Everyone watching this game--even those not Phillies fans--felt the same rollicking nausea erode the tempered excitement of a rain-delayed start for Vince Velasquez against the best team in baseball. After a brief storm with apocalyptic bearing finished blustering over the stadium, Velasquez threw two pitches and beckoned to the dugout to be removed. He left no trace of his injury in the broadcast, barely even grimacing once. But his departure rent a tear on the mound and sewed pity and dread in all our guts. As game openings go, this one was Blue Velvet:
But the game had to continue. If we stick with the Blue Velvet narrative then Brett Oberholtzer served as Kyle MacLachlan. He came into a mordant but mundane situation, discovered a malignant power beneath the meek surface, and naively faced off against a moral monster who breathes through a mask.
Like MacLachlan, Oberholtzer fared well in the early going, not quite aware of the evil he faced. Headlong he darted pitches across the plate. And the Cubs repaid with whiffs and weak contact. Surprisingly, Oberholtzer brought the game scoreless into the 5th inning before his happy-go-lucky virtue stumbled into overexuberance. He allowed Ben Zobrist to reach on a single but retired Albert Almora, Jr. on a flyball. Then he snagged a comebacker from Miguel Montero, which looked like it would be the third straight double play to end an Cubs half at the plate. With the adrenaline of the snag spiking, he pirouetted and hopped off-balance as he threw the ball to Freddy Galvis covering second. His throw skidded low and away where Galvis could not retrieve it cleanly. The ball padded over to Cesar Hernandez who had no play anywhere. With the inning extended, Javier Baez threaded a singled past Maikel Franco and Galvis to score Zobrist to drive home the first run, which was enough to ensure a tie with the Phillies today. Oberholtzer was then removed and Andrew Bailey squelched the rally without further damage. But Oberholtzer had finally faced the evil. Even on his best day, he would be stuck with a loss to the Cubs.
That lone run Oberholtzer was charged might not have been the winning run if the Phillies had managed a promising first inning competently. Odubel Herrera led off with a single through the right side and Cesar Hernandez followed with a bullet into leftfield that sadly did not quite reach the gap. Nevertheless, the Phillies had runners on the corners and no one out. I'm sure the average run-value of such a game state is greater than 1. But averages are not actuals because teams like the Phillies exist. Freddy Galvis, batting third again because..., popped a ball into shallow left-center, where the strong-armed Almora settled under it for the first out, which should have been the end of that play. Unfortunately, it wasn't because Herrera launched himself toward home where Almora's throw easily beat him. He tried to soft shoe around the tag but what Montero took the lead in the dance. I don't know whether Herrera ran on his own or was sent by Juan Samuel. Whoever made that decision, it was a bad one. It makes me wonder whether the Phillies bothered to consult advanced scouting on Almora's arm.
As for the rest of the game, the Phillies offense played Duncan Shiek: it was barely breathing.
I found this game difficult to watch. I anticipated an exciting opportunity for the Phillies to win a series against the best team in baseball and Velasquez to put his arsenal together into a long-awaited dominant performance. Instead, I was dead inside from the second pitch forward. Here's hoping Velasquez has not suffered a long-term injury or anything requiring surgery. It seemed to me the Phillies handled him well. He obviously alerted the team to something before the start of the game. And as soon as he felt it was interfering with his performance (which it must have been given his greatly diminished velocity), he called for the trainer and was lifted. I take these as signs that the Phillies are not pushing their pitchers into dangerous positions and that they have convinced them not to try to fight through pain in order to prove their toughness. These are good things.