August 31, 2009 3:23 AM

Phils Use Ancient Methods, in Win Over Braves

Game 5 of the World Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies in Philadelphia

Long ago, the sport of baseball was a very different game. Players left their gloves on the field, when they returned to the dugout. If players spent more than two weeks on a roster, without playing, it was probably either because they were very bad at the game of baseball, or because they were actually spies. There was a batting maneuver, used to advance runners, known as the "bunt." The Philadelphia Phillies had an innings-eater, by the name of Grover Cleveland Alexander, who pitched more than three-hundred innings, seven seasons in a row. A "loogy" was just a synonym for expectorant. Way back then, creating a "Cliff Lee", using DNA obtained from Steve Carlton, would have been as inconceivable as the Phillies being labeled a "perennial contender."

In the much more recent past, the Phillies have pondered several questions. "If Brad Lidge blows every save opportunity, has he achieved perfection?" "Will Matt Stairs ever get a hit again?" "Is Eric Bruntlett really only the fourth-worst-hitting non-pitcher on this team?" They also considered a more philosophical question. They asked themselves, "If Scott Eyre is in the bullpen, and he never pitches, does he make a sound?" Noted philosopher/ineffective reliever Chad Durbin, who was not created using DNA obtained from Ron Reed, would likely answer that question, "Does he (Eyre) ever NOT make a sound?" Manager Charlie Manuel, however, hasn't appeared to be aware of Eyre's continued bullpen existence. At least until the eighth inning of the Phillies' 3-2 victory over the Braves, on Sunday night.

Scott Eyre entered his first game in two weeks, with runners on first and second, and no outs. Though he had warmed up numerous times during those two weeks, and his usefulness as a LOOGY had been oft-demonstrated, he had been reduced to merely cheering on his teammates. Suddenly, he was called on to pitch, during the highest leverage at bat of the game. Four pitches later, he induced an unconventional 4-6-5 double play. He retired the next batter on another grounder, exiting the inning with a 3-2 lead. Now, we are left to ponder why we had to wait two weeks between Eyre appearances. A Grover Cleveland Alexander-esque ERA of 1.65 should surely qualify Eyre for more regular use.

The Phillies' offense generated a lot of sound on Sunday night, with Chase Utley hitting yet another home run (his 29th), and Carlos Ruiz knocking three hits, including a pair of doubles. The loudest noise, however, may have been made by the softest contact. In bottom of the seventh inning, with the score tied at one, Raul Ibanez lead off the inning with a walk. Pedro Feliz followed, and performed the archaic maneuver known as "squaring around to bunt." This antiquated technique doesn't seem to have a lot of value in today's chock-full-of-extra-base-hit-game, except as a possible (occasional) deterrent to deep-playing infielders, or as a practice utilized solely by exceedingly weak-hitting batters. In Sunday night's context, however, it led to a two-base error. Carlos Ruiz followed Feliz' bunt with a two-run double, and the Phillies had all the scoring that they would require.

When you have (the post-April 2009 version of) Joe Blanton on the mound, not a lot of offense is needed. Blanton once pursued the quality start, and the seventh inning, as Moe Berg had once pursued Axis secrets (with a lumbering tenacity). Now that Blanton has made ten consecutive quality starts, venturing into the seventh inning in nine of them, the lanky northpaw has earned the "innings-eater" label that had once been, prematurely, bestowed upon him. Blanton ate seven more innings, surrendering only a solo home run, among three hits and four walks (and seven strikeouts!).

Brad Lidge, often effective when not used more than two days in a row, retired all three batters he faced in the ninth, for his twenty-seventh save. The Phillies had combined methods, both ancient and modern, in winning the rubber game of the three-game series. Philadelphia increased their divisional lead to eight games, with only thirty-four games remaining to be played. Joe Blanton may get the opportunity to reprise Alexander's 1915 role, as an innings-eater on a team that went on to play the Red Sox, in the World Series. (That is, if 2009's Red Sox can get past Detroit, in the ALCS...)

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