After the frustration-turned-to-gratification of Thursday night's extra-inning win over the Reds, and the sheer implausibility of Friday's comeback thriller, the Phillies gave us something entirely different Saturday night: an exquisitely tense, marvelously pitched ballgame that stayed scoreless into the 11th inning. Jimmy Rollins was the hero, flashing his Red Light form again with the game-winning hit off Cincy reliever Logan Ondrusek, but the night's real stars were the starters: all-star Roy Halladay for the Phils, who pitched a perfect game earlier this season, and Reds rookie Travis Wood, who came within three outs of matching the feat in just his third major-league start.
First, Doc. In Halladay's four home losses this season, the Phillies have scored a total of five runs, and anybody who follows the club knows that the pedestrian-looking 10-7 record he'll take to Tuesday's all-star game in Anaheim probably should be about 14-4. After nine scoreless frames Saturday, his ERA sits at 2.19. Halladay was nothing short of masterful again Saturday, holding the Reds to five hits and a walk and striking out nine in a return to form against a strong lineup that registered 13 hits, a career worst, against him less than two weeks ago in Ohio. He was at his brilliant best in the top of the 8th, when new Phillie-killer Miguel Cairo led off with a double and advanced to third on a Drew Stubbs sacrifice. But with the sellout crowd at full blast, Doc bounced back to strike out Ryan Hanigan and Wood to quell the threat.
Wood stayed in, of course, because he was then six outs away from recording the 21st perfect game in baseball history and third this season. (And, to be fair, his pitch count at that point was quite reasonable.) The 23 year old lefty continued to carve up the Phillies lineup with pinpoint location and a consistently low-90s fastball through the eighth, allowing only two hard hit balls through eight innings: a Shane Victorino lineout to Cairo at third in the fourth inning and a Ben Francisco seed to Jonny Gomes in left in the eighth. But after Halladay worked around a Joey Votto single in the top of the ninth, Wood at best could take his perfecto into extras. It wasn't to be, as just-activated catcher Carlos Ruiz led off the bottom of the inning with a double to the gap. Wilson Valdez pinch-hit for Juan Castro to sacrifice Chooch to third... and popped it up for the first out. That was key when pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez flew out to the track in center. Ruiz tagged and went to third, but Rollins popped up to end the threat.
Brad Lidge came on for the 10th and looked for all the world like he was about to defecate on the dual masterpiece Halladay and Wood had spun. Jay Bruce doubled to left-center, Cairo got down the bunt that Valdez couldn't, and Drew Stubbs walked to put runners at the corners with one out. After the obligatory steal of second, though, Lidge rallied to strike out Hanigan. Then Charlie Manuel made what looked like a truly baffling decision, walking pinch-hitter Laynce Nix to load the bases for all-star Brandon Phillips. But the Reds second baseman popped up a Lidge offering, and the Phils escaped.
The teams traded zeros for another inning, Jose Contreras coming on for the Phils and registering two strikeouts in his best outing in months. In the bottom of the 11th, with lefty Bill Bray on the hill, Ruiz doubled again with one out, then Dusty Baker seemed to ape Manuel by intentionally walking Valdez to face Ross Gload. Bray induced a flyout from Gload, but then gave way to Ondrusek, setting up the Rollins game-winner and a third straight mosh pit at home plate.
Cole Hamels takes the mound for the Phils tomorrow as they look to finish the first half on an unlikely high note with a four-game sweep of the NL Central leaders.