A red-hot cleanup hitter and a clutch bullpen performance led the host Phillies past the feisty New York Mets 10-7. With the victory, the home team held onto first place in the very early stages of the 2011 pennant race.
With the temperature holding around 50 degrees, both the climate and the final score more resembled a defensive battle in the National Football League. Of course, it was a cool evening for baseball and an unexpected April slugfest.
Baseball is a game of clichés, and this contest between the NL East rivals put some of these diamond truisms under the microscope.
Cliché No. 1:
In April, the pitchers are ahead of the hitters.
Not tonight. The two teams combined for 28 hits off two quality starting pitchers; 16 of the 17 total runs were earned.
Cliché No. 2:
When a team does not cash in on an early (and easy) scoring opportunity, that lost opportunity will come back to haunt it.
Yes and no. Jose Reyes opened the game with a bunt single and advanced to third on catcher Brian Schneider's throwing error. Man on third, nobody out; the probability of scoring at least one run figures to be at least 95 percent. Any statisticians in the house?
Not tonight. Starter Joe Blanton proceeded to wriggle out of the jam, punching out both Willie Harris (swinging) and David Wright (looking) and inducing a fly out from Carlos Beltran.
As often happens when the pitcher picks up the whole team, the Phils offense paid him back, starting with a leadoff triple from Shane Victorino. In no time, the home team was up 2-0, which they extended to 7-0 after three. The Mets were cooked, right?
Not exactly. Angel Pagan got two runs back for the Mets in the top of the forth with a bomb, and the Mets exploded for five runs in the top of the fifth to knot the game at a touchdown apiece.
If you recall, Tuesday evening's starter Cole Hamels also got out of a big jam in the top of the first, and looked just fine after two. Then, he gave up a six-spot to the Mets in the third. Ouch!
Cliché No. 3:
When you're pitching with a big lead, throw strikes. The worst thing you can do is to give free passes to the trailing team.
In his four-plus innings of work, Blanton had decent, if not great, control. He whiffed six batters, against two walks, and hit one batter.
For the most part, Blanton's problem was that he was getting far too many pitches up in the zone.
Protecting a 7-2 lead (well, trying to protect a 7-2 lead) with one and out and nobody on in the top of the fifth, Blanton suddenly became very hittable.
In succession, he yielded a double, a walk, three consecutive singles, a double and another walk. Before you could say Antonio Bastardo, the Mets had whittled the lead to a single run with the bases loaded. The walks hurt; the belt-high fastballs and hangers almost killed.
Cliché No. 4:
A win in April is just as good as a win in September.
This is mathematically irrefutable, even if the spirit of it can be questioned.
Obviously, all W's are created equal in the standings and a win against a division rival is even more important than one against the Astros, for a recent example. By June or so, the details of this game will be forgotten by most people with normal memories, and the fact that the Phillies won and the Mets (who may or may not be an afterthought come September) lost is all that counts.
As for the spirit of this cliché, if it were a choice between winning this game in September or April, I'd rather take it in September. Of course, this kind of win in April could also help a team win this kind of rollercoaster affair during the stretch drive.
In regard to the very early season stats, it's very hard to project after just one time around the five-man rotation.
But, let's do the math anyway. If the Phillies’ season continues exactly like this:
They will win 130 games, and lose 32.
They will do this without Roy Halladay, Joe Blanton or Cole Hamels winning any, although "Doc" will post an incredible 1.50 earned run average.
Placido Polanco will hit .450 (Teddy Who?) with 130 RBI and 194 runs scored.
Ben Francisco (Jayson Who?) will hit .333 with 65 homers, 162 RBI and 194 runs.
Ryan Howard (Albert Who?) will match Francisco's 65 dingers, and do so with a .525 batting average, 259 RBI and 162 runs.
Which brings us to...
(Phillies) Cliché No. 5:
Howard does not hit well in the cold weather months, and may really struggle without the protection afforded by No. hitter Chase Utley and No. 5 hitter Jayson Werth.
Yes, and the Earth is flat, and Butler shoots extremely well in NCAA title games.
Of course, over time, the absence of Utley (for however long) and Werth may mean fewer good pitches for the big first basemen to hit. Right now, the man is crushing almost everything offered.
Most power hitters are streaky, and Howard is no exception. Still, Phillies fans have to be most pleasantly surprised and elated to see the biggest cog in their lineup start the season like this.
(Phillies) Cliché No. 6:
The starting rotation is untouchable, but the bullpen is suspect.
So far, Halladay, Lee and Oswalt all pitched quite well, while Hamels and Blanton were terrible.
In the bullpen, Antonio Bastardo gave up only one hit and struck out two in 1.2 crucial innings of work to get the win. J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras collaborated on three shutout innings, yielding only one hit and one walk.
Which brings us back to Cliché No. 3. Bastardo, who relieved Blanton during that wild Mets fifth, threw 17 of his 20 pitches for strikes. That worked out pretty well for him.
In the final analysis, a cliché or two held true and several others were ripped apart during a wild ballgame that saw the Phillies up their record to 4-1.
It was just one of about 90 or so victories they will need to qualify for the postseason.
After all, whether they win 2-1 (as most pundits projected as the norm for this season) or 10-7, a win is a win is a win—whether played in 50 degrees or 90.
And yes, I am fresh out of clichés.
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