The Phillies’ 7-6, 11-inning win over the Giants today is a perfect example of why you can’t ever write off the Phillies – and why you can’t draw any solid conclusions from early-season results.
What do you learn from a game like this? Very little that you didn’t know already. The Phillies’ bullpen is still riddled with questions, and Ryan Madson still can’t consistently close out games. The offense has yet to shake its recent hiccups (though maybe the adrenaline-igniting ninth-inning rally against Giants ace Tim Lincecum and closer Brian Wilson will be the catalyst).
In the end, it’s just too early in the season to etch anything in stone based on a few April series. If there is one thing clear, it’s that the Phillies need to see if Brad Lidge can reassume the closer role, because Madson has proved time and again that he can’t handle it.
Though it ended up as a struggle of endurance, the game began as a matchup of Lincecum and Cole Hamels. Using primarily two pitches – a four-seam fastball and a split-fingered fastball – Lincecum buzzed through the Phillies’ lineup without much difficulty, just as teammates Jonathan Sanchez and Todd Wellemeyer had done the previous two days.
Even though Lincecum allowed a fifth-inning opposite-field home run to Ryan Howard, for 8 1/3 innings he avoided putting multiple runners on base – something his counterpart, Cole Hamels, couldn’t do. Hamels, who to his credit had 10 strikeouts and at times showed faint signs of being a dominant pitcher, loaded the bases in the sixth inning with score tied at 1. Then he did something dominant pitchers don’t do: He walked in the go-ahead run. After Phils manager Charlie Manuel left a clearly struggling Hamels out on the mound, Edgar Renteria followed with a two-run single.
The Phillies were quiet until the ninth, when Giants manager Bruce Bochy removed Lincecum after a one-out walk to Shane Victorino. After Chase Utley singled and Ryan Howard walked, Jayson Werth fouled off several pitches before dropping a bloop millimeters inside the right-field line, clearing the bases and tying the score. A fan dressed in Phillies garb nearly committed a monstrous mental error by reaching out to grab the ball (which would have turned the hit into a two-run ground-rule double), but luckily for the Phillies – and for him – the ball eluded his grasp.
In the 10th, the Phils took the lead when backup catcher Brian Schneider motored home on a wild pitch, but Madson allowed a leadoff double and promptly blew the save, No. 2 of the season.
But the Phils, as they have done so many times under Manuel, punched right back. Wilson Valdez ripped a ball into the left-field corner that barely cleared the glove of Eugenio Velez, scoring Raul Ibanez. Velez had an easier play seconds later on a fly ball by Victorino, but the ball hit the heel of Velez’s glove and bounded away as Valdez raced home for a 7-5 lead.
On a wild afternoon, the Phils wouldn’t walk away with a win that easily. The clouds opened, and showers started to fall at AT&T Park. Then Nelson Figueroa took the mound, and hits – and more weird bounces – began to drop as well. Only Schneider’s whirling catch-and-tag after an errant throw by Howard saved Figueroa from the Phillies’ second blown save of the afternoon – and helped Figueroa secure his first career save.
If one certainty emerged from the wild afternoon by the bay, it was this: Heading home for a challenging 10-game stretch against the Mets, Cardinals and Braves, the Phillies needed a win – any kind of win – and they got it.