The (what-else?) sellout crowd of rabid towel-waving rowdies saw Halladay notch his 20th victory, as the hometown Phils took a decisive five-game lead over the second-place Braves with just 10 games left to play.
Playing in an electric atmosphere that felt like October (playoff) baseball, the fans certainly got their money's worth.
Facing young southpaw Mike Minor--who would throw a ponderous 71 pitches over just 2.1 innings--the Phillies squandered chances in the first two innings before Placido Polanco and Chase Utley led off the third with back-to-back hits. Ryan Howard drove a sinking liner to rightfield that Braves rookie phenom Jason Heyward just pulled out of the lights at the last moment.
As analyst Chris Wheeler was telling Comcast viewers that Polanco should have held second base and tagged up, Jayson Werth stepped up and rendered his point moot. Werth blasted a Minor fastball (or was it a minor fastball?) well over the 374-foot sign in left center. Just like that, the Fightins took a 3-0 lead that they would never relinquish.
The Braves would get one back in the top of the 5th on an unusual play. With no outs and runners on first and second, pinch hitter Eric Hinske bounced a ball to Utley who threw to shortstop Wilson Valdez for what looked like a 4-6-3 double play. It wasn't to be. Rick Ankiel came barreling into second base (or in that general vicinity) to blow up the play, forcing an errant throw from Valdez that allowed Alex Gonzalez to score.
Halladay clamped down to allow the Braves no more runs until the sixth, when Derek Lee's sacrifice fly plated Martin Prado. Centerfielder Shane Victorino prevented what could have been a big inning by gunning Brain McCann out at third on the play.
The bottom of the sixth belonged to Fightins leftfielder Raul Ibanez, who smoked a 2-2 pitch down the rightfield line to drive in Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth. Ibanez, who earlier doubled down the leftfield line, might never have had that chance if home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg had punched him out on a 1-2 offering that seemed to pass through the strike zone. But it's the little things that sometimes win games, and the insurance runs provided by Ibanez would stand up to be the margin of victory.
Halladay, looking a little tired and also getting no help from Kellogg on the corners, yielded three hits and two walks in his seven innings. The Phils ace only struck out three, but the effort—backed by solid relief stints from Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge in the eight and ninth—was good enough to garner his 20th victory. To Halladay's credit, he was, as always, bulldog tough and two of those three strikeouts were of the much needed inning-ending variety.
It should be noted that the seventh and final hit given up by the Phils ace was a lonnnnng shot to right center by Braves rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman. It may still be going, but it was one of very few Braves highlights tonight.
Tape measure blasts notwithstanding, the Braves will leave Philly tomorrow night trailing the scorching Phils by either four or six games with nine games left to play. With Roy Oswalt—-the third member of H20—- toeing the rubber, one would be surprised if it won't be a six-game deficit.
For more on the origins of H20, please see:
Halladay became the Phillies first 20-game winner since Steve "Lefty" Carlton won 23 in 1982. "Hard to believe, Harry."
He's not the Lights-out Lidge of 2008, but Brad Lidge has been pretty good this year. While his walks are a little high (20 in 41.2 innings), he has saved 25 of his 30 opportunities with a 3.24 ERA.
Why wasn't Rick Ankiel called out for being well out of the baseline on that takeout slide of Wilson Valdez in the fifth that resulted in the Braves first run? He was not even close to making contact with any part of the bag. Surprisingly, Manuel did not protest the non-call.
Wow, the Braves have some fine young talent. Freedie Freeman, who just turned 21, enjoyed his first-ever MLB homer of of Halladay, and it was a monster blast. We all know about Jason Heyward, also just 21, who can do it all. And, would you believe that the Braves threw four pitchers tonight—all 25 or younger—who each average more than a strikeout per inning. Unreal!
The Phillies are now 30 games over .500 at 91-61 and riding a nine-game winning streak. They are also a remarkable 43-15 since July 20. And they have done much of this without star shortstop and team leader Jimmy Rollins.