The Phillies refused to be intimidated by the Astros in the series finale of a three-game Ryan Howard renaissance (Ryanissance? Yes), to the point that they cockily traded tonight's starting pitcher mere hours before game time. They chickened out, however, and brought in a flustered, last-minute Sean O'Sullivan to take the baseball and do stuff with it.
Sean O'Sullivan still buckling his belt as he runs onto the field.— Stephen Gross (@SteveGrossMCall) August 7, 2014
Collin McHugh would be sharing the hill with him on this night; himself a cautionary tale to the dangers of the waiver wire, through which Cole Hamels is still navigating. McHugh was at one point a carefree Colorado Rockie, enjoying the holiday season when all of the sudden until a bag was placed over his head while he was in the LEGO aisle of a toy store and taken to Houston, where he was informed he'd been "claimed" and the Rockies would not be coming to save him.
O'Sullivan had an immediate impact on the game, giving up a two-run home run to Chris Carter after walking Jason Castro. Then he also gave up a home run to Marc Krauss. Then he went into a squatting position, clutched his head, and shrieked for a solid two minutes as Carlos Ruiz watched, expressionless, and the umpire dusted off the plate. Then he struck out Jonathan Singleton.
Eventually, O'Sullivan got all of the outs, and the inning ended with the Astros enjoying a 3-0 lead and the knowledge that they had shattered the mind of an innocent spot starter.
In the second, Marlon Byrd sparked a singles barrage that put Grady Sizemore on behind him and allowed Carlos Ruiz to knock him in. This was followed by a ground ball from Cody Asche that flummoxed Sizemore and made him the second half of a twin killing.
With a 3-1 lead, O'Sullivan retook the mound. This was followed quickly by Chris Carter's second two-run home run of the night, as Carter tried furiously to have his offense neutralize his "half-asleep" defensive style that in the end would contribute to the Astros' undoing.
O'Sullivan fell to his knees and began lapping up handfuls of dirt. Ruiz stood up, took his mask off, and casually spat until the episode concluded.
Unlike his counterpart, Collin McHugh kept it together most of the night, at one point retiring eleven in a row, until Ben Revere roared down the first base line after dribbling a ball back to the mound. He was immediately doubled off one batter later.
The night went on; slowly, menacingly. Mario Hollands replaced O'Sullivan, who left with a mere five-spot on his record. Reid Brignac revealed he'd been hiding in the rolled up tarp this whole time and contributed a meaningless strikeout in the sixth. Elsewhere,
And then, the bottom of the eighth.
Carlos Ruiz led off with a double, setting a tone of two-baggery for the inning. Cody Asche crunched him into score with a sharp single, but Domonic Brown let a full count turn into yet another swinging strikeout. The Astros infield exploded slightly during a(nother) soft Ben Revere grounder, and everybody was safe. Jimmy Rollins followed with a single to load the bases, and Chase Utley couldn't quite get a ball deep enough to bring the pain.
With two outs, a filthy weight clanked to the ground in the on-deck circle, and its owner gave the night sky a hard stare.
Soon, Ryan Howard thought. You will be mine.
Chad Qualls, a sack of human flesh filled with spiders made to look like a man, began warming in the Astros bullpen.
The Big Piece stepped in and forced reliever
Josh Fields Tony Sipp to the very edge of his sanity. Fields threw pitches. Howard fouled them off. Fields threw more pitches. Howard drew the count full. Fields left one where he could see it.
And Howard brought down the thunder for his fifth through eighth RBI of the series.
And in another world, the flawless Jonathan Papelbon ninth - and the nifty Howard catch, leaning into the camera well - was a more common sight, for a Phillies team aiming at a Wild Card spot, powered equally by the old reliables and the furious younglings, quite at home in front of a booming audience, just as they'd planned.
No, though; the star-killing, series-sweeping spectacle was the Phillies' mere 52nd win, keeping them in last place in a season when even the Astros are a challenge. Still, there is something always memorable about a dominant Ryan Howard performance; how he slide steps and abruptly drops his weapon when he knows he's done his job is an image forever echoing from a time when we were the Phillies, and this is just what we did.
Sometimes, now, though; it's just fun to win one.