Friday, September 3, 2010

Rockie Road to Victory

Some people may wonder how to survive the baseball season, while people like myself revel in it. Why do I love it so much? Because each and every night, you have the chance to see something you've never seen before, something exciting and excruciating and enthralling. And that's exactly what happened last night in Colorado.

The game began unspectacularly for the Phillies, with Joe Blanton pitching about as awful as a pitcher can pitch, surviving just 4 and a third innings where he was smacked around for 10 hits, 6 runs — 4 of them earned — three homers and two walks. The Phils fell behind 7-3, and given how anemic the bats have been most of the season, it looked as though that 7 spot would be enough for the Rockies.

Just when you think you have a grasp on what's about to happen, BAM!, the seventh inning rolls around and completely changes everything. Polanco doubles. Chase follows suit with an RBI single, and suddenly it's a three-run game again. Up comes the big man, with Chris Wheeler putting his soothsayer hat on, saying, "If Ryan can pop one here, we've got ourselves a game." Almost as if on cue, Joe Beimel throws a hanger, Ryan Howard turns on it and suddenly it's a one-run game.

But not for long. Not after Jayson Werth smoked one to left, making it back-to-back jacks. Just like that, the game was tied. And the Phils weren't done yet. Raul flied out, but Shane followed with a single. Brian Schneider made it two singles in a row, pulling one in the hole on the right side, allowing Shane to go first to third. And Benny Francisco made Charlie look like a genius for pinch-hitting him against a righty instead of forcing Colorado to bring in the lefty against Domonic Brown, making it three straight singles as he drove in Victorino to give the Phils an improbable 8-7 lead.

And they still weren't done. The Phils could smell blood. They could taste it. And they wanted to feed. Jimmy made it four singles in a row, though somehow Schneider didn't get a read on the ball despite it being literally right over his head, forcing Sam Perlozzo to hold him at third. No matter, Placido was up, a guy who always makes contact and more often than not gets the job done.

Only this time he didn't. Not at all. Polanco, in a rare instance of failure, had perhaps the single worst at-bat I've ever seen him have. He got ahead in the count 2-0, then got a fat fastball to crank. Somehow, he was late on a 91-mph fastball in a 2-0 count. The very next pitch, the exact same thing. In a hitter's count, looking to drive the ball, he got a fastball, and again he was late. Unbelievable. And to top it all off, Polanco, a player who rarely strikes out, chased an awful pitch down low and struck out. Terrible, terrible at-bat, and a wasted opportunity. It looked like Phils would squander yet another good chance to drive in runs, miss the opportunity to break the game open. Now it would take a two-out hit just to get any more runs home and give the bullpen some breathing room.

That's when the capper came. Chase wasn't about to make the same mistake Polanco had, essentially getting himself out. Utley worked ahead in the count, getting to 3-1. When ball three was called, I said, "I dare you come in middle in." Sure enough, Delcarmen came inside, and Chase made him pay.

So Taguchi sighting!

Grand slam. Nine-run inning. Phils turn a 7-3 deficit into a 12-7 lead in one half inning of baseball. Game, set, match.

Or so I thought. The normally reliable Chad Durbin — who has arguably been Philadelphia's most reliable bullpen pitcher all year — was not his usual self. He gave up a leadoff double, then a one-out single and another double, 12-8. Right then and there, I was calling for Charlie to get his ass out. Durbin didn't have it. It was clear. And J.C. Romero was available in the pen, with switch-hitting Dexter Fowler due up and the left-handed Carlos Gonzalez on deck. But Manuel, having already used David Herndon and Antonio Bastardo — and with Ryan Madson presumably unavailable after pitching in about 100 straight games — kept Durbin in. And it didn't go well.

Fowler singled in two more runs, 12-10 with Carlos Gonzalez and his NL-leading batting average and 93 RBIs stepping to the plate. I envisioned a two-run home run to tie it, ruining the joy I just had basked in following that huge inning. Apparently, so did Gonzalez, because the guy was swinging from his heels — and ultimately struck out. Durbin got Tulowitzki to end the threat, but the damage had been done. Just as a 7-3 lead for the Rockies turned into a 12-7 lead for the Phils in the blink of an eye, a 12-7 lead had turned into an uncomfortable 12-10 lead.

The Phils would score no more, and J.C. and Contreras made it interesting but got through unscathed in the 8th, meaning Brad Lidge time in the 9th in a two-run game at Coors Field — with the heart of the order coming up.

Things couldn't have started much worse. Lidge did his job and got Fowler to roll one over to first base. But Ryan Howard booted the ball, and Fowler was safe. Gonzalez followed with a single to the right side, allowing Fowler to get to third with Troy Tulowitzki up and no one out. Tulo hit one toward second, allowing Fowler to score to make it a one-run game, and it looked like at the very least he had done his job and gotten the tying run to second. Except Utley, who had already played hero once before with his grand slam and six RBIs, made a tremendous play, and somehow managed to get Gonazalez at second, keeping the tying run out of scoring position.

Of course, that all became a moot point when Lidge walked Todd Helton, putting Tulowitzki on second as the tying run, AND putting the winning run on base. It was all just a little too much to take. Lidge was struggling with his fastball control again, and this had the makings of it blowing up in his face. But then suddenly, he threw perfect, unhittable slider after perfect, unhittable slider, striking out Clint Barmes and getting Ryan Spilborghs to ground out to end the game.

Whew! What a wild one. And something you'll only see in baseball.

The best news of all for the Phillies — well, besides getting the win to go along with a Braves' loss — was that the bats came alive, especially for the big boys. Ryan Howard crushed the two-run homer that brought the Phils within one. Chase Utley was 2-for-4 in the game with two runs scored, six RBIs and that game-winning grand slam. And Jayson Werth collected three hits, scoring three runs and driving in himself with his solo home run that tied the game.

Every Phillies starter besides Joe Blanton had at least one hit, with Placido, Raul and Shane each getting two. Ben Francisco got an RBI pinch-hit. Mike Sweeney got a pinch-hit RBI when he was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. And the Phils exploded for 12 runs on 15 hits.

It was a rocky game, but it was a win. The type of win that just may awaken these bats for good. After all, it is September, and the Phillies aren't interested in their two-game Wild Card lead. They're looking ahead of them, not behind them. And after last night's loss to the Mets, the Braves are only two games in front.

If that doesn't make you love baseball, nothing will.

BallHype: hype it up!

1 comment:

  1. I like baseball; I really do. I just don't love it to the point where I can enjoy the day-to-day of it. 162 games are way too many.