June 14, 2009 9:30 PM

Phils Surprise Sox, Avoid Sweep

MLB: MAY 17 Phillies at Nationals

The Phillies were on the verge of being swept, in their three-game series against Boston. The Phillies' bullpen was exhausted, with perhaps three (Chan Ho Park, Ryan Madson, newly-recalled Tyler Walker) options available. MVP candidate Raul Ibanez, and starting catcher Carlos Ruiz, were out of the lineup, both given the day off. (Fortunately, Charlie Manuel resisted the temptation to use third-string catcher Paul Bako, despite the fact that starting the right-handed hitting Chris Coste likely affected Manuel's managerial sensibilities.) The Red Sox, winners of five in a row, had their overpowering bullpen in near-mint condition, and right-handed ace Josh Beckett on the mound. The Phils' starter, J.A. Happ, has held his own this season, but lacks the pedigree of a Beckett. The Phillies needed Happ to eat some innings, preferably of the quality variety. About the only thing the Phillies had going for them was Sox Manager Terry Francona's decision to rest four of his usual starters (2B Dustin Pedroia, C Jason Varitek, DH David Ortiz, and RF J.D. Drew). Well, that, and the fact that reliever Jack Taschner would be unavailable to pitch.

The Phillies fell behind, 4-1, in the top of the second inning. Though the scoreline remained unchanged for the next three innings, J.A. Happ's pitch count was rising perilously, and the Phillies' weakened bullpen was poised to be exposed. Josh Beckett was poised to achieve his eighth victory, as he had the Phillies' bats under control.

The Phillies' Win Expectancy was only 19.6%, as they batted in the bottom of the fifth. Five hits later, including two-out, RBI hits from Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard, the Phillies lead 5-4. Beckett took matters into his own hands in the sixth, tying the game with a solo home run. With the score tied at 5, the game was about to become a battle of bullpens. Not a battle the Phillies seemed likely to win.

In the seventh inning, with Josh Beckett still on the mound, Phillies' SS Jimmy Rollins hit a go-ahead home run. Beckett turned the game over to the Sox' more-than-capable bullpen, after allowing a single to Shane Victorino. Sox relievers Daniel Bard and Takashi Saito combined to escape the inning. "Escaping", that is, after ten more Phillies had come to the plate, and a 6-5 lead had become 11-5. The sudden rally was keyed by four walks, a HBP, and a pair of doubles (by Jayson Werth and Pedro Feliz). Four of the six runs were scored with two outs.

J.A. Happ struggled on Sunday, permitting five runs in his five and two-third inning, one-hundred and eight pitch outing. Happ surrendered seven hits and six walks, and was fortunate not to damage his ERA any more than he did. However, the Phillies' bullpen out-pitched their more highly-regarded Soxian counterparts. By "bullpen", I mostly mean "Chan Ho Park." Pitching out of the bullpen seems to be a good fit for Park, as his increased velocity in shorter appearances has made him a rather effective pitcher. Park pitched two and a third innings for the win, permitting only an unearned run.

With an 11-6 lead in the top of the ninth, Charlie Manuel summoned newly-recalled reliever Tyler Walker. It was a good opportunity to avoid burning another reliever, and ideal circumstances for Walker to make a non-pressure return to MLB. Well, perhaps not. Manuel actually called in closer Ryan Madson to protect a five-run lead, and a 99.3% WE. While Madson had Saturday off, and won't pitch on Monday's off day, there was no reason to use Madson. (Well, Manuel probably had reasons like "we needed that one" and other baseball platitudes.) Madson threw twenty-eight pitches in the scoreless ninth, more unecessary wear and tear on the bullpen's most important arm.

Manuel's puzzling usage of Madson aside, Sunday's sweep-avoiding victory was a big one. It will be interesting to see both teams face off again in October, with the front of each rotation on the mound, and all starting positional players in their respective lineups. With a week's slate of designated hitter-less interleague games, against the Blue Jays (.523 winning percentage), and the Baltimore Orioles (.429), the Phils can continue to increase their, currently four-game, lead over the fading New York Mets.

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