NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 17: If it's high, let it fly; if it's low let it go. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
The Phillies leaned hard on a tremendous outing from Cliff Lee to float past the Mets' R.A. Dickey and his knuckleball. Lee was absolutely brilliant, striking out 10 over eight innings, scattering seven hits and a walk and holding the Metropolitans to one run in the expansive confines of Citi Field.
Dickey, on his way to an unsustainably brilliant season, pitched well for his part, Niekro-ing the Phillies to eight strikeouts over seven innings; and allowed only five hits, but two were homeruns.
I want to emphasize how brilliant Lee was for a minute. In addition to striking out Jason Bay for his 1,500th career K (but who hasn't struck out Bay 1,500 times), Lee only gave up a handful of hard hit balls, and the one run the Mets managed came on a bunt single, a sac bunt, a sac hit and one of the bloopiest blooper bloops you'll see. Plops. But he pitched well by any measure today. Got the win, "pitched to the score," made the heart of the Mets' order look foolish. He needed 111 pitches (and 79 strikes) to do the job.
Shifting gears, the knuckleball is an odd duck, one that has a unique connection for me; enough so, that when the opportunity came to catch this recap, I jumped at it. Metaphorically speaking, of course. One year in Little League, I had the opportunity to get a one-one coaching session with Major League alum and Alaska Goldpanner Danny Boone. Boone, a knuckleballer, enjoyed a few years as pitching coach and fireman for the 'Panners, where his butterfly would regularly (and unfairly) embarrass the college kids in the Alaska League. Until they saw him twice, that is. He liked to say, regarding his somewhat more famous namesake, "I don't know if he would have had the courage to throw it 3-2." Nevertheless, he taught it to me, and worked with me on it until I became pretty damn good. For a kid, at least.
For me, frequent possessor of a Mendozian batting average, the knuckleball allowed me to continue playing through High School, long past the point when my Moyerian heater ceased making outs and began to make wallbangers. In any event, if you'll pardon the interlude, I've since had an understandable fascination with knuckleballers, particularly those who don't really seem like they should be Major Leaguers. Joe Niekro, Tim Wakefield, Robert Allan Dickey.
So, back to the game... The Phils drew first blood in true hitless wonders (I know it was the deadball era, but seven homeruns?) fashion. Jimmy Rollins led off with a strikeout, advanced to second on a wait what? See, that's the other thing about a knuckler. They're somewhat difficult to catch. Mike Nickeas' glove is the size of a Buick, yet he allowed a swinging strike to roll to the wall; and Rollins lollygagged his way to first. He advanced to second when Dickey attempted to pick him off by throwing to the right field bleachers, moved to third on a "sacrifice" by John Mayberry Jr. and scored on a shallow sac fly by future third baseman Chase Utley.
In the fifth, Rollins struck again, this time with somewhat more force, driving an 0-1 pitch off the top of the right field bullpen roof for a triple. He would of had a homerun except for the lollygagging. The astute among you might point out that, wait, isn't the bullpen out of play? Indeed it is, for this is not Houston, and Rollins forced the umpires to lollygag to the replay room, whereupon he was awarded the extra base.
Domonic Brown, who had legged out a triple in the fourth, was apparently tired of running, as in the seventh, he took an 0-1 pitch deep for the third and final run. The insurance was more than enough for Ninth Inning Guy, who worked a perfect ninth for his 35th save, including a beautiful 94-95-96mph strikeout of Ike Davis.
The win, coupled with an off-day by the Cardinals and Dodgers, moves the Phils to 3.5 games back of the Selig Card, and back to a .500 record for the season, at 74-74. With 14 games remaining, the playoffs aren't out of reach, but we've definitely moved from "great" to "historic" on the Potential Comeback Scale.
Tomorrow the Phils go for the series win behind "He's like a veteran like now experienced you know" Tyler Cloyd, against the Mets' Matt Harvey, who outmatched Cloyd when they matched up on August 29th.