The thing about any formulaic entertainment is that even if you don’t know the outcome, you can be sure halfway through what the final conflict will look like. Every Rocky movie ends with boxing. Every Fast and Furious flick ends in a race. (Right? I’ve never actually seen one.) Every horror film concludes in confrontation with the monster, or the serial killer, or some dark corner of your own psyche.
In the grindhouse of the Phillies’ 2014 season, the killer is the bullpen. And by midway through Sunday’s series finale against the Mets it was clear that we were bound for a bloody reckoning.
Starter Cole Hamels faced his own career-long monster just by taking the hill at Citi Field. Pretty much since that December 2008 interview on WFAN when he called the Mets out as "choke artists," they’ve throttled him: before Sunday, Hamels was 7-14 with a 4.65 ERA in 27 career starts against the team from Queens. Three batters into Sunday’s contest, following an Eric Young single, a walk to arch-nemesis Daniel Murphy and an RBI single from David Wright, he trailed 1-0.
But that was it, as Hamels—still in dogged pursuit of career victory #100—then shut the Mets out over the next seven innings. He stranded men in scoring position in the first, third (Murphy double), fourth (bases loaded, one out), and sixth.
At that point, he’d thrown 111 pitches and presumably was about to turn it over to the bullpen. But manager Ryne Sandberg, desperate to stay out of the monster’s lair, elected to brave the quicksand instead—and sent Hamels back out for the seventh. He worked around a one out double to Murphy (who else?) to escape the seventh with 133 pitches, a career high.
With Jake Diekman and Mike Adams both unavailable, the likely course seemed to be Antonio Bastardo for the eighth and Jonathan Papelbon to close it. But it was Mario Hollands, not Bastardo, on the hill to face the Mets in the eighth. He too worked in and out of trouble, stranding two Mets to keep the lead at 3-1.
The Phillies added what looked like an insurance run in the top of the 9th, as Jimmy Rollins walked and Chase Utley followed with a triple off the top of the wall in right-center. But when the bullpen door opened for the bottom of the ninth, Papelbon didn't come out (injured? hung over? in jail for stabbing hobos? ok, fine--Jim Salisbury tweets it was a sore neck). Instead, Bastardo emerged—and the monster struck at last. Young doubled, the infernal Murphy homered to make it 4-3, and after Wright struck out, Chris Young broke an 0 for 18 with a double.
Exit Bastardo, enter Roberto Hernandez—who’d thrown 98 pitches less than 48 hours earlier. Recently cut ex-Phillie Bobby Abreu came off the bench with a soft single that Utley couldn’t quite come up with, putting Young at third, and Juan Lagares sent the game into extras with an RBI groundout to short.
The rest was a slow-motion bleedout. Jeff Manship replaced Hernandez in the 10th, and after working around two more base runners, the string broke an inning later on Chris Young’s infield single, a Zack Wheeler sac bunt, a Lagares infield single, and finally, mercifully, a game-winning single by Ruben Tejada.
This was just an ass-ugly series between two deeply flawed teams: more than 12 hours of game time, nearly 80 runners left on base combined. The worst-case scenario would be if this pushes management to add more weight to this $180 million Hindenberg by trading for a Wade-esque trade for a Proven Veteran Reliever. In this kind of story, digging the hole deeper just means you’re more likely to die in it.