Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Phillies Win Behind Fine Performance from Happ

In flashes the Phillies offense seemed to have come alive for their 4-2 win against the Cardinals last night, but it was really pitching which was key to the game. Rookie J. A. Happ pitched well enough in his first start this season that he was deemed worthy of a second, though his spot in the rotation was by no means secure. He faced off against another unsure starter, Mark Mulder, who has been regularly troubled by injuries. It was a diagnostic start to see how far he could go and how well he could do.

After Happ got through a scoreless first despite surrendering two walks, Mulder came to the mound. He made Jimmy Rollins look bad, striking out flailing at a pitch he was nowhere near, but then walked Shane Victorino and Chase Utley on eight consecutive balls. A visit from the trainer made it clear that Mulder did not feel up to pitching the rest of the night and Brad Thompson, very likely prepared to be the long man in just such a case as this, came in and induced Ryan Howard to ground into a double play.

From then on both teams regularly drew walks and got occasional hits (including a single from Pat Burrell to extend his ten-game hitting streak), but it very much seemed like an unlikely pitchers' duel was in progress, neither team pulling together enough to score a run -- until the fifth inning. Then a Carlos Ruiz single -- shocking everyone by putting his impressive twenty-odd ofer to an end -- and a Jimmy Rollins triple put the Phillies on the board first. Although Rollins was out for running on contact when Victorino hit an easy grounder, the Phillies added another run on a single by Chase Utley and another by Ryan Howard, extending his own hitting streak and ever-so-slowly creeping his batting average up to more respectable levels and inducing Tony LaRussa to replace Thompson will Russ Springer from the bullpen.

Charlie Manuel, however, is not so easily swayed towards removing his pitcher, even in the late innings. J. A. Happ batted for himself in the bottom of the sixth, then arrived to pitch the seventh. He allowed a single to Cesar Izturis, then a Skip Schumaker hit that sailed over Shane Victorino's head and lodged under the centre-field wall. Victorino immediately threw his arms in the air Wrigley Field-style and after the umpires had examined the situation to determine that the ball was legitimately lodged and Victorino was not simply trying to prevent Izturis from scoring on the play (ah-hem), the two baserunners finally stood at second and third on the ground-rule double.

This was, however, enough to prompt Manuel to remove Happ and bring in Chad Durbin as his replacement. Durbin allowed the two runners that were Happ's responsibility to score on a sacrifice fly from Albert Pujols and a Troy Glaus single, tying the game at two and preventing Happ from accumulating a win despite a very fine pitching performance.

Clay Condrey pitched the eighth without incident and in the bottom of the inning the Phillies took back their two run lead on separate solo home runs off Kyle McClellan from Ryan Howard and Pedro Feliz. This proved to be the game, as despite allowing a couple of baserunners Bard Lidge collected his save and gave the Phillies the game.

J. A. Happ almost unquestionably deserves another start as in the two that he has had this season he has been for more impressive than Brett Myers was proving before his assignment to the minors.

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