top of Florida's lineup due up. Little did we know the inning was about to get even weirder.

Predictably, things started out terribly, as head case Ryan Madson hit Hanley Ramirez with a pitch. He did redeem himself by getting Logan Morrison on strikes, but now he had to deal with Gaby Sanchez. That's when this happened. After Hanley stole second, Sanchez absolutely ripped one down the third-base line, destined to be the game-winning hit. Adam's prediction had come true. Only it didn't, because somehow, some way, third-base umpire Bob Davidson called the ball foul. My roommate and I looked at each other. Immediately, before any replay was shown, he said, "That was a fair ball." I said I thought so too. And upon further review, it absolutely was. No doubt about it. The ball was scalded, hit the third base line before the bag, bounced over it and then landed a good six inches or so in fair territory on the other side of the bag. Unless, as either Wheels or McCarthy put it (I don't remember which one it was), it took a Bugs Bunny turn, that ball, by sheer physics, had to have gone over the bag.

It hit fair and landed fair. But Davidson called it foul. And on the very next pitch, Madson struck Sanchez out. Talk about getting a second chance. Sanchez was rightfully pissed off in the dugout, slamming down his equipment and clearly yelling obscenities. That's when Adam reversed course, and said,"Now we're definitely winning this game." Madson then intentionally walked Dan Uggla, and struck out Cody Ross on three pitches to end the inning.

With a second life and a fresh count thanks to Dom getting caught stealing, Curbball came through yet again, crushing a solo homer run to give the Phils the lead in the 10th. Ruiz must think it's October or something. I love that guy.

You know who I don't love? Greg Dobbs. Not even a little bit. You know why? Because he sucks. Really, really, really sucks. Following Ruiz's awesome home run, Dobbs struck out and didn't even come close to doing anything with pitch. He's now hitting .191 on the season. Seriously, .191. This a year after batting .247. He hasn't had a hit in forever. And he can't field even a little bit. Say what you want about Cody Ransom and his shitty sub-mendoza line average, but at least that guy can field a little bit. Dobbs is worthless, and there's absolutely no reason whatsoever, even with all the injuries, that a guy who is batting .191 with a .254 on-base percentage and cannot field is still on a team and playing for a squad that is in the midst of a tight division race in August. Greg Dobbs shouldn't even be sent to the minors. He should be sent into retirement. He's awful. There is absolutely no way this guy should be on the Phillies anymore. It's not 2008 anymore. Send him packing.

Sorry, got a little off-track there. After Dobbs did what he always does these days, it looked as though Ben Francisco had given the Phils a much-needed insurance run, demolishing a pitch down the left field line. When he hit it, from the angle we were shown live, I was certain it was a home run. But Davidson called it foul, and I thought for sure he had fucked up the call again. However, video replay confirmed that, yes, the ball was indeed foul, no doubt about it. And even if it had been fair, it would be hard to complain, seeing as the Marlins would have won and all if he made the right call in the 9th. So thanks, Bob. We appreciate it. Francisco wound up flying out to center and Jimmy continued his epic season of suck at the plate, striking out to drop his average to .241, which is still 50 points higher than Dobbs.

Of course, this game was still far from over. You know, because Brad Lidge was coming into the game to try and somehow not blow a save. Adam asked us what we thought, and my roommate and I both agreed that we thought Lidge would get the job done, but we also both agreed to set the over/under on base runners at two and both took the over.

When heralded rookie Mike Stanton led off the inning with a scalded single, our bet looked safe, and we all became nervous. But then, even with starting out 1-0 to the next two batters on extremely high fastballs, Lidge looked like a new man. He struck out Wes Helms with filthy slider, then did the same to Brett Hayes. Suddenly the Phils were one out away from an improbable, incredibly victory, with the fast yet not very intimidating Emilio Bonifacio at the dish. Lidge got him to fly out harmlessly to right, as Dom Brown squeezed to close out the game.

It was definitely one of the weirdest endings I had ever seen. The comeback, the base-running blunders, the blown call, everything. But in the end, the Phils came out victorious, finished off the sweep of the Marlins, something this team has not been able to do all that much over the years. Now they've won four in a row, are 8-2 in their last 10 games and remain just 2 games behind the Braves in the division and just a game-and-half behind the Giants in the Wild Card.

Lately, the hero has been Curbball, and last night was no exception. Ruiz continued his hot streak and impressive season, going 3-for-5 last night with two doubles, three RBIs and a run scored, along with that game-winning homer in the 10th. He's now batting .298 on the year. And it's not even October yet. Curbball's doing everything in his power to make sure the Phils get back to the playoffs, where El Senor Octubre can shine.

BallHype: hype it up!

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