Today’s game stretched across the afternoon like a tightrope. And the Phillies, like any professional tightrope walker, showed expert control while selling the drama. Sure, it looked as if the Marlins were threatening every inning to break the game open and bury the Phillies for the day. But truly that was just the Phillies pitchers—be it Jeremy Hellickson or the slew of relievers—keeping our eyes on the game rather than the...
Sorry, I was checking my phone. Anyway, the game was close and always in doubt until it was over. I won’t get used to having a competent bullpen for a while. Until then, I will sweat every 1-2 run lead carried over the final third of the game.
On Jeoparday, Alex Trebek might call today’s affair between the Marlins and Phillies a Getaway Day Game. As such, the Phillies rested half the starting 8. Out were Hernandez, Altherr, Joseph, and Rupp. In were Blanco, Nava, Stassi, and Knapp. For most teams this would be a white-flag but, despite how hot Hernandez and Altherr have been, the trade-offs in this lineup seem more or less even.
Whereas the Phillies felt comfortable competing with their subs, the Marlins were obviously feeling the pressure to stay in second place. They fielded their usual starting 8 in a desperate attempt to stay ahead of the Phillies, who have been shooting up the standings. Ain’t no rest for the hunted.
The game began firmly in the Phillies favor. Jeremy Hellickson threw a nearly perfect first three innings, getting 13 outs in 13 batters. Oh, sorry, one of those outs is technically a hit because umpire Ted Barrett couldn’t see this play by Daniel Nava:
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To me, it looked like a clear catch at game speed. We might call the play close but its not close enough for a professional umpire to miss. As you can see in the pic below, the ball enters the glove in the air. If he thinks it hit grass, then he’s guessing about what happened to the ball after it entered the glove. He certainly didn’t see it.
To me, it looked like a clear catch at game speed. We might call the play close but its not close enough for a professional umpire to miss. The ball enters the glove in the air. If he thinks it hit grass, then he’s guessing about what happened to the ball after it entered the glove. He certainly didn’t see it.
The Phillies, as luck would have it, couldn’t challenge the call because of events in the first inning. With one out and Maikel Franco hitting, Odubel Herrera, having just stolen second and feeling fleet, dashed for third base on the first move by Edison Volquez. In what would become a Phillies leit-motif, Herrera slid with his right hand outstreched to the back of the bag, evading Martin Prado’s tag at first. But his momentum carried him over the bag and it was at best unclear whether he came off the bag while Prado kept the tag on him. Barrett ruled Herrera out. The Phillies challenged and lost.
Regardless of outcome, Herrera deserves rebuke for that attempt. He took away an RBI opportunity from the Phillies suddenly hottest hitter, who ended up walking to keep the first inning going. And Volquez hadn’t looked good yet. He opened the game walking Nava, then surrendered a smash single to Freddy Galvis. Herrera then chopped a ball for an out at second. But Justin Bour mishandled the double play relay to first and Nava scored as the ball scooted away. After Herrara stole second, the rally seemed in good health. But the Phillies couldn’t get any more out of it, despite Volquez being wild and getting hit hard.
(In the midst of all that, Ben Davis argued Hererra should bunt in the first inning against a pitcher who looked hittable. As it turns out, there are many ways to score one run. So, why not try to score a lot more?)
(Oh, he also said something about not pitching out because a runner is TOO fast.)
The Phillies extended their lead in the 3rd. Galvis, another suddenly hot hitter, tripled to the right-field corner and Hererra brought him home on a sharp ground ball directly at Dee Gordon. So, the first third closed with the Phillies leading 2-0.
The middle innings were a bit more dramatic. Hellickson, as he has all year, was living on keeping hitters off-balance enough to make weak contact on hittable pitches. There were plenty of pitches that caused me to cringe as a Marlins batter started to swing, but, when the ball hit the bat, thudded meekly toward a Phillies glove. I don’t know how Hellickson so adeptly avoids barrels. But I hope it lasts.
Of course, the flip side of a lot of contact is that eventually some balls find open grass. This started to happen from the fourth inning on. Hellickson would eventually surrender a run in the 6th. But he deftly escaped much worse damage throughout the middle innings, including escaping a 1st and 3rd with none out against the heart of the Marlins order in the 4th. To get the first out in that Houdini act, Hellickson struck out Giancarlo Stanton, his only K for the day.
The Phillies responded immediately to the Marlins run in the 6th, thanks largely to one of the best slides into home I’ve ever seen. (Leaping Coghlins are not included.) With Michael Saunders on first and 2 out, Brock Stassi lined a ball down the first base line and into the corner. The ball, instead of dying there and giving the Phillies an easy run, caromed hard back to Stanton who relayed the ball to Dee Gordon, who in turn gunned a perfect throw to the plate. But Michael Saunders slid thusly: presenting his chest as far away from the catcher as possible while tucking his left hand onto the plate. Marvelous.
That run would prove to be the winner, as the bullpen shut down the Marlins to close out the game. The 7th was a bit hairy, after Edubray Ramos was hit in the arm by a lead-off line drive. But Joely Rodriguez and Pat Neshek (who I’m calling Abracadabra thanks to his arm flair at the end of his delivery) limited the damage to one run. After that, Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris pitched uneventful final innings. Both looked in total control. The Phillies have a competent bullpen. I have to get used to this.