A great outing by Roy Oswalt, and a three-hit, two-run night for Jimmy Rollins highlighted the Phils' 3-2 win over the Padres in a wild 12-inning affair at PETCO Park.
The win—combined with losses by the Giants and the Braves—left the Fightins two games behind the Braves in the NL East and a half game in front of the Giants in the wild card shuffle. That's the easy part. The hard part is putting this game, itself, into words and perspective as there were enough twists and turns to satiate the psyches of optimists and pessimists alike.
Encouraging News No. 1: Oswalt was brilliant, yielding only six hits and no walks in eight innings. He looked every bit the ace, and having thrown only 102 pitches—while retiring the last 13 Padres—one can easily make the case that he should've been out there in the bottom of the ninth. More on that later.
More Good News: Rollins looked like the spark plug the Phils will need down the stretch to earn a playoff spot. He took two pitches to start the game and then slapped a single into left. He started a two-out rally of sorts with a seeing-eye hit up the middle in the third, and he pulled a double down the line to start the 12th, scoring with a great slide on Placido Polanco's single.
One more: Hanging Chad Durbin pitched a strong final two innings to earn the win. It wasn't his fault that Oswalt wasn't rewarded with a "W."
Bad News No. 1: The offense looked flat again, and I daresay Latos-intolerant. Okay, inspired puns aside, at least their inability to do much against a great young pitcher like Mat Latos can be somewhat justified. The 22-year-old ace showed why he came into the game leading all pitchers in baseball in both WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) and BAA (batting average against). Of course, the Phils also looked completely overmatched against closer Heath Bell, who pitched two full (non-stressful) innings for the first time this season.
More Bad News: Ryan Howard is struggling and maybe he's saving it all for one of his patented huge Septembers. Let's hope so. He went 1-5 with a walk, but also struck out four more times (three of them looking), and left five men on base.
Open question: Did both Utley and Howard return to the lineup too soon?
And Then, there's Lidge: One hates to beat up on such a good guy, but you had to feel for Oswalt when Lidge blew the game in surreal fashion for his erstwhile Astros buddy.
During the wild bottom of the ninth, Lidge threw 25 pitches, but it felt like 55. Old friend Matt Stairs greeted him with a solid single to right before being replaced by the requisite pinch runner, Jerry Hairston. Pesky David Eckstein bunted Hairston over to second. Lidge appeared to panic, and bobbled the bunt but regained just enough composure to get the out at first.
Miguel Tejada—one of very few known quantities in the Padres anonymous lineup—grounded out to Polanco for the second out. The fun was just beginning. The Phils elected to walk the dangerous Adrian Gonzalez with the base open, and Lidge promptly crossed up Ruiz by almost throwing a strike on the first free toss. Ruiz made a great catch, and there was no further drama on the next three lobs.
From here, it got downright preposterous. Although many of Lights-on Lidge's offerings did not have enough bite to chew oatmeal, he started Ryan Ludwick with two apparent strikes that the former Cardinal fouled weakly down the right field line. Of course, with two outs and an 0-2 count, Lidge promptly hit Ludwick in the wrist with another fastball that tailed in.
With the bases full, Lidge threw two balls to Chase Headley, then battled back to a 2-2 count before..are you ready...committing a balk that was so obvious that the Phillies did not emit a murmur of protest. With the bases still full, Luis Durango (who should be fined for swinging at the first pitch) hit a grounder that almost ate up Ryan Howard at first. But alas, the game went into extra innings.
Give the Phillies credit for keeping their heads and rallying to win a game that felt like a must-win on the heels of a humiliating four-game weep at home at the hands of the lowly Astros. Perhaps, with 34 games left to play, they will regain their mojo and look once again like the best team in a flawed National League.
Whether they can do so with an inconsistent lineup that desperately needs Utley and Ryan to be themselves is questionable.
And whether they can do so with a closer capable of throwing away a great outing by Oswalt with a sequence of intentional base on balls (the first throw almost a wild pitch), hit batter, and balk is highly debatable.
These questions will get answered in the next month or so. For now, Phillies fans can savor the end of their losing streak and life precariously atop the wild card standings.