Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Round One: Philadelphia

Statement made.

Game and a half lead? Cut to half a game. Eight-game winning streak. Gone. Marlins' magic over the Phillies? Disappeared. And all thanks to some timely hitting and a Vicente Padilla masterpiece.

The Phillies came out last night and absolutely spanked the Marlins, 14-0. The Phillies pounded out 17 hits, drew five walks, and -- here's the key -- only struck out four times. A four-run first inning got the team started, and a seven run eighth capped the night in style. The only shame is that none of that carries over to tonight's game.

Marlon Byrd led off the top of the first with a single, and he was followed by Jimmy Rollins who had a single of his own. A stolen base by Rollins and the Phillies had second and third with no one out. The crowd (and yes, there was a crowd) was waving their "rally towels" and was rocking, and you just had a feeling it would be a pretty good night. After Bobby Abreu was unable to advance the runners, Jim Thome was intentionally walked, loading the bases for Mike Lieberthal. Key at-bat: Lieberthal, a .400 career hitter off of Marlins' starter Carl Pavano, dumped a flare into center, which landed in front of Juan Pierre. Byrd scored, and Rollins -- who read the ball perfectly -- was right behind him. Just like that, it's 2-0 Phils. Had that ball hung up just a bit longer, Pierre makes the catch. Byrd may have been able to tag up and score, making it 1-0; but that's 1-0 with two outs now, and makes for a completely different inning. A Chase Utley RBI double and a Pat Burrell RBI groundout followed, and it was 4-0 after one.

The top of the second was the key inning. Staked to a four-run lead, it was in Padilla's best interests to set the Marlins down quickly and keep the Philly momentum going. A pair of two-out hits had Florida threatening, but Padilla got SS Alex Gonzalez to ground out to Rollins to end the inning; the Marlins never threatened again.

Padilla went eight strong shutout innings to pick up his 14th win of the year -- the fourth Phillie to reach that mark this year. He allowed just three more hits after that second inning, struck out six on the night, and did not walk a batter. He seemed to trust his off-speed stuff last night, more than he has all season, and used it well. He completely fooled Ivan Rodriguez in the first inning by actually throwing two -- *gasp!* -- two off-speed pitches in a row. A night like last night had to make Joe Kerrigan smile. Carlos Silva was called on in the ninth to protect a 14-run lead. Hell, even Mesa could have held that one.

Offensively, it was a team effort, but it was Mike Lieberthal's night. Lieberthal went 2-for-5 on the night with six RBI -- he had his two-run single in the first, and capped off the night with a grand slam in the eighth. Byrd and Rollins set the table all night long, as they combined to go 6-for-11 with five runs scored and two RBI. Every starter had at least one hit besides Padilla, who was robbed of a base hit in the middle innings by 3B Miguel Cabrera, who made a diving stab of a low liner. In fact, all of the starters had at least two hits, except for Padilla, Abreu, and Thome. Abreu and Thome had one apiece, and Thome's is still traveling. He launched his 41st homer in the 6th inning, upping the lead to 7-0. All of the starters scored a run except for Padilla and Utley, and all but Padilla and Byrd had an RBI. It was the kind of night where Ricky Ledee, a pinch-hitter for Padilla in the bottom of the 8th, got two at-bats despite not playing the field. It was that kind of night.

While Byrd and Rollins set the table for the Phils, Padilla did an excellent job of keeping Florida's table-setters -- Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo -- off the base paths (a combined 0-8). As those two go, so goes the Florida offense. And last night, the offense went right back to the bench. That's how the Phillies would like to see it go the next two nights, as well.

So the Phillies came out last night, crunched Florida, and made a statement. So what does that mean for tonight? Absolutely nothing.

That's the magic of baseball, folks. 14 runs last night mean nothing when the first pitch is thrown. If any team knows that, it's the Phillies. Before last night's explosion, the Phillies had scored in double-digits 15 times this year. They have only gone 8-7 in the games that follow. Tonight starts 0-0, and the Phillies have to do it all over again.

But this time, they have the momentum. This time, they have the confidence. This time, they want to do it again.