Maybe it was poetic justice, or simply baseball justice, that the Phillies fought back to win a game for their ace tonight. After all, it was Labor Day Saturday, and the man often mispronounced as Roy “Doc” Holiday was clearly laboring tonight.
The Phillies offense picked up Halladay tonight, allowing him to notch his 17th victory in a season that he has pitched well enough to have already garnered 20—a milestone that he reached twice as a Toronto Blue Jay. Indeed, baseball justice was served in the 5-4 win that allowed the Phils to remain just one game back of the Atlanta Braves, who won a 2-0 pitchers’ duel versus Josh Johnson and the Florida Marlins.
The box score will tell the tale that Halladay, who had only yielded 17 homers in his first 28 starts, gave up four of them in just seven innings—a relatively short night’s stint for the workhorse. In fact, this was the first of Doc’s 316 career starts that he ever served up four gopher balls in one game.
The longballs came in pairs: two in the top of the second. One to beefy Prince Fielder (his 29th) and another to skinny Alcides Escobar (his fourth). The other pair were offered to the same guy, Corey Hart, who took Doc deep in the third and again in the seventh, forcing Halladay to the showers on the wrong end of a 4-3 score.
The silver lining in the cloud of homers was that all four were solo shots. Not to worry: The Brewers are an aggressive team that swings for the fences, and Halladay had one of those nights where he just could not find his spots. It did not help that home plate umpire Mike Estabrook was not giving any pitchers the corners, and the strong winds were gusting all night.
Offensively, the Phillies played a little “Brewers Ball” and a little, um, little ball in coming back to capture the victory in the bottom of the seventh—just in time to get the “W” for Halladay. They tied the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the second on back to back dingers by newly resurgent sluggers Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth.
If you’re keeping track of encouraging signs, that’s two home runs in the last three games for Howard (who always seems to heat up in September) and four in the last eleven contests for Werth, who is also regaining his power stroke. Chase Utley knocked in another run—nine rbi in his last four games—and Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz sprinkled in three more hits.
Having said all this, a case could be made that tonight’s hero was backup Wilson Valdez, who drew a walk in the bottom of the seventh to load the bases. After Rollins grounded out to third baseman McGahee who threw home to prevent the tying run, up stood Placido Polanco with the bases still loaded and one out.
Polanco lofted a fly to medium left field that Ryan Braun had time to set up and make a strong throw home. His throw was on line but not particularly strong and catcher Jonathan Lucroy seemed to want no part of a potential collision with Chooch who was motoring in from third. The throw skipped by the reluctant catcher, and Wilson Valdez kept on coming beating Lucroy’s lackluster tag off a throw from reliever Zach Braddock.
Valdez’ hustle would produce the final run, as the bullpen—featuring a rare one-two-three close by Brad Lidge—shut the door on the Brewers.
What does all this mean? The Phillies are at a season-high 20 games over .500, and pending results from the Left Coast, three-and-a-half games in front of the Giants for the wild card lead.
For Halladay, he won a game he night have lost and notched his 17th win with (most likely) five more starts in the regular season. Clearly, Doc would trade a 20-game season and a possible Cy Young Award for the opportunity to see the first postseason action of his illustrious career.
But why not take all three? With the way the Phillies are starting to jell, and with the way Halladay usually controls opposing batters, is it unreasonable to predict 20 wins, a Cy Young award and a major part of an NL East title for the team ace?
On this Labor Day Halladay weekend, the above seems perfectly reasonable.