Jon Lester picked through the Phillies lineup last night.
They'd walk up to the plate, sure, because the game couldn't move forward otherwise. Each one would put a cleat on the dugout steps, give Pete Mackanin a meaningful glance, and trudge solemnly to the batters box after the manager would coldly turn away. Out there, Lester would surgically take them apart, put them back together, and send them to the bench, where they would be released from their catatonic state, having no memory of the out they'd probably made. Nine of them didn't even get to run to first base. ESPN's Jerry Crasnick twisted the knife by comparing Lester's eight-inning, nine-strikeout, 95-pitch shut-out performance to Steve Carlton in Lefty's own house.
And that went on for eight innings, until Joe Maddon told Lester he wasn't going back out to finish things. Perhaps Maddon had at some point accidentally looked into the Phillies dugout, recalling a darker night in Philadelphia, when he looked into the dugout and saw the 2008 Phillies plotting his demise through a raging sleet squall. Perhaps, despite the fury in his heart, he took pity on the neutered offense in red pinstripes, and removed Lester knowing that a six-run lead was in all likelihood thick enough insulation to start swinging the bullpen gate.
Without Lester in their way, the Phillies began to reach base. Andres Blanco and Cesar Hernandez singled, and then Freddy Galvis found one of those bi-weekly power pockets that see him take a real bite out of a pitcher's confidence. With one swing of his .234-hitting bat, Galvis cut the 6-0 deficit to 6-3.
Three runs still seems insurmountable for this lineup, but slightly less so in the moment, given that that's the amount they had just successfully scored. Still, though; it was nice to see even a weak pulse after being utterly flat lined by Lester for a couple of hours. Next to the plate was Tommy Joseph, an even more exciting moment, given Joseph's role as both an underdog plowing his way back from injury-caused oblivion and as an answer to the seemingly eternal Phillies question of "Who's on first?"
Joseph saw something he didn't like out in the center field shrubs and dropped a baseball on it. 6-4.
And, sadly, that's where the comeback ended; rather abruptly, too. No other Phillies reached base and, in a moment that would have been so poetic he would have dominated the sports news cycle, Ryan Howard came to the plate with a chance to tie the game, but instead ended it with a ground-out. Dang. [EDIT: This doesn't make sense, how could Howard come up with a chance to tie the game if Odubel Herrera hadn't reached on a pop-up single? Because that's what actually happened.]
Still, it was something. Something that reminded you of when the Phillies used to battle with teams, rather than succumb to them, while also reminding you that baseball is cyclical, and in a year or two, maybe the Phillies win that game. Maybe the rally starts a few innings earlier; maybe smarter at-bats that last longer than one pitch mean Lester gets flustered and leaves one up; maybe a few more developed young players establish themselves as threats; maybe the Phillies' starting pitcher gives up a run or two fewer, making the comeback all the more feasible; maybe the Phanatic's t-shirt cannon, which malfunctioned between innings, accidentally goes off into the Cubs' dugout, leaving them a shuddering, rattled mess, unable to go back out on the field.
We can make all the assumptions we want about the future, since it's all theoretical. But in games like this - games the Phillies would have simply just lost 6-0 even a year ago - it's not difficult to watch balls fly over the fence in the ninth inning and not consider the team we'll be looking at in the near future.
*tommy joseph hits for the cycle in four straight games*— dan from the web (@sharpalright) June 7, 2016
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