Sunday, August 25, 2013

An epic night

By DENNIS DEITCH, @DennisDeitch
PHILADELPHIA – It would be one thing if Casper Wells had a tough night at the ballpark.
The problem for the struggling outfielder is that his tough night turned into a tough morning. And instead of his going 0-for-7 with four strikeouts and seven runners left on base being the roughest part of his night, it was the five runs he gave up.
As a pitcher. In the 18th inning. Until he was relieved by another position player.
So it went for Wells and the Phillies in a 12-7 loss to the Diamondbacks in an epic, 7-hour, 6-minute marathon that was the only downer in an otherwise wild week of walk-off wins. And thanks to the bizarre happenings that led to the Phillies using 10 pitchers and the teams tying a major-league record with 20 pitchers total, Roy Halladay will return to the mound for the Phils Sunday afternoon instead of making one more minor-league rehab start at Double-A Reading as planned. Among the pitchers burned was Tyler Cloyd, who was supposed to start Sunday’s game, but instead threw five shutout relief innings. Cloyd also had a leadoff double in the 16th, only to get stranded there.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who was not at the ballpark Saturday night, had to be contacted and give the OK for Halladay to come off the disabled list. Halladay has made two mediocre starts for low-level teams as he tries to discover what type of pitcher he needs to be after having his shoulder surgically repaired in May.
As for the game that created this startlingly unexpected return for Doc, it was filled with oddities.
The time of game was a franchise record. So was the fact that two position players pitched, as John McDonald had to come to Wells’ rescue when things got ugly with two outs in the 18th.
The only reason this became two games’ worth of innings in one was due to the Phillies erasing a six-run deficit after their starting pitcher didn’t make it through the first inning.
By the end of the night, eight Phillies pitchers had longer outings than Ethan Martin. Among them was B.J. Rosenberg, who, pitching for a third straight day, labored through a scoreless top of the 17th. After he escaped trouble, manager Ryne Sandberg had Wells warm up in the bullpen while the Phils batted in the bottom half of the inning.
When the Phils went down quietly, Wells – who pitched a scoreless inning with the White Sox earlier this season – took the hill. And it went pretty well at first. Wells, showing a 91 mph fastball while pitching from the stretch with rudimentary mechanics, got Cliff Pennington to ground out and Tuffy Gosewisch to line out to McDonald in left.
Things soon got ugly. A string of hits and started by Tony Campana made for a painful end to a game the Phils had no business being in.
“I think it was 16-10 at that point when I came into that game,” for the White Sox, Wells said, “so it was definitely different circumstances.
“I was just trying to throw strikes. They hit it. I pitched when I was younger and when I was in college a little bit. I take it seriously. I try to compete.”
For a while it didn’t seem like the Phils would be competing at all on this night. They trailed 6-0 through 4 ½ innings, 7-1 after Arizona got another run in the top of the sixth to negate Ruiz’s fourth homer of the season in the bottom of the fifth.
Then things started getting freaky.
Roger Bernandina, batting leadoff as Sandberg continues to play with the batting order and give players opportunities to bring life to the lineup, hit a long solo homer to open the bottom of the sixth. Jimmy Rollins followed with a double and later scored on a wild pitch to cut the D-Backs’ lead to 7-3.
But it was in the eighth when the game got turned on its ear. Arizona brought Joe Thatcher in relief, and Bernadina (walk) and Rollins (single) again got a rally started. After Utley’s sacrifice fly plated Bernadina, Heath Bell was called in. John Mayberry struck out for the second out, but Carlos Ruiz singled to left, scoring Rollins and bringing Darin Ruf to the plate as the potential tying run.
Then he turned that potential energy into kinetic.
Ruf, who led the planet in August home runs last year with 20 at Double-A Reading, hit his N.L.-leading ninth homer of August, bringing a roar to the ballpark – even if only a fraction of the fans who used to fill the place were present.
“It’s been a lot of fun the last couple of days, watching people get clutch hits,” McDonald said. “We didn’t feel like we were out of it when we were down early in the game. We felt like we had a shot.”
When Ruf’s home run landed several rows deep in the left-field seats, it made moot one of the more bizarrely bad starts you’ll see by a pitcher.
Three hours earlier, Martin was one pitch away from doing what he had done in each of his first four big-league starts: Put away the opponent in the opening inning without allowing a run.
The Phillies’ young right-hander had retired the first two Diamondbacks he faced, then had National League MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt frozen with his fastball and curveball, both thrown for strikes.
Then Goldschmidt fouled off a pitch. And another. And another. On the 10th pitch of the at-bat, Martin threw ball four.
That brought to the plate Martin Prado, who likewise worked a long count, and on the eighth pitch of that showdown he mashed a two-run homer.
You could see the rest of the air leave Martin’s balloon. A walk, two singles and another walk, and his night was over.
But the Phillies’ night wasn’t close to finished.
The last time a starting pitcher in the majors got the first two outs of his outing and didn’t survive the first inning was June 15, 2012, when Blue Jays pitcher Drew Hutchison had his elbow ligament tear in a start against the Phillies on a 2-1 pitch to Hunter Pence.
As for the last time a starting pitcher not only got the first two outs of an inning, but also had the third hitter in a 0-2 hole in the count before failing to finish the frame … that will take more research. Put it this way: You probably could count the members of that group on one hand.
It was a night during which a lot of unusual things were going down. The Phillies wished they weren’t among them.

No comments: