So it wasn’t the sweep I had hoped for. But two out of three with a two-out rally is the next best thing. And I’ll gladly take it.
The first thing to realize is that while R.A. Dickey’s numbers will look like solid line drives in the boxscore, a bunch of the eleven hits he gave up tonight were bloops and bleeders. It was a combination of Dickey having an off night with the control of his knuckler, and partly because of the good approach that the Phillies had. The bloops were bloops. But the bleeders were up the middle. That’s a team not trying to do too much (like perhaps the Rays might have done) except putting the bat on the ball. Begrudgingly, I give them credit.
(And by the way, if Tony La Russa makes his decision about whether R.A. Dickey starts the all-star game because of the most recent game rather than his entire body of work, then he’s a bigger joker than I thought.)
But Dickey gets the lions share of the credit. It’s easy to pitch one-hitters. Harder to have an off night and keep believing in what you’re doing. Well, harder for most pitchers. For Dickey … well, have you read his book? Battling through a so-so knuckler on a steamy night isn’t the most ardous task he’s had in the past 15 years by a long shot.
And let’s give the bullpen, as the kids say, a “shout out”. Jon Rauch showed why he should be pitching in later innings rather than Miguel Batista. Sure he gave up a hit, but he got an out which is more than what Batista could do on Wednesday. It’s time for Terry to ride this out as he did early in the season until Rauch turns into a pumpkin again. As stated earlier in the soap opera known as my blog, Rauch’s peripherals are miles better than Batista’s. So until the Superfriends are ready to jump into a deal for Brandon League or, please heaven no but Jonathan Broxton, let’s give Rauch an opportunity to make this work.
Then, Bobby Parnell in the ninth. Not that any of the hitters he’s faced have been the ’75 Reds by any stretch, but he’s had four ninth innings since Frangag Frantsisk went down. In all four, the opposition went down 1-2-3. Effortless and dramaless. So … there.
Now the ninth inning. And Ike Davis must have been pleased as punch not to have to face a lefty (Davis and Lucas Duda were 0 for 7 against lefties on Thursday). Papelbon? Tough pitcher. (A loon, but a tough pitcher.) However, not a lefty. It’s like Ike was swinging with the batting donut all game and then have it lifted in the ninth inning. If you had any doubt that his two month long odyssey like slump was over, he put a good swing on a very good pitch and smoked it to the opposite field. If Ike Davis can find himself a couple of hits off of some lefties, he’ll be a scary man to pitch to.
Josh Thole: I don’t like bunting. I don’t like giving away outs. But with nobody outs, a man on second, and two outs in the ninth, it had to be done. It turned out not to matter in the long run, but bunting is acceptable. The result of the following at-bat can’t be put on failed strategy, but failed execution. Which brings us to …
Kirk Nieuwenhuis: Outside fastballs. He can’t hit them. Dave Hudgens has worked magic before. He needs to show the young lad that there’s an adjustment that exists so that he can take the next step in his career. Stand closer to the plate? Stride in? No idea what the answer is. (That’s why I’m not the hitting coach.) But the next step involves Cyborg taking a couple of those outside fastballs and whacking line drives to left field instead of waving weakly at them. Every single one of his strikeouts lately look exactly the same … fastball at the letters that runs to the outside and Cyborg has no answer for it. I bet Dave Hudgens has the answer. And if Kirk has to practice some of that “wax on wax off” stuff like Karate Kid did to get it, well … whatever works.
Jordany Valdespin: I thought the game was toast at this point. Valdespin hit a dinger off of Papelbon the last time they met so it was too obvious a scenario that he would do it again. Lightning doesn’t strike twice and all that noise. Papelbon kept trying to bust him inside but that’s all he tried to do. I think it confused Papelbon when Valdespin didn’t try to swing at all of the inside heat and dribble a pitch to the first baseman for the final out. He just kept riding him inside and riding him inside and when Valdespin laid off those pitches, it was almost as if Papelbon didn’t have a plan B.
Oh wait, he did have a plan B … hit Valdespin in the nuts. Good plan, Cinco Ocho.
Ruben Tejada: Kid gives good at-bats. We all know that. But that at-bat he had against Cinco Ocho showed not only a young’n who works counts, it shows a man-child with testicles the size of John Kruk’s gut. The 2-2 pitch that he took was a nasty splitter that you couldn’t have blamed him for swinging at, but he took it for ball 3. He wound up swinging at another nasty splitter at 3-2 that he just got a piece of. Maybe he ticked a stitch on the ball. (Game of inches and all those clichés.) The third 3-2 pitch? Tejada wasn’t even sure that ball missed for a split second. Papelbon probably still isn’t sure that ball didn’t land. There’s no such thing as too close to take when you have the batting eye that apparently Ruben Tejada has.
Daniel Murphy: This is now the point in the game where I’m doing my Curt Schilling impression with Mitch Williams in the game. I can’t watch. But I also realize that now that the Mets are this close, Daniel Murphy isn’t going to throw it away with a garbage at-bat … even when he went down 0-2. So I’m nervous enough to cover my head and peek through my fingers, yet calm enough to realize that at this moment in time and in this situation, Daniel Murphy is going to treat the final strike like a wounded dove. He’ll care. He’ll nurture. He’ll nurse. And then he’ll smack it up the middle.
(Editor’s note: No doves were wounded during this game.)
When it hit Papelbon’s foot I thought … so this is how it ends? Like when Martin Brodeur made the scorpion save on Marian Gaborik? I gotta live that stellar moment all over again? Why does God hate me? Then Papelbon picks up the ball near the foul line and …
no throw! Tie game! I can breathe again. All right.
David Wright: This is what makes David Wright wonderful … he doesn’t need no stinkin’ ten pitches to get the job done. He’s a damn All-Star, he just needs one. And he humbly states that he had the worst at-bat of them all. What a guy. But with that one pitch he dunked the ball into right field past a diving Hunter Pence and the Mets put the next Ulti-Met classic in the books. And please make this the next Ulti-Met classic. I’ll watch it over and over and over again. For one, this was a thrilling win. For two, this might be the final nail in the Phillies careers of Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino. And it gave us the many stages of Jonathan Papelbon.
The only thing missing was Papelbon jumping out of the dugout like a looney-toon in the next half inning like he did after giving up the Omir Santos dinger … because there was no next half inning. There was only a win and some pie. But let’s get it straight: Papelbon, despite being a loon and despite blowing the save, was nasty on Thursday. This was less a blown save than the Mets taking that save out of Papelbon’s hands and tearing it up and stomping on it and twisting it into the grass, all right in front of him. That’s why this Mets season feels different than other recent ones. They’re beating more good pitchers. More good teams. And they’re feeding into the grission narratives of giving it 100%, going hard for 27 outs, and playing as a team. There’s no other way to put it at this point. This isn’t about a team feeding off bottom feeders and b-listers. The Phillies are in last place but they gave a first place effort tonight. The Mets are just a damn good team. Flawed? Yes. Can’t hit lefties, bullpen is a powder keg, Lucas Duda in right field. But as presently constituted, they are a …
… oh boy, I can’t believe I’m going to take this leap, but …
they are a contender.
… and the Phillies are not.
(And yes, I remember the 7 game lead with 17 to play. I get it. But until the Phillies prove that they can beat the Mets as they’re 4-8 against them thus far, then they’re just another last place team. Ryan Howard and Doc Halladay are coming back. But it isn’t like they’re exactly coming back to a solid foundation. They got swept by the Marlins for God’s sake and the Marlins are a freak show.)