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Ryan Howard walk-off single leads Phillies to 5 - 4 win over D-Backs

I don't have to shave. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE
I don't have to shave. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE

In a boiling Sunday afternoon game in Philadelphia, the Arizona Diamondbacks played the Philadelphia Phillies with Cliff Lee going up against Trevor Cahill. It was one of those games where I had to re-write chunks of the recap a number of times, but Ryan Howard gave all of us a happy ending, including a victory and a series win. Rather than the boos he heard earlier following the last of his first four futile at bats, he was showered with love after a walk-off single to right. More on that later.

The first phase of the game can be summarized in short hand as ""Cliff Lee 2012." Rather than elaborating, just look at his line: 8 innings, 8 hits, 3 HR, 0 walks, 5 strikeouts, and 4 runs. The last run he gave up scored on a opposite field homer to right by Paul Goldschmidt that looked like a lazy fly off the bat. Classic OFJOAB stuff for a hot day in August.

Other than a second inning where Stephen Drew homered right after Chris Johnson hit a two run homer, Lee was pretty locked in. I mean, other than giving up three homers, Lee pitched well, right? It is so hard to explain that to people sometimes, but this was just one of those days. Again.

Right after that second inning, version 1.0 of today's recap started. You know the tune: "Lee got too much of the plate, peripherals were better than the outcomes, tough loss, see you tomorrow" stuff. But this Phillies squad is not the same one that limped through June like Napoleon retreating from Moscow. Despite fielding a team with AAAA players like Erik Kratz (love him so far, but is this really sustainable?), Michael Martinez (who "won" Infielder Survivor when he was not DFAed and Mike Fontenot was), and Kevin Frandsen, it has Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. And they pulled through.

Having spotted the D-Backs a 3 - 0 lead, the Phillies faced the unenviable task of coming back against Trevor Cahill who, despite looking like a 15 year old kid who is still working off his prepubescent "baby" fat, is a very effective major league pitcher. While he may not be fancy looking like that smartly dressed, sharp lad Cole Hamels, he's a really effective ground ball pitcher who will be frustrating National League hitters for years. His groundball percentage is over 70%. Lookit.

Cahill had it going today. His line: 7 IP, 6 H, 1 HR, 6 K, 2 BB, 3 R. He faced 29 batters and 15 of them hit ground balls.

Still, when he came out to the mound in the bottom of the second, he made some mistakes that came back to bite him. He started off by striking out Howard, striking out Howard, striking out Howard (only once in the second inning, but save the other two for later - it was easier to cut and paste it in one place). The second batter, John Mayberry, walked. Domonic Brown sliced a double to the left center gap, where it was cut off by Chris Young, but it helped Mayberry get to third. At the time, I wondered why Mayberry couldn't score from first on a double, but he seemed hesitant on the basepaths, perhaps gunshy from the terrible call earlier in the series where he was safe at home but called out instead. Cahill seemed a bit rattled, and Mayberry was able to scoot home on a wild pitch. Erik Kratz doubled down the left field line in the manner of "past a diving Wigginton" but it was the D-Backs third baseman. Still, it's useful for mental imagery.

At this juncture, I wondered to myself whether I should get attached to Erik Kratz. Is he for real, or is he an oldish career minor leaguer catching lightning in a bottle for a month or so? Perhaps this is a mystery we can solve over the last few months of the season rather than bothering ourselves with the playoff roster and managing the rotation. "Is Erik Kratz a Major League player?" I can picture 1,500 words and several charts already.

With the game a much closer 3 - 2, Cliff Lee faced just three hitters in the third, fourth, and fifth, and he was ruthlessly efficient. Still, the Phillies were not reeling in the D-Backs, despite having baserunners in the third and fourth innings. In the fifth, Chase Utley tied it with a home run, his seventh in 125 plate appearances since coming back from the DL. YATM, indeed.

With Lee dealing, the Phillies hitting (and having a tactical advantage in being the home team), things were looking up, right? That was the theory of recap version 2.0, anyway. At least five minutes until the top of the sixth when Paul Goldschmidt sliced that nine iron to right eight miles into the air that I mentioned at the top. It just drifted and drifted and...that sinking feeling of 2012 started to take over. Down 2 1 runs? [Edited. H/t numerous error checkers.] Lee giving up a third homer on the day? Ugh. Recap version 3.0.

And so it was until the eighth inning. After drifting listlessly through the sixth and seventh, Utley and Howard were up! And Utley flied out harmlessly. Howard struck out. *sigh* John Mayberry came up and squeaked an infield single to no-man's land and reached without a throw. Dom Brown worked an eight pitch at-bat till he finally hit a hard ball off David Hernandez, who was in for Cahill at this stage. Mayberry had advanced to second on a wild pitch in the middle of the sequence. Mayberry scored from second, sliding in just ahead of the tag of Henry Blanco who had not blocked the plate and who was positioned a little too far to the first base side. It was a photo finish, but Mayberry was safe. Up came Erik Kratz. Hernandez uncorked another wild pitch, letting Brown move up to second. Kratz was able to plate Brown with a single, and the game was tied.

Papelbon happened in the ninth. It was needlessly exciting, enhanced by a slapstick play at first where Howard flipped a ball past a diving Papelbon, who was trying to cover. Still, Paps held the D-Backs scoreless.

In the ninth, the Phillies faced Josh Collmenter, the D-Backs' long man. Juan Pierre singled, and was sacrificed to second by Nate Schierholtz. Laynce Nix singled, but it was close enough to being an out that Pierre had to play it safe and could not try to score. With runners at the corners, the D-Backs walked Chase Utley to face Ryan Howard, who had struck out three times on the day, looking terrible and hearing it from the crowd at CBP.

Howard, facing a righthander, and a non-shift defense, laced a center to right exactly where Justin Upton should have been. The coach who positions the outfield defense was apparently getting a hot dog, since in a late-inning, bases-loaded situation, and with Juan Pierre at third, nobody is going to throw out anyone when the ball is within fifty feet of the outfield wall. Upton was nowhere to be seen, as he was playing far too deep, and Howard was the hero. He looked testy in the interview after the game, but teams will challenge you if they sense weakness. Despite the heroics on his part in the ninth, it is difficult to look at the move and find fault with it from the D-Backs end of things. It just didn't work out, and honestly Chase Utley looks much more likely to hurt the other team right now than Howard does.

Fangraph of $25,000,000.00 contracts:

Source: FanGraphs

Tomorrow is a 7:05 start at Citizens Bank Park with Vance Worley facing off against the zombie Ben Sheets of the Atlanta Braves.