Normally I hate a West Coast game. No matter how hard I try I can never stay up till the end. Last night I made it to the fifth. But I think I'm glad I wasn't awake for the eighth inning when the Phillies' comfortable 4-1 lead was reduced to 4-3 by a combination of the normally reliable Michael Stutes and the recently rejuvenated Brad Lidge.
It was one of those "close your eyes and hope it'll be over soon" bullpen moments. An inning involving runner's interference, a wild pitch and a three-run lead suddenly reduced to one. It would have been a familiar storyline for the Phillies of last season or the one before. But reading about it this morning reminded me that the real story here isn't that they almost blew a game in the late innings last night but how very few of those moments we've had this year.
Even in 2008, the year the Phillies won it all, there were many such close calls. Brad Lidge might have been perfect but some of those saves were perfectly agonizing to watch. Not that I'm complaining.
Believe me, I'll take a painful save over a blown one any day of the week but this year we just haven't had many "I have to leave the room because I just can't watch the next pitch" moments. In fact, this year's Phillies bullpen, even with all its injuries, has only blown three saves in 36 chances, a major league low.
Most of the saves this year have been of the one-two-three variety. Very little drama, very little angst. Which is just fine with me.
It shows what a truly incredible year we are witnessing as Phillies fans that not only has the team won a league-leading 75 games, not only are they 35 games over .500(!), not only do they have the biggest division lead of any team by far—8.5 games over the second-place Atlanta Braves—but the Phillies have accomplished all of this with, for the most part, a workmanlike calm that is almost otherworldly. Certainly unlike any season the Philadelphia baseball world has seen.
Even Shane Victorino's suspension played a role in last night's game. Rather than serving it immediately he is appealing hoping to get it reduced so Victorino was in the lineup. Significant? He only went 3-for-5 with two doubles, three runs scored and an RBI with a home run in the ninth to give the Phils some needed breathing room after that uncharacteristically rough eighth.
Yes, his suspension of three games did seem a bit severe though he should certainly have received a suspension after shoving an umpire. Yes, it was surprising that none of the San Francisco Giants players received suspensions at all. Yes, it was even surprising that Placido Polanco, adding insult to injury (his newly diagnosed sports hernia), did receive a fine for his offense—almost getting tackled at the knees by Giants catcher Eli Whiteside.
But, you know what? I'm not going to pick a fight with the baseball gods on this day. On this day when I am reminded of how truly amazing this Phillies season has been. Not on this morning when a close call in the eighth reminds us all of how very few close calls there have been this memorable year.
I'll just continue to thank those all-powerful gods of baseball for a season such as this. I'll continue to appreciate the pitching, the defense, and yes, even the hitting of late that is making this a season to savor.
In fact, I think I'll even contemplate giving them an offering of some kind. Hey, what do you think baseball gods like on their cheesesteaks?