Tuesday, August 9, 2011

This Just In: It's The Phillies' Year

Tonight in Los Angeles, the Phillies were holding a three run lead in the eighth against the plucky Expogers. It was one of those nights where the home team just had all kinds of base hits fall in, and when reliever Michael Stutes came in to face Roy Hallady, things just went all kinds of wrong for the road favorites. Matt Kemp started it off with a single, then stole second as if it weren't no thing at all. Aaron Miles followed with a knock to make it 4-2, still no outs. Stutes then blew a threw to first, putting Miles on second. A line drive by James Loney to straightaway center was barely flagged down by Shane Victorino for the first out, and that was it for Stutes. In comes Brad Lidge, new to the eighth but pitching well since his return from injury.

Rod Barajas is hitless in his life against Lidge, but he can still take a walk; the Dodgers then pinch ran for the catcher with rabbit Eugenio Velez. (Between him and Dee Gordon, the Dodgers are cornering the world with speed SS that can't get on base.) Juan Rivera then pinch hit and delivered another hit to left, scoring Miles, making it 4-3, and just putting everything into all kinds of tilt. You've watched enough baseball, you've seen this movie: shaky defense, alive home crowd, the avalanche keeps coming, especially on the road and on the West Coast. It's inevitable.

At which point Gordon grounded to second base, and Rivera decided to try to run through Utley like a rugby player. Easy interference call, perhaps a heady play by Chase to stay in the way, and the base runners remained at first and second with two outs now. But still, it's Brad Lidge, who has frittered away far too many leads to ever be completely trustworthy again, and this is just the false dawn before the deeper crisis... which is why the bounced wild pitch slider that moved both runners up a base just seemed like the continuation of the avalanche.

Then, Tony Gwynn Jr. decided to try to administer the tying shot RBI with a bunt. Odd, but Gwynn runs well, and with several shaky defensive plays already in the inning, maybe he just thought that the Phillies were going to give the whole road game away... but instead, Lidge hustled over and made that faddish flip play that all the kids make now. As if that play doesn't wind up over the first baseman's head every other year, really.

Add it all up, and it's yet another win for the Fightin's, who are just looking like the class of not just the NL right now, but possibly all of baseball. Unlike the Red Sox and Yankees, they can pitch deep into the rotation. Anyone they put in there to close games does it. With Hunter Pence in the lineup, they are scoring runs and solving the left-right balance problem. They catch the ball the way they have for years, the home field might be the most imposing one in the league, and most days, they start eight former or current All Stars (and Chooch Ruiz, who really should have gone by now) behind those aces. And they are winning games like tonight's, the ones that everyone else loses.

(And yes, all of that means nothing when the season begins again in October, the only season that has mattered to this team since Cliff Lee signed last winter. But you can only win the games you play today, and you should appreciate it as it's happening, really.)

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