Phillies-Mets Last Night
Great game to watch last night, a playoff-like contest between perhaps the best team in the National League -- the New York Mets -- and the team playing the best baseball at the moment -- the Philadelphia Phillies. There are plenty of articles out there on the game, so here are a few points:
- The Phillies' starters have been knocked (and knocked around) all year. The team needs an ace, and no one ever has thought of Jon Lieber as a #1 starter. One-time first-round pick Brett Myers showed signs of being a dominant starter last year, but the fans have wondered whether he has the maturity to play that role. Last night might have been his debutante ball as a stopper. Myers outpitched Pedro Martinez (who, but for a bad second inning, pitched great), giving the Phillies eight strong innings. If Myers blossoms into a perennial 17+ game winner, the cognoscenti will look back on this night as his starting point.
- One Phillies' beat columnist may call Charlie Manuel "Elmer Befuddled," but Manuel's pinchrunning for a sore-legged Pat Burrell at first in the bottom of the eighth last night might have been the key managerial move of the game. When Ryan Howard doubled to right (which Xavier Nady played very well), the speedy Shane Victorino zoomed around the basepaths and knocked over Paul LoDuca, who was blocking the plate. Burrell most certainly wouldn't have scored from first on that hit, and the run that ensued, which gave the Phillies a 4-2 lead, proved to be crucial.
- Phillies' rookie catcher, Carlos Ruiz, playing in only his second major-league game, called an excellent game for Brett Myers, helping the starter located fastball after fastball (two-and four-seamers) on the corners and working his breaking ball very well.
- Yes, Julio Franco did express bewilderment about a called third-strike call on Kaz Matsui in the top of the ninth to end the inning, but I thought that the home plate umpire overreacted in tossing the classy veteran. Come to think of it, have the umpires been a bit too feisty this year? You really shouldn't toss a key player in a game of this importance.
- The home plate umpire called a strange strike zone for a good part of the game, especially when it came to low strikes. Chase Utley was called out looking on a pitch that appeared to be shin-high. The next half-inning, though, the plate umpire called low strikes on the Mets as well.
- Aaron Heilman tried too hard when he made his fateful error in the bottom of the ninth. Probably feeling guilty for letting the bases get loaded after two outs, he tried for the dribbler that Bobby Abreu hit and misplayed it. The ball was Paul LoDuca's all the way, and my guess is that Heilman figured that since he created the mess he should have solved it. Instead of being the hero, Heilman compounded his problems.
- The win was a big psychological one for the Phillies, especially because of the way the ninth inning went down. All off-season Phillies' players and fans heard about what a big loss Billy Wagner was, and many pooh-poohed the signing of Tom Gordon as the new closer. Clearly, the perception was that the Mets had (and have) the advantage here. So, when Gordon blew the save by giving up the game-tying home run to Carlos Delgado, that's perhaps the worst way the Phillies could have blown the lead. Had they proceeded to lose the game, the doubts would have lingered about whether the team had enough pitching to seriously contend. Sure, it was only one game, but it was a big one, a very big one. Instead of wilting, the Phillies mounted a two-out rally to win.
- David Dellucci of the Phillies deserves a lot of credit. He hasn't played as much as he probably thought he would, what with the ability of Victorino and the fact that Charlie Manuel has been reluctant to change his lineup during the streak. Dellucci hit 27 HRs last year and had only batted 14 times when he came up last night, but he had the presence of mind to swat a triple to start the two-out rally. It's contributions like those that make a season special.
- The Mets are an excellent team, and Tommy Glavine's precision should pose trouble for the lefties in the Phillies' lineup tonight. Cory Lidle is a crafty, underrated competitor, so it should be another interesting contest tonight.
- The Phillies might call up their latest pitching pheonom, Cole Hamels, to pitch against the Reds on Friday night. The Phils don't have a lefty starter in their rotation (Randy Wolf remains on the DL and isn't due back until July), and they could use one. Hamels, from many non-Phillies accounts, is an ace in the making. He's been lights out at AAA, and his ascension could push Ryan Madson, who has been struggling as a starter, back to the bullpen. Madson had been an excellent reliever during the past two seasons for the Phillies, and he could strengthen an already pretty tough bullpen.
- The second-base umpire blew the call on Jose Reyes. Yes, the Mets' SS was caught in a rundown, but he was safe at second. For whatever reason, Mets' skipper Willie Randolph didn't argue the call.
- It's run to see an electric atmosphere in Philadelphia. As a Phillies' fan, I still worry about their pitching, especially in their home park, but I forgot what it was like to ride a 9-game win streak as a fan, and I'm enjoying every minute of it.