Exhilarating. Bakotastic. Miraculous. Devoid of Bruntlett. Not sure which term best describes the incredible events that transpired at CBP on Saturday night. As play entered the bottom of the ninth, the Phillies trailed Pittsburgh, 7-3. The Phils had a Win Expectancy of only 2.0%. This game post had already written itself: start with a Joe Biden reference (the VP was at the game, didn't leave early, and autographed a fan's Tasmanian Devil t-shirt), blame poor luck (check out BABIP/LOB % and K/BB!) for Cole Hamels' poor results (six innings, five runs), close with the usual Gabor Paul Bako II excoriation (no explanation needed), and call it a night.
The Phillies' lefty-laden lineup, however, wasn't ready to call it quits. Against the Pirates' right-handed closer, Matt Capps, the first six Phillie batters were left-handed. Pinch-hitter Matt Stairs had been bypassed in the sixth inning, when the tying run was on second. (Right-handed John Mayberry flew out against a right-handed pitcher. In Charlie Manuel's defense, Jesse Chavez, the Bucs' hurler, has been much more succesful (.203 v. 273) against left-handed batters.) Stairs started the ninth-inning rally, with a towering home run. A Jimmy Rollins walk and a Chase Utley single followed, and the tying run was at the plate. Slugger Ryan Howard is a pretty good bat to have at the plate in that type of situation. Howard's game-tying homer increased the Phillies' WE by 46.7%, from 11.6% to 58.4%.
Surprisingly, the Pirates opted to keep Capps in the game. Raul Ibanez, in his first game back from the DL, doubled. Jayson Werth was walked intentionally, and Pedro Feliz singled. There was only one out, the Phils had the bases loaded, and the winning run was on third, for...Paul Bako. Yep, the offensively-inept backup catcher was due to bat, with the Phillies' fate depending upon his batting prowess.
With a right-handed, non-position player on the mound, Eric Bruntlett was not a good pinch-hitting option. The rest of the non-pitchers on the Phils' bench had already been used. (Also, with the Phillies' other catcher, Carlos Ruiz, possibly not available, there may not have been a viable Bako-less possibility.)
The offensively-feeble Bako, now OPSing .517, hit a hard grounder through the conveniently drawn-in infield, and the Phils had a shocking walk-off victory. If the Pirates had been at double-play depth, slick-fielding shortstop Jack Wilson may have been able to start a 6-4-3 DP. The Phillies had BABIP on their side in the ninth, as well as some questionable game management by the Pirates. Paul Bako has had an MLB career of unsuccesful at-bats (career wOBA: .274), but he had two run-scoring singles on Saturday, and deserves some credit for his part in the victory. (Not an overabundance of credit, as Bako also played a role in the three homers allowed by Hamels. Plus, the Phils still should have kept Chris Coste over Bako. But Gabor done good on Saturday night.)
The Phillies go for the sweep of the Pirates on Sunday, hoping to finish off a 9-1 homestand. Remember when the Phillies were inexplicably poor at home? Me, neither. J.A. Happ gets the ball for the Phils, as they close out the first half of their season.