“On this night, the Phillies ace trumped all the Cards.” – Arlene Cov
I don’t know what your expectations for the regular season were, but it’s hard to imagine the first 75 games of 2011 disappointing anyone.
The Phillies picked up their 47th win Wednesday night, riding nine spectacular shutout innings from Cliff Lee to a 4-0 victory. The Phillies were six games worse through this many games last year, at 41-34. They wouldn’t tally 47 wins until Game 87 of 2010.
Wednesday’s was a satisfying win all around – Lee extended his scoreless innings streak to 23, lowering his ERA to 2.87 in the process. All of the sudden, the Phillies have not one, not two, but three of the top four Cy Young candidates in the National League. There is plenty of baseball left to play, but all peripheral numbers point to Halladay-Hamels-Lee being the pitchers most capable of sustaining such a high level of performance. Jair Jurrjens may have an eye-popping ERA but his control and batted ball numbers don’t indicate that he’ll stick around in the Cy conversation much longer. Contrarily, Halladay-Hamels-Lee are 1-2-3 in the league in strikeout-to-walk ratio and among the Top 17 in swinging strikes. There are no metrics more indicative of future success than K/BB and whiff rate. What an embarrassment of riches.
As fan page, “Phillies’ Magical Season” eloquently put it on Facebook, all the Phillies need to win is one good half inning. It sure seems that way, doesn’t it? With the way this trio has pitched of late, any crooked number feels safe. And security after the fourth inning of a game is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
Lee’s first seven pitches of the night were all outside the strike zone, and they were not movement-filled balls like Halladay’s on Tuesday night. Doc was missing the plate because his two-seamer had too much life and backward movement to righties. Lee was just simply leaving balls up in the zone. But after walking Ryan Theriot and going 3-0 to Jon Jay, Lee asked for a new baseball and that was that. He was out of the inning five pitches later.
Two innings later, Lee allowed a leadoff double to opposing pitcher, Kyle Lohse. Second baseman Pete Kozma followed with a sharp grounder up the middle that Lee somehow snared in mid-air, throwing Kozma out at first. It was yet another in a season filled with stellar defense from Sir Clifton. Not since Greg Maddux has a star pitcher so routinely, athletically and gracefully fielded the mound.
Theriot followed with a single, but Lee then induced a 5-4-3 double play ball from Jay. The execution from Placido Polanco, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard was perfect, and it created an intangible energy heading into the fourth inning. When you watch so many innings of baseball, you get the feel for when guys are the “right kind” of amped and confident. This play was a momentum-builder, leading me to tweet that the Phils would score twice next inning.
Sure enough, Rollins homered to start the fourth and Howard later went oppo to give the Phils a 3-0 lead. With the way Lee was dealing, the game felt over at that very point.
An insurance run was tacked on later, when Shane Victorino tripled and scored on an Utley sac fly. Lee didn’t need it, though. He blanked the Cardinals for his second straight complete game shutout. It’s been quite a run for the beloved lefty – he’s allowed one run in his last 33 innings, shaving more than a full run off his ERA in four starts.
Wednesday was unbelievably the Phillies’ tenth shutout in 75 games, a mark not reached since 1964. Roy Oswalt looks to continue the trend of great pitching tomorrow night at 8:15. He’ll need to bounce back from several mediocre outings. His fastball has been rather flat and he is not generating anywhere near the amount of strikeouts he did before the fateful Arizona game.
Here’s hoping Roy O. get’s back on track.