Friday, September 19, 2003

Ready for the weekend

What a game yesterday's was. In the sometimes-working comment section, Mike Morley mentioned how it "was as exciting as a playoff game". I wasn't lucky enough to be there, but thanks to radio and MLB Gameday radio, I was able to listen to it. Unfortunately, I was listening to it while working, so sometimes my attention was torn. But here were my thoughts as I was listening...

Pregame: Tom McCarthy is interviewing 3B Travis Chapman. The two talk about Chapman's spring training experience in Detroit's camp, Alan Trammell's influence, and how Chapman felt when the Tigers told him he was going back to the Phillies. Chapman concludes the interview by saying that just to have the opportunity to sit in the major league clubhouse, put on the major leage uniform, and get an at-bat last week in Atlanta was thrilling. McCarthy mentioned that he hopes Chapman gets a few more at-bats this year and can pick up that first hit. I agree with that. From everything I have seen, Chapman is a steady bat at third; smart and consistent. And from what I heard, he's a pretty good guy, too.

Just before the game started, I was pulled away from the radio for a bit. I returned after the first inning, as each pitcher set down the opponent easily. The same happened in the second and again in the third, and then the fun started.

Top of the 4th: Is it me, or does Derrek Lee always seem to step up against the Phillies? He doubled to start off the fourth, and something just told me that it would be a long inning. Lee's double was followed by a walk to Juan Encarnacion, bringing up Jeff Conine. Conine set down the sacrifice, which Millwood fielded cleanly. He went to first, but his throw was too high. Conine was safe, and everyone moved up -- Lee scored and Encarnacion went to third. Uh oh...door opened. Miguel Cabrera then dropped a single into right, scoring Encarnacion and moving Conine to third. A sac fly by Alex Gonzalez, and just like that it was 3-0. Had Millwood's throw been on target, he probably would have only saved one run. With Conine out, it would have been runners at 2nd and 3rd with one out, and Cabrera's single would have likely scored them both. But the error occurred, and the Phils were down by three.

The Phillies couldn't counter in the bottom of the inning, and with the wind picking up and the rain rolling in, I started to wonder if the Phillies would be able to make a move before Isabel did. Millwood got the Marlins 1-2-3 in the fifth, and then the Phillies made their move.

Bottom of the 5th: Tomas Perez led off the inning. In the last few weeks, the commentators have been stressing the need to get Placido Polanco back to third for fear that Perez was wearing down with the everyday play. Yet, even with Polanco's return, Perez has been in the starting lineup at second. And in the bottom of the 5th yesterday, they were glad he was. There's nothing like a Harry Kalas "Outta Here!" call during the work day to get you going. But it was still 3-1 Florida.

Two quick outs tempered my excitement a bit. Then Polanco walked, and Abreu singled. My attention shifted to my work for a few minutes (how dare I?!?), but I was snapped back to reality but Kalas's next moment (paraphrasing, because I can't remember the exact verbiage): "Lieberthal pops it up, towards Derrek Lee. Lee goes back for it. The wind is taking it! IT'S GONNA FALL IN! BOTH RUNS WILL SCORE, AND THE GAME IS TIED AT THREE!"

Work? What work? End of five, game's official, but the score is still tied. At this point, my co-worker comes in to ask me what happens if the rain comes and they are still tied.

Co-worker: "Will they have to continue it at another time?"
Me: *nodding* "I think they actually start over at this point."
Co-worker: "Oh, that would suck."

Yes, yes it would.

Top of the 6th: Millwood looks strong and re-energized by the comeback the inning before, and strikes out Encarnacion and Conine to start the inning. He gets two strikes on Cabrera, and Larry Anderson says something along the lines of how strong and unhittable Millwood is looking. Oops. The words no sooner fly out of his mouth than the ball flies out of the stadium. 4-3 Marlins, and I am once again praying for the rain to hold off just a bit longer.

The Phillies go down in order in the bottom of the 6th, failing to get to Millwood's spot in the order, and thus a pinch-hitter. Millwood calms all fears in the top of the seventh by setting the Marlins down in order.

Bottom of the 7th: Things are starting to get iffy. Burrell hits for Millwood and pops up. Marlon Byrd grounds out, and suddenly the commentators are saying about Dontrelle Willis what they were saying about Millwood in the 6th; he's getting stronger as he goes. Thanks, guys! The jinx works on Willis as it did Millwood, and Polanco lines a shot into the left-field seats. 4-4, and the crowd (and my office) is rocking. Abreu doubles off the wall in left-center, and just like that Willis goes from dominating to done for the day. Chad Fox comes in and gets Lieberthal to foul out quickly to end the rally.

Rheal Cormier comes in in the top of the 8th and sets Florida down, keeping the momentum on Philly's side. And all we needed it for was one more batter.

Bottom of the 8th: Jim Thome leads off. He, of course, has homered in each of the first two games of the series, and I am dying for one more. Thome swings and misses at two quick strikes from Fox, and then fouls two more off. He works three straight balls out of Fox to fill the count. And then... phone rings.

See, that's the bad part about the tech support aspect of my job. You never know when someone is going to call with a problem. And our front-desk receptionist chose now to call me. With one ear, I am listening to her explain the problem. With the other, I am listening to Scott Graham call the 8th pitch of the at-bat.

Thome swings and drives it. Graham calls it, his voice rising. As the ball goes over the wall, it is all I can do not to drop the phone and scream out myself. Outside, I am dealing with the tech support call. Inside, I am celebrating madly. 5-4 Phillies. Three outs to go.

The Phillies threaten to add an insurance run later in the inning, but Jason Michaels was nailed at the plate. Meanwhile, the radio guys tried to stop my heart. As Cormier's spot in the order was coming around, I heard "Look who's up in the bullpen." My heart sunk...they couldn't be bringing him in; not in a 5-4 game with playoff implications; not at home; not NOW! I was kicking my desk...

...but it was all for nothing. It wasn't Mesa in the 'pen, but Mike Williams. I know, not much better, but didn't matter anyway. Cormier batted for himself, walked, and came back out for the ninth.

Top of the 9th: Pop out. *Yes.* Ground out. *Yes!* Foul out. *YES!* Game over. A little jumping up and down and I can work again.

But it was one hell of a game. Wind, no wind. Rain, no rain. Playoff implications everywhere. And it was just a knockdown type of day, and I felt like I was knocked down.

The win, once again, cut the lead to 1/2 a game. The Marlins head to Atlanta for four; the Phillies stay here to host the Louisville Reds for three. There is no playing around anymore. There is no opportunity to let one slip away. The Phillies need to take advantage this weekend. They need to go down to Florida with a lead in hand, not playing from behind in their place. The weekend has to be the difference. Every game, every play, every pitch counts right now.

But then again, when Superman is carrying you on his shoulders, things look pretty good. Call me biased (and I am), but Thome gets my MVP vote. Where would the Phillies be without him? Fourth place? Fifth? Just my thought...