Post-game: Phillies in Control

Needless to say, it was quite a bizarre scene in the Phillies’ clubhouse following the 6-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday night. One would have to imagine the scene was downright surreal at the other end of the corridor deep in the bowels of Citizens Bank Park at the visiting team’s clubhouse.

There, sprinkled in amongst the members of the local press were ballplayers eyeing the television sets hung from the ceiling in the middle of the clubhouse all tuned to the final inning of the Cubs’ Carlos Zambrano’s no-hitter against the Astros. Strangely, while Zambrano was tossing a no-no against the home team Astros, the packed house was jumping and dancing in the aisles all clad in Cubs shirts. In fact, it was a home game in name only for the Astros.

Hurricane Ike forced Major League Baseball to move the game to Milwaukee’s Miller Park – just 90 miles away from Chicago – while Houston gathers itself after the crippling storm.

Meanwhile, the Brewers watched as the Cubs celebrated on their home field. After the game the Cubs probably sprayed champagne and danced the night away in the Brewers’ clubhouse. Odder yet, the Brewers and the Cubs play each other on Tuesday night – in Chicago. When the Brewers go back to Miller Park the clubhouse will probably stink of stale champagne, a scent the home team likely won’t have to worry about come the end of the season.

The Brewers’ Ryan Braun could only shake his head as he wondered about the celebration going on in his home clubhouse. There Braun was in Philadelphia suffering after a fourth straight loss to the Phillies as their season spirals out of control while a party raged in Milwaukee.

“They’re probably drinking champagne and having a beer shower right now in our locker room while we sulk about what happened here,” Braun said. “It’s ironic, where we’re at as a team and how we feel at the end of this series and see them celebrating a no-hitter on our field.”

He’s certainly right on that point. At least he was on Sunday night after Brett Myers and Joe Blanton combined to pitch 16 innings of seven-hit ball to guide the Phillies to a day-night doubleheader sweep. As a result, the Phillies gained four games in a single weekend to forge a first-place tie in the National League’s wild-card race. With 12 games to go in the season, the Brewers and Phillies have identical 83-67 records. The only difference is that the Phillies have won seven of their last 10 after dropping two of three in Washington.

The Brewers, on the other hand, have lost 11 of their last 14 games and trail the Cubs by 7½ games in the NL Central.

The Phillies have a magic number of 13 in the wild-card race with a two-game advantage on the Astros. However, the Phillies and manager Charlie Manuel don’t have all their eggs resting in one basket. Oh no. That’s because a second straight NL East division title is still within reach.

Don’t look now, but the Mets lead the Phillies by just one game after the New Yorkers lost for two of three against the Braves.

Do the Phillies have the momentum going into the final two weeks? Charlie Manuel thinks so.

“I believe in momentum. I believe in what do you call it, attitude, charisma and when you come to the ballpark everything is OK,” Manuel said. “Everybody is in a good mood and upbeat. Everybody’s happy. People ain’t walking around sulking because they ain’t making enough money or something happened at the house. I don’t know but those things happen.”

Credit the Phillies starting pitching for the surge. Actually, in the case of Brett Myers and his complete game two-hitter pitched on just three-days rest, maybe the Phillies can give the Brewers an assist.

In an effort that will create positive aftershocks for the bullpen heading into the six-game road trip through Atlanta and Florida, Myers needed just 95 pitches to spin his gem. Then again, that’s nothing new. After all, the Brewers were quite generous with 45-year old Jamie Moyer last Friday night when he beat them despite working on three-days rest as well.

According to Myers, the pitcher figured it out early that he didn’t have to be overpowering.

“They were really aggressive,” Myers said. “Then again, I wasn’t looking for the strikeout and I usually go for it.”

Myers threw just eight pitches in the first and second innings and worked up to 30 through the first three. But after a 15-pitch fourth inning, Myers needed just 43 more pitches to complete the eighth inning.

Just to show they were in a hurry to get out of town, the Brewers saw just seven pitches in the ninth. It’s a good thing, too, because Myers said he knew his stuff was less than electric when warming up before the game.

“On three-days rest it’s difficult to give max effort,” Myers said. “I knew that when I was throwing in the bullpen [before the game] that I was going to have to be efficient.”

Who knows if Myers would have been able to come to that conclusion during the first half of the season. After limping out of the gates to a first half that lead to a July demotion to the minors, Myers has returned with a vengeance. A 3-9 first half with an ERA barely south of 6 has morphed into a post-minors stretch in which Myers is 7-2 with a 1.78 ERA.

Even his teammates can’t believe it.

“It was almost like a deadline acquisition,” said Jayson Werth, who had a pair of hits in the twinbill. “The way he’s throwing it’s deadly.”

Manuel says the biggest difference is Myers’ mental approach – a theory that the pitcher wholeheartedly agrees with. After the game the Myers said he needed to go to the minors in order to re-learn how to be a starting pitcher because the season working as the team’s closer in ’07 changed everything.

“I had the closer mentality to get strike one and then strike ‘em out,” he said.

Manuel says it’s a complete 180-degree change.

“I think it’s his focus,” the manager said. “I give him credit for his focus and staying calm. He stays in control a lot more.”

Control is a big thing with the Phillies these days because it appears as if the team has a ton of it. Clearly, the team is well aware of how they sit these days after the four-game sweep.

“We keep going back to last year, but that’s the way it’s lining up,” Werth said.

Said Myers: “It kind of feels how it did last year. Tonight we went out there and got some hits and had some fun.”

Who knows – maybe it will end with a big champagne-filled celebration in the home team clubhouse.

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