Sunday, September 12, 2004

I Want to Believe
A couple months ago, I lucked into attending the best baseball game of the season: that classic Red Sox-Yankees game at the Stadium in which the Sox got two home runs from Manny Ramirez, great pitching from Pedro and Keith Foulke, and a heroic extra-inning rally after several near-miss Yankee scoring opportunities, only to lose in extras when Derek Jeter face-planted in the field boxes down the left-field line and the last guys on the New York bench--Miguel Cairo, Enrique Wilson, John Flaherty--strung together big hits with two outs in the 12th to pull out the win.

Yesterday, I could have gone to what turned out to be the second-best game of the year, the Phils' thrilling 11-9 win over the New York Mets at Shea, but decided I didn't want to sit through another Steve Trachsel marathon start. So I missed Ryan Howard's first big-league home run, David Bell's career day, Billy Wagner's toxic freakout (though I actually think Dana Demuth saved the Phils by ejecting Wagner before he could finish the implosion), four hits from David "Baby Rolen" Wright, and, after 13 innings, the Phils finally reaching five straight wins, to stay 4.5 back in their longest-of-longshots wildcard pursuit.

But this is probably a valedictory, rather than a rallying point. Right now at least, they aren't getting anything close to the level of starting pitching needed to sustain the .800 or so ball they'll need to play to really make it interesting. In fact, the bullpen has picked up the victories in all five games, which I imagine is pretty rare for streaks of such duration. The Phils have just one quality start during the run, and the short outings from the starters have put a tremendous strain on the 'pen even with the expanded rosters. Consider the starters' performances:

9/8, game one: Padilla, 6 IP, 2 ER (Madson wins)
9/8, game two: Floyd, 4 IP, 1 ER (Jones wins)
9/9, Lidle, 5 IP, 4 ER (Madson wins)
9/10, Myers, 4 IP, 5 ER (Jones wins)
9/11, Milton, 5 IP, 6 ER (Hernandez wins)

The 28-inning scoreless streak was pretty impressive, especially considering that Geoff "White Flag" Geary and Roberto "Roblowto" Hernandez were involved; even yesterday, when Closer 1 and Closer 1A both gave up runs to end it, the 'pen overall performed very well with 8 IP and 3 runs allowed.

But that won't continue, nor will the heroic offensive output: 29 runs in the last three games, with Jason Michaels and David Bell turning in arguably the best single-game performances of their careers. Unless the starters suddenly step it up--starting today with Vicente Padilla on three days' rest--the Phils just can't sustain this fun run of good play.

On the other hand, if Jim Thome suddenly gets super-hot... well, as I said, I want to believe.

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