It's been an eventful week for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Cole Hamels pitched a five-hit complete game shutout victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday, and the Phillies moved to a season-high 32-20 record. They took a four-game lead over the New York Mets in the NL East.
Phillies fans who write for Bleacher Report began to chatter. Me? My story was “Philadelphia Phillies Making Own Breaks on Way to Third Straight NL East Crown.”
Other headlines included: Philadelphia Phillies Post-World Series Future Bright...for Once ; Phillies Are 30-20 With Five Wins In a Row!; and Asked and Answered: The Phillies Win Seven Straight, What About Eight?
Yep, the Phillies fans, including myself, were feeling pretty good about things. The Phils were playing .600 baseball, and closer Brad Lidge was settling down at last.
Then came two winnable games lost—two straight blown saves by Lidge, his sixth of the season, with 13 of 19 games saved and a 7.27 ERA. At the same time last year, Lidge was 16-16 in save opportunities with a 1.00 ERA.
The letdown was like getting a brand-new, shiny bicycle for your birthday and seeing the air slowly leaking from your tires. Was it going to be a flat, or could you patch it up, just like you did last year by adding Joe Blanton and having Eric Bruntlett fill in for an ailing Jimmy Rollins?
The stage was set for a nationally televised ESPN game Sunday against the Dodgers. Here was an opportunity to split the series with the National League's best team. The Phillies were the second best entering the series.
Phils rookie Antonio Bastardo pitched a strong five innings, leaving with a 3-1 lead. Former Dodger Chan Ho Park got a run-scoring double-play ball and the final out, with the Phillies holding a slim 3-2 lead.
Not to worry. Park finished with a strong three innings, and long balls from Carlos Ruiz, Shane Victorino, and Ryan Howard led the Phillies to a 7-2 victory and a hard-fought and respectable split with the Dodgers.
Next up for the Phillies? Finish up a long road trip with a pivotal series against the Mets, 7-0 winners over the Nationals on Sunday.
From what Mets fans have indicated to me, the team is injury-depleted and not playing their best ball at the moment.
Lidge? If the Phils have a one-run lead going into the ninth inning of any game of the Mets series, he will be out there to save the game.
Last year, Lidge was 41-of-41 in save opportunities. The Phillies were undefeated heading into the eighth inning with a lead.
Not this year. The Phillies are 32-5 when they have scored four or more runs in a game.
And Cole Hamels is on the hill Wednesday against the Mets.
The lead remains three games for the Phillies. Brad Lidge is not perfect and might be kept on a leash. Don’t read anything into Ryan Madson pitching the ninth in the finale of the Dodgers game. That game was far out of reach.
Two things are for sure (and it ain’t the playoffs): The Phillies will, at worst, be tied for first following the Mets series, and Brad Lidge will be the closer for the Mets series. But if he blows two or more games, he could lose the closer's role—most likely to Madson.
Hey, the Phils are still the top dog. And it probably won’t change for a while.
All is not lost. The brand new bike continues to run and shows no sign of slowing down.