Shine a light
First off, a huge, towering, epic Fuck You to whoever programs FOX baseball in New York. All year I’ve had to miss Phillies games on Saturday afternoons because they would black out my MLB Extra Innings package and only show the Mets or Yankees on FOX. But I thought that with the Mets playing early afternoon today, and the Yankees game getting rained out, I might get what I was cruelly denied last year–the chance to actually watch my home team win their division and secure a post-season trip. But instead, FOX decided to show the Brewers-Cubs game, even as the Cubs were clearly pulling away in the ninth and the Phillies were 90 feet away from giving up a ninth-inning lead for the first time all season, with two long outs to go.
So here I am, staring at the ESPN GameCast on my computer screen, totally helpless as perfect-till-then closer Brad Lidge lets bloop single after walk after defender-splitting ground ball until the Phils’ lead dwindles down to its thinnest possible margin. And finally, I find out about the Phils making the post-season, via one of the most miraculous game-ending double plays I might ever witness, thanks to the following clumsy cut-away report, courtesy of the immortal Jeanne Zelasko:
“…Roger Bernadinha scores, and now it’s 4-3, with the bases loaded, with two outs…and it looks like there’s three outs now…and the Phils win.”
Uh, what? I mean, great. Awesome. OH MY GOD. OH MY FUCKING GOD. It’s not exactly a memory I’ll be relating the magic of to my grandkids as they watch Jamie Moyer III throw a complete game shut-out of the Carson City Credenzas in September 2054, but as far as end results go, it’ll definitely do.
Even though I barely got to see any of it, it was still just about the best game I could have asked for to be the cap on the Phils’ 2008 regular season. Well, maybe not completely–it could’ve been against the Mets, or Tim Redding, or whoever the fucking pitcher was for the Pirates that game in August when Joe Blanton threw a one-hitter and they still lost (Blanton! ONE HIT!!!) But it was a tight, suspenseful game where every single player in the Phillies’ starting line-up contributed at least a little to the win–even Carlos Ruiz hit one of those sac flies in the 4th. But more than anything, today’s game was a testament to three of the Phils’ current greats, who might also be my three favorite players on the team–Jamie Moyer, Jimmy Rollins, and Brad Lidge.
There’s really not enough that can be said for what Jamie Moyer has meant to this team and their fanbase this season. Through the creamy middle months of the season, when Brett Myers was looking like a complete flop, Adam Eaton and his 5.80 ERA were still starting every five games, and the Phils seemed allergic to home plate whenever Cole Hamels took the mound, Moyer’s team-record string of consecutive quality starts is what kept Philly afloat. And frankly, even though Hamels is unquestionably the team’s ace, I just don’t know that I’d trust him to lock it down on the last game of the season–Cole still seems a little nervy, a little green when asked to come through in a big spot, and given his repeated statements about how relieved he is about not having to pitch tomorrow, looks like I wasn’t the only one that was worried. Not that I really hold it against the guy–he’s still only 24, after all. But that’s exactly what the Phils keep Moyer around for–he’s got 20 whole years more experience on the mound than Hamels, and really, there’s no one who I’d rather have on the hill with the season on the line.
Meanwhile, Rollins needed the redemption of September more than anyone else on the team. It’s almost hard to remember at this point that barely even a month ago, I was envisioning trade scenarios after it looked like his comments about the nature of Philly fandom was going to make his future in the city untenable. But a five-hit night in a season-highlight comeback victory against the Mets a few weeks later, and the boos disappeared, never to rematerialize. And now today, after two game-saving, Baseball Tonight-confirmed Web Gems (a Mays-style basket catch, colliding with Victorino to save the tying run in the 8th, and then a dive on a double play ball, flipped to Utley from his knees, which saved a run and ended the game), he could take a piss on the Liberty Bell while pouring out a case of Yuengling and ranting about how Rocky was a poor man’s Play It to the Bone and he’d still be the prince of Philadelphia. It’s good to have you back, J-Roll.
But if there’s anyone who turned in a truly season-defining performance tonight, it was Brad Lidge. If you only know about it from SI and ESPN, and you hear about how Brad Lidge is a perfect 41 for 41, you’d think that Philly fans could turn off the TV in the 8th inning, knowing a guaranteed suspense-free, 1-2-3 inning of total domination was on the way from Lidge. There might have been a couple of those, but I’d say no more than a half-dozen, and certainly none in this month. Lidge saves can be measured in levels of panic–maybe not the kind of panic you Brewer or Met fans feel when your closers (sic) enter, but panic nonetheless. Slightly worse than the all-too-rare three-up, three-down type is the kind where after getting two strikeouts, he gives a four-pitch walk to the team’s worst hitter, which gives you that Uh-oh what’s wrong here twinge when you were thinking everything was OK, before he settles down and closes out. Slightly worse than that is the kind where he has a two or three-run cushion, but instantly gives up a couple of singles, as if he wanted to spot the team a baserunner or two, to bring the tying run to the plate–giving you that hand-shaking, why can’t he ever just make this easy? anxiety before he sets down the side with relative ease. Slightly worse than that is the kind where he allows a couple of baserunners, but does so in 25-30 pitches, always getting ahead in the count, only to eventually fall to 3-2 and eventually let up a walk or freak single after what feels like a ten-minute at bat–giving you that pacing-around-the-room, is he finally going to collapse out there? terror, before he gets strike three swinging on the team’s best long-ball hitter for the third out.
But the worst one of all are the ones we’ve been lucky enough to only have three of all year–the Divine Intervention save. Those are the ones where, barring an act of God, there is no way that Lidge should be able to walk out with his streak unfettered–the ones where you’re watching with your head in your hands, thinking This is it. This is the one he doesn’t get himself out of. We had one in Atlanta, when Lidge, up two, allowed runners on second and third and let up a two-out single to Yunel Escobar, which scored one and should’ve scored a game-tying second run, except for Shane Victorino’s canon of an arm, which sailed perfectly into the glove of catcher Chris Coste, who applied the tag on runner Greg Norton a milli-second in time to get the out and win the game. We had another in St. Lous, when again up two, Lidge led off the inning by allowing a solo shot to Troy Glaus, then proceeded to load the bases while acquiring just one out. But then he got a couple of rookies swinging, and again, he was out of it.
Even remebering these instances, I was pretty sure today was going to be the end of it all. It was just too perfect–40 out of 40, comes into the game with a two-run lead facing the ass-end of the worst team in the league’s lineup, three outs between the Phils and the playoffs–if he had to blow one to confirm his rep as a choke artist, and give Mets fans something to shove in our faces for years to come, this’d be pretty hard to beat. And as the baserunners started to trickle in–base hit to Roger Bernadinha, walk to Ryan Langerhans (seriously?), bloop RBI single to Anderson Hernandez, bases-loading single to Christian Guzman–it felt like some sort of higher power had finally called in Lidge’s karmic tab. But then, ground ball up the middle, and some seriously praise worthy defense from your double play team, and somehow, he gets out of it. And no matter what kind of shit he’s put himself in all year–and he’s nearly always put himself in some kind of shit–the one consistent of Lidge’s performances is that he gets out of it. Killer instinct, baseball intuition, or just blind fucking luck–it’s kind of hard to argue against him as the team’s MVP regardless.
So now we play the waiting game, as the Brewers and Mets try to take care of business tomorrow night, to find out if the Phils face the Dodgers or the Brew Crew in next week’s NLDS (in all honesty, I’m actually rooting for the Mets here–not only because I’d rather face the Dodgers in the division series, but the prospect of a Mets-Phils NLCS would be hotter than an NC-17 rated Vicky Cristina Barcelona). And now that I can stop panicking about not getting into the regular season, it’s almost novel to think–hey, maybe we can actually win a couple post-season games this time? But even if the post-season brings nothing but sorrow, to have your favorite starting pitcher clinch the division over your much-hated rival on the last weekend of the season for the second year in a row…well, it’s still hard to ask for too much more.