Let's go right to what matters. It was the bottom of the sixth inning, game tied 2-2. Ryan Howard had just coaxed a two-out walk. Marlon Byrd followed and hit a towering pop up behind second base. Didi Gregorious backed up, got under it, but the ball hit off his glove. It was a sunny day, so he either just missed the play or lost the ball in the sun. Either way, it was an error and Marlon Byrd was safe at second.
What happened right after Gregorious dropped the ball is what decided the game today. While the ball was in the air, Ryan Howard was running around second base. And by "running," I mean jogging. And by "jogging," I mean loping. And by "loping," I mean he wasn't going fast because he thought the inning was over. I don't think that's what Ryne Sandberg means when he talks about playing the game the right way.
When the ball dropped, Howard realized he needed to run, so he bolted around third base and headed home. Ender Enciarte, the right fielder, picked the ball up and fired a strike to Miguel Montero, the Diamondbacks catcher. Howard, out by a country mile, didn't slide and was tagged out while dancing around home plate to the first base side.
It was a strange end of a strange play, but it got stranger. With the grounds crew already jogging out onto the field (much faster and with more bounce in their step than Howard initially had), Darin Ruf, in the on-deck circle the whole time, was jumping up and down gesticulating to the umpire. Howard and Sandberg joined him. It was at that moment that everyone in the stadium (all 31,504 people and the 13,000 or so blue seats that accompanied them on this beautiful Sunday afternoon) realized what was going on - we were in replay land.
Turns out, after seeing the play over and over on Phanavision, that Montero's right foot was in the third base line. That's why Howard ran around Montero, and that's why Ruf was going crazy after the play. And that's why, after a very long wait for the replay gurus in New York to figure out what was quite obvious to everyone at the stadium after one replay, Howard was called safe and the Phillies took a 3-2 lead. Howard had no clear path to home plate because Montero's foot was blocking him.
Although Howard probably would have been safe without replay had he run hard from the moment Byrd hit the ball, kudos to Howard for not sliding and instead trying to avoid Montero. To the best of my knowledge, even with the 2014 rule change he could have tried the old-school play of barreling over the catcher, but I'm sure his dance moves helped convince the replay experts that he didn't have a path to the plate.
That was the deciding play in the game, as the Phillies won 4-2 today. Unlike the first two games in this series, the two teams' pitchers were very good today. Roberto Hernandez only gave up 4 hits and no walks. With only one strikeout, he had a miniscule 75 pitches through 7 innings. Ken Giles and Jonathan Papelbon, beginning to look like Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge from 2008, both benefited from double plays to get out of the 8th and 9th without allowing a run.
On the other side of the ledger, Vidal Nuno was also pretty good, also only allowing 4 hits. But he was hurt by 3 walks and shoddy defense. Not only did Gregorious make the error on the Byrd pop-up, but David Peralta made an error (ultimately ruled a double, but it was clearly an error) in the seventh on a Ben Revere fly ball with Wil Nieves on base. Nieves scored, though only with the help of another Diamondbacks miscue, as Peralta threw a one-hop strike to Miguel Montero at home (this time standing behind the plate, not in Nieves' path) that arrived before Nieves did, but Montero just dropped it. Those two miscues (neither ruled an error, but both really were) led to the Phillies 4th and last run of the day.
The Phillies first two runs came courtesy of a Ryan Howard first inning opposite field line drive home run. He hit it just after I finished lecturing my parents about how stupid it was to play the struggling Howard against a lefty and to hit him cleanup no less. Shows how much I know.
Though, to be fair, in last night's recap, I did say that Howard looked liked he was getting a better bat on the ball toward the end of the game, so I'll take credit with that observation . . . and wipe my comment to my parents out of my memory.
Two final Phillies defensive notes on the game. First, Howard made a great play in the top of the second. With a man on second, Gerardo Parra hit a grounder between first and second. Howard dove, fielded it, and threw the lead runner out at second on his knees. It was a really nice play.
Second, the Phillies pitchers need to work on their fielding. There were at least three failed covers of first base by a Phillies pitcher this series (Diekman or DeFratus Friday night (can't remember for sure), Lee last night, and Hernandez on the Howard play I just mentioned). Add in that in the sixth inning Hernandez didn't look back Ender Inciarte from second on Peralta's tapper to the mound, allowing Inciarte to go to third and then score on Paul Goldschmidt's sacrifice fly, it's clear the Phillies pitchers need a refresher course on mound defense.
Regardless, it was a series win, which is always cause for celebration, especially at home these days.
Fangraph of more-people-need-to-go-to-Phillies-games-on-beautiful-days-like-today: