Monday, September 15, 2003

A lost weekend...or, Ending on a high note

The title you choose to lean towards depends on your view of this weekend's games.

The Phillies jumped on Atlanta early on Thursday night and held on for the win and the series split, to pull within 1/2 a game of the Marlins entering play on Friday. The Phillies sent Atlanta down to Miami to beat up on the Fish while they traveled to PNC Park to take on the Pirates. All in all, it seemed like the perfect time to make up some ground and reclaim the Wild Card lead. Instead it was a weekend of wasted chances.

Amaury Telemaco took the mound on Friday night, and had his problems. He lasted just 5 2/3 innings, giving up five runs (four earned) on seven hits. The bullpen wasn't much help either. Dan Plesac left the game two on and two out in the bottom of the seventh, and in game Mr. Kerosene -- I mean, Jose Mesa. Mesa gave up a home run to Reggie Sanders, turning a 3-run Pittsburgh lead into a 6-run Pirates lead. The Phillies scored two in the top of the 8th, but by then it was too little, too late.

Kevin Millwood was the starter on Saturday, and the Phillies looked to the ace to get them back in the win column. Ummm, no luck. Millwood did not have "ace" stuff again on Saturday, giving up five runs on seven hits in just five innings of work. He did not have much help behind him defensively or at the plate, but the Phillies still found themselves crawling out of a 5-0 hole. They got three back in the sixth, but it again proved to be not enough.

So while the Phillies were floundering in Pittsburgh, the Fish were frying the Braves. (Bad, I know.) A come-from-behind thriller on Friday night, and an early statement on Saturday, and the Marlins had stretched their lead to 2 1/2 games over the Phillies heading into Sunday's games.

The Phillies finally woke up on Sunday and got some help from the Braves in a comeback of their own. Trailing 4-3 entering the ninth, Bobby Cox brought Javy Lopez and Chipper Jones off the bench to spark a five-run, ninth inning rally to avoid the sweep and beat the Marlins 8-4. Meanwhile, the Phillies were led by the violently ill Randy Wolf and an offense that was firing on all cylinders.

Wolf, who suffered a case of food poisoning and spent most of Saturday night...ummm, rejecting his food...managed to go 6 1/3 innings. He wasn't sharp (five runs on eight hits), but after being staked to a 10-1 lead, he really didn't have to be. The offense dinked out 14 hits, 12 of which were singles. Everyone in the starting lineup had at least one hit, and all but Todd Pratt and Chase Utley scored at least one run. Wolf even helped his own cause (required speech when a pitcher does something with the bat) by going 2-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored. Jimmy Rollins, Bobby Abreu, Jim Thome, and Utley also had two hits apiece, and Thome drove in three.

So the Phillies managed to preserve one game in the three-game set, AND pick up a game on the Marlins. They are home today, relaxing. Yes, after 27 straight days of baseball, the Phillies get a well-deserved day off.

They finished the 27-game stretch at 13-14 -- pretty darn good for a stretch that started 1-9; not so good for a stretch that included a 9-1 stretch. Again, it all depends on your outlook on it. My outlook is that the Phillies 1) survived the thing to begin with, and 2) finished it still within sniffing distance of the playoff spot. 1 1/2 games with 12 to go may seem like a lot -- but it really isn't when six of your last 12 are against the team you trail.

The Marlins come to town for three crucial games beginning tomorrow. I will break down the series tomorrow, but it goes without saying that the Phillies need this series. The Diamondbacks, Cards, and Cubs seem to be falling backwards in the race, and I don't think the Dodgers have enough offense to make it work. So that leaves the Phillies and Florida. And the winner will be the team that comes out of these six games with the upper hand. So these three games, with the Marlins here at the Vet, are the three most important games the Phillies have played all season; maybe even since 1993. And no, I don't think I am overplaying it.

In the meantime, the Phillies rest...and get ready.