In the midst of this game, when Chad Kuhl was still doing his best impression of Dallas Braden, I started wondering to myself how I would describe this rebuilding period to my son or daughter. Obviously, just as they are developing their own Phillies fandom, the team will be winding down another stretch of stellar baseball: competitive every year, a World Series or five, chagrined Mets fans, the works. I'm certain my child will be confused by my skepticism and pessimism (and if not mine, certainly my mothers). And I won't even want to explain it to him or her for fear of engendering the same outlook. But, as Kuhl mowed down the side in the bottom of the 4th and went to the dugout without having allowed a baserunner yet in the game, I thought this night might turn into the perfect anecdote--having to watch a lineup strewn with the future flail at a quad-A starter destined to be a mediocre reliever until he becomes too expensive. The thought was nauseating.
Fortunately for the rug in front of me but unfortunately for my warehouse of witticisms, Tommy Joseph opened the 5th inning by ripping a fastball just right of center and just short of the wall to end the perfecto and no-hitter. After two groundouts to the right side, he would score to end the shutout as well. The bottom of the order then followed with a Herrera infield single and an Altherr run-scoring double down the first-base line. At the time, the Phillies sudden burst of competent hitting closed the gap from 3-0 to 3-2. But more importantly, they saved themselves the demoralizing disgrace of being perfected by Delaware native Chad Kuhl, whom you should never be able to remember in between appearances in Phillies-Pirates games. And in case you're a masochist, the bullpen provided a more mundane form of disgrace late in the game when they collectively refused to retire the side in the top of the 9th so that the Pirates might outscore the Bills.
The Phillies found themselves in that 3-0 hole thanks to three solo home runs surrendered by an off-kilter Eickhoff. The damage was incurred early and consistently. Eickhoff, after getting ahead of the John Jaso leading off the game, worked back to a full count when Jaso would not chase Eickhoff's unusually loopy breaking balls. On the 8th pitch of the at-bat, Jaso rocked a hanger into the flowers in center to complete the inauspicious opening for Eickhoff. He continued to fight his pitches for most of the outing. But he looked especially unsure of his stuff in the first couple of innings. In fact, he pitched more like VV thank the Jerad Eickhoff of most of the season. He seemed to want to strike out every batter, getting into deep counts in order to avoid contact. Of course, he might not have had his usual control and command tonight. But it also looked like his breaking pitches weren't as tight. At any rate, when Andrew McCutchen homered in the 4th, it was clear he misplaced his fastball. (By the way, I think Cutch has proved that he can take a fastball middle-in out to the left-field power alley.) And Sean Rodriguez hammered a spinning slider in the 5th. So, right, both command and stuff.
Despite the homers, Jerad Eickhoff finished the 6th having allowed only those 3 runs on 3 hits (yes, all homers) and 3 strikeouts. The strike out number is surprisingly low given how contact-averse he pitched early on. But as the game progressed he came back into the strike zone and the Pirates swung early, perhaps getting homer happy. In fact, even though Eickhoff finished the third inning above 50 pitches. He entered the 7th well below 100 and seeming like he had a chance to complete seven innings for the first time since late July.
As it turned out, the top of the 7th was the decisive inning in this one. Yes, the Phillies never scored a third run; so, everything after Rodriguez's blast looks like gratuity in hindsight. But the game was close coming into the 7th. Who knows what might have happened after it had Eickhoff been able to keep the game close. However, Eickhoff found himself in some trouble after a leadoff hit and then a critical two-out clank by Maikel Franco. If not for Freddy Galvis dashing into shallow left-field and sliding into the path of the ball, a run would have scored on that error. It was a good effort by Freddy, one that puts on display why a player with an atrocious OBP can garner so much support to be the Phillies default shortstop with Crawford knocking on the door. But that effort went for naught when the next batter, Jordy Mercer, took Eickhoff deep for the 4th homer of the night. 6-2, game effectively over. Eickhoff left after that batter and I suspect that he never would have faced Mercer if the goal of these games were to win and not to let players gain experience. I hope this ending doesn't get him down too much. He fought himself most of the game and still managed to keep the Phillies in it while bringing the game to a reasonable point for the bullpen to take over. In the end, his line (6.2 IP, 3 ER, 5 H, 5 K, 0 BB) looks good until you realize 4 of the five hits were dingers.
About that bullpen. I finished writing this recap before the top of the 9th ended. Once Colton Murray entered and gave up a hit, I stopped looking up from the computer to check on the Pirates attempt to discover the MLB mercy rule. I assume that the game has ended. But I don't have the will to find out.