It was one win in the 56th contest of the season, worth celebrating because it gained them a game on the rest of the division and because it got them, once again, back to the .500 mark, but not otherwise all that significant. Even so, if there was a Phillies game this season that offered up all the elements of this team, good bad and ugly, it was Sunday's rain-soaked 9-8 victory over the San Francisco Giants.
Things did not start out well. Freddy Garcia, the starting pitcher who might be the embodiment of the disappointment many of us have felt through two months-plus, surrendered a home run to Randy Winn on his second pitch of the game, and gave up another solo bomb the next inning. But the Phils responded with longballs of their own in the home 4th against the slightly built but rocket-armed Giants rookie Tim Lincecum, first with a Chase Utley solo shot and then a two-out, two-run blast by Aaron Rowand. The Phils' two best hitters this season combined to give them a 3-2 lead, but their work for the day wasn't done.
Garcia, though, couldn't handle prosperity and deliver the "shutdown inning" managers crave after their hitters put up a crooked number. With two out and Omar Vizquel on second, Garcia unintentionally/intentionally walked Winn to go after rookie Fred Lewis, who had struck out twice. But Lewis slapped a single to left--and Pat Burrell lost the handle on the throw after Vizquel had held up at third. He scored. The next hitter was Ryan Klesko, who grounded the ball sharply toward Utley. He couldn't come up with it, and two more runs scored as San Fran took a 5-3 lead.
After Lincecum retired the Phils' 1-2-3 hitters in order, the Giants extended their edge. They began the 6th with back-to-back hits off Garcia, who left with men at first and third and one out. Facing rookie southpaw Mike Zagurski, Vizquel plated one on an infield single, and a wild pitch scored the second run. A subpar Garcia start, bad defense, and shaky relief had put the Phils down 7-3.
But the Phillies came back with their strengths in the bottom of the 7th. Hits by Rowand and Carlos Ruiz put men at second and third with none out, and Wes Helms, double-switched into the game a half-inning earlier, scored both with a double. Jimmy Rollins--who had as bad a day at the plate as I can remember, taking an 0-for-5 collar--struck out, and Shane Victorino flew out to deep center. Lincecum gave way to journeyman lefty Jack Taschner, brought in to face Utley and Ryan Howard. The previous night, he had come in for the same purpose, and surrendered a walk to Utley and a run-scoring double to Howard that barely missed leaving the park. This time, he got ahead of Utley with two outside sliders for strikes--then threw three more further out before bouncing ball four, saved from a run-scoring wild pitch by catcher Bengie Molina, who had a superb all-around game.
Utley's eye had extended the inning and brought Howard to the plate. Taschner got ahead of Howard as well, recording strike two on a high fastball the big man couldn't catch up with. But he couldn't elevate the same pitch a moment later--and Howard blasted it out to dead center field for a three-run homer. Molina slammed his mitt into the dirt an instant after Howard connected.
Most of the game had been played in a steady rain, but the downpour intensified in the 8th. Geoff Geary recorded two outs, but walked Vizquel after getting ahead 0-2. Barry Bonds, who had gotten the day off, came up to pinch-hit for Taschner; Ryan Madson came on to relieve Geary. Madson got two strikes on the hated San Fran slugger, then induced a groundball to Rollins that ended the inning.
Charlie Manuel had made good moves most of the afternoon--double-switching Helms into the game, bringing in Geary for four outs sandwiched around the Phils' five-run 7th--but he might have made a bad call in the bottom of the 8th. With two out and a man on second, he left Madson in to hit for himself. The lanky pitcher struck out, and would have to face the top of the Giants order to nail down his first save of the season.
He couldn't do it. After retiring Winn, Madson issued full-count walks to both the fleet Lewis and the less fleet Ryan Klesko--and his day was over. Antonio Alfonseca came in to face Kevin Frandsen, who hadn't started the game but replaced Ray Durham a few innings earlier. Frandsen singled under Rollins' glove, and the game was tied. Alfonseca did do what Manuel likely had hoped for--generate a ground-ball double play--a batter later, and the game went to the home 9th tied at 8.
The Giants turned to Russ Ortiz, a veteran starter who had lost his rotation spot to the phenom Lincecum. He struck out Rollins--but lost the game as Shane Victorino slammed a walk-off home run to left. Victorino, the Phils' designated pie-thrower, got absolutely buried by two shaving-cream pies in the middle of his post-game interview, probably saving us all from having to hear any more about the Victorino hula figurine that was given out at the game today.
It was all on display today: the middling-to-poor Garcia game, the shaky defense, the power, the bad bullpen, the resilience. The only Phillie runs that didn't come via the homer were scored on Helms' two-run double, which missed going on by maybe eight feet. The only reliever who didn't either allow an earned run or an inherited run was Geary.
They did win the game, and it's one I will remember a long time. But it remains very difficult to escape the conclusion that the obvious flaws of the 2007 Phillies will limit their ability to generate more than anecdotal great memories.