Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Utley's Heroics Cap Rally Against Mets

One day after the Phillies knocked around the Mets' ace to no avail, the Phillies countered with their own ace...and to similar effect. Cole Hamels labored through five innings, giving up 11 hits and 4 runs, and was outpitched for most of the game by Mike Pelfrey.

Hamels performed respectably in the early going, but the Mets tagged him for three runs in the fourth inning, with three consecutive bases-loaded singles. Fortunately, Carlos Beltran hit into an inning-ending double play, leaving the game still within reach as the Phillies trailed 4-1.

Things looked bleak through six innings, as the Phillies only run came off a Chase Utley solo home run. Then in the seventh, Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, and Jayson Werth each singled, loading the bases for Pedro Feliz. Werth was awarded a single, but could have easily been out, as his fly ball to deep center bounced off the heel of Beltran's glove, giving him a very long single and spelling the end of the night for Pelfrey. Sean Green took his place and Feliz greeted him with a single to left, scoring a run, then Carlos Ruiz chopped a grounder to David Wright. Wright could have had a routine force out at home, but he couldn't handle the ball and all runners were safe, making it a 4-3 game.

Next, Charlie Manuel made the suspect decision of bringing in Paul Bako to pinch hit for Jack Taschner. Considering Bako's career .231 batting average, it's a bit difficult to justify. Matt Stairs would have been the best option, but Manuel probably wanted to save him for later, especially since he had already used Greg Dobbs. Still, with the bases loaded and not outs, trailing by one run, Stairs should have been at the plate. Regardless, Bako stepped in and struck out, without looking especially competent. Fortunately, Jimmy Rollins came through in the next at-bat, grounding into a fielder's choice that plated the tying run. Shane Victorino then grounded out to end the inning, but the Phillies had tied the game at 4-4.

And so it would come down to the bullpens. Last year this would have easily favored the Phillies, but this year it's much closer. Chad Durbin entered in the bottom of the seventh, and the Phillies were probably hoping to get at least two innings out of him. However, he did not have his best stuff. He let the first two batters reach base and got the first out on a Fernando Tatis sacrifice bunt (his first since 2002). Durbin then intentionally walked Ryan Church to pitch to Omir Santos with one out. Santos couldn't deliver for the Mets, popping out to Utley. Manuel then turned to Scott Eyre to get the lefty pinch hitter Daniel Murphy and Eyre got the job done, getting Murphy swinging to end a trying inning.

Pedro Feliciano did his part for the Mets in the eighth, setting Utley, Howard, and Ibanez down in order, then the Phillies responded with their own lefty setup man, J.C. Romero. Romero struggled with his command, walking Alex Cora and allowing a Beltran single, but he retired Sheffield and Wright to escape the inning.

For the ninth, the Mets turned to Francisco Rodriguez, who pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning and the Phillies responded with (gulp) Chan Ho Park. Park looked sharp early on, retiring Tatis and Church, but then he gave up back-to-back singles to Santos and Jeremy Reed. However, Park got out of trouble when Luis Castillo grounded to the mound, sending the game to extra innings.

In the top of the tenth, Chris Coste, in for Ruiz on a double switch, led off with a single. Rollins then followed with a rip to the right side, but it wouldn't get far. Tatis made an impressive snare of the line drive and trotted back to first for the double play. Victorino then grounded out to end the inning.

It seemed unlikely that the Phillies could get one, let alone two, scoreless innings from Park, but once again he looked good, getting Cora to ground out and then striking out Beltran. But then Fernando Martinez, pinch hitting, singled, which brought Wright to the plate. Wright hit a line drive to right-center that looked like a sure hit, and maybe even extra bases. But it was not meant to be. Jayson Werth made a spectacular diving catch to end the inning. It was a ballsy move by Werth, since, had the ball evaded him, Wright would have had extra bases and Martinez could well have scored. (Then again, was it any more risky than letting Park face another batter with runners in scoring position?)

With K-Rod done for the night, Bobby Parnell took the mound for the Mets. Parnell was greeted by Utley, who was responsible for the Phillies first run of the game, which seemed to be eons ago. Utley provided an encore, blasting the 1-0 pitch over the right field wall and giving the Phillies a 5-4 lead. Howard nearly made it 6-4 in the next at-bat, lofting a deep fly ball to the wall in left field, only to be denied extra bases as Reed made a leaping catch against the wall. Parnell would escape the inning without further harm, but the damage was done.

Fill-in closer Ryan Madson came in for the bottom of the 11th, in his first save opportunity since Lidge hit the DL, and he looked every part the dominant closer that Lidge was supposed to be this year, retiring the Mets in order, all on routine groundouts, and sealing a thrilling 5-4 Phillies victory.

As exciting as last night's game was, despite the Phillies 6-5 loss, this one managed to top it. It had a little bit of everything. Home runs, acrobatic plays in the field, and the fire that we have come to expect from this rivalry, which some would argue is currently the best in baseball.

The rubber game is tomorrow night, as Jamie Moyer takes on Tim Redding. The pitching matchup is not the best, but with these two rivals, you know it will be exciting.

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