Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Phils Rally for Win in 9th

Pat Burrell finally got a chance for an at-bat in the ninth inning, and he sure made the most of it. Burrell launched a two-run opposite field home run off of Hoston closer Jose Valverde to tie the game in front of a euphoric Philadelphia crowd. Two batters later, Pedro Feliz drove in the winning run and the Phillies pulled out a stunning 4-3 victory.

For the first eight innings it seemed as if Adam Eaton would get his first loss of the season thanks to a total lack of run support. Eaton had his third straight quality start, going six innings and allowing three runs, but Astros starter Shawn Chacon pitched a gem, tossing eight shutout innings. Chacon stifled the Phillies, who were still without Jimmy Rollins in the starting lineup. Through the first eight innings, the Phillies only had four hits, two of which came from Feliz. Chacon held Philadelphia's 2 through 6 batters hitless. Meanwhile, the Astros put three runs on the board with two RBI singles and a sacrifice fly.

The offense has been up and down for the Phillies this season, especially with Rollins out of the lineup, and it seemed like just another one of those days when the hits wouldn't come, but then a pinch-hitter changed all that. No, it wasn't Rollins, who pinch hit in the eighth inning (wearing Jackie Robinson's #42 no less). It was newcomer Chris Snelling. Snelling set the tone in the ninth inning by crushing the first pitch he saw, a Jose Valverde fastball, over the right field wall. That made the score 3-1 and energized the Philadelphia crowd, which had gone as silent as the Phillies' bats until that moment.

The next batter, Chase Utley, was hit by a pitch, which brought the tying run to the plate with no outs. Valverde showed signs of recovery, striking out Ryan Howard on three pitches, but then came the resurgent Pat the Bat. Burrell sent the second pitch of the at-bat into the seats in right field to tie the game. Next up was Geoff Jenkins, who worked a full count before striking out swinging. However, Brad Ausmus couldn't handle the pitch and it skipped away from him, allowing Jenkins to take first base. Feliz followed with his third hit of the game, a double down the third base line. The hit was perfectly placed and allowed Jenkins, not known to be especially fleet of foot, to score from first base, sliding in safely in front of the throw.

It was an unbelievable win and the kind of game that should give the Phillies a huge confidence boost. Rollins should be back any day now, though there's no way to know for sure when that will be, but it's clear that, at least so far, Pat Burrell is the Phillies' MVP. The home run gave him five on the season to go with 15 RBIs, tying him for the National League lead in both categories. He is currently on pace to hit 58 HRs and drive in 174 runs. It's only April and no one is expecting him to hit at this level for the entire season, but it just shows what an incredible start he's had.

On the pitching side, Eaton's start was solid, though he has regressed in each of his first three starts. Still, he only walked two and kept the ball in the park, so it's hard to be overly critical. He is sporting a 4.12 ERA, which is not at all bad for a #4 starter. It'd be very good for a #5 starter, but that is no longer Eaton's role as he switched spots with struggling sophomore Kyle Kendrick. Kendrick will face Roy Oswalt tomorrow night. The bullpen once again did its part. Chad Durbin pitched a pair of scoreless innings, lowering his ERA to 0.75, and Rudy Seanez threw a shutout inning, despite issuing two walks. He also recorded his first win of the season.

Durbin has been a major asset to the Phillies bullpen and has been very effective in middle and long relief, but one has to be concerned about how heavily he's been used thus far. He has pitched twelve innings in eight games, putting him on pace to pitch nearly 140 innings if Manuel continues to use him at this rate. This is especially alarming considering that he is not pitching so much due to a bullpen injury or anything of the sort. Unless Ryan Madson shapes up, it appears that Manuel will be content to use Durbin relentlessly.

Of course, if that's all the Phillies are worried about right now, then they are in much better shape than the Astros, who have to wonder whether their trade for Valverde was really worth it, now that he's blown two saves and sports a Tom Gordon-esque 11.37 ERA. Tonight he had the dubious distinction of striking out two batters while recording only one out. They could have kept Brad Lidge and presumably none of this would have happened. Although, Lidge enabled them to get People's Phillies Blog favorite Michael Bourn, who in his first game back in Philadelphia went 1-4 with a stolen base (while wearing Robinson's #42), his league-leading seventh of the season.

It was nice to see Bourn in Philadelphia again, but the story tonight was the ninth innings rally sparked by Snelling and ended by Feliz, with a whole lot of Burrell in between. Snelling's Salts woke up the team...and might have just become our newest fan group.

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