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.

Ninth inning: All tied up

Let’s start with Brett Myers’ line:

9 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 4 K – 95 pitches.

Look at that – 95 pitches in a complete game.

Now here’s what it means:

The Phillies and Brewers are tied for first place in the wild-card race with identical 83-67 records. The streaking Houston Astros rest two games off the pace after they lost to the Cubs at Wrigley Field tonight.

Meanwhile, the Phillies aren’t out of the mix in the NL East race, either. With 12 games to go in the season, the Phillies are just one game behind the Mets. Just like last season it seems as if the Phillies fate and fortunes change by the day.

And just like the past few seasons, this race is going to come down to the last day for the Phillies.

Buckle up.

Check back in a few… I’m heading down to the clubhouse.

Final: Phillies 6, Brewers 1

Eighth inning: Big relief

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Brett Myers is turning in his best outing of the season. Who knows… maybe it’s the best outing of his career. Sure, he might have had some overpowering and dominant performances during his career, but for what the Phillies need right now Myers is delivering big time.

Double headers are always taxing on pitching staffs and coaches absolutely loathe them. When the notion that the Phillies and Brewers would prefer to play a double dip on Sunday, one could see a cold shudder go up and down the spines of Charlie Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee. The havoc that would become of their pitching staff was just too much to fathom.

But up stepped Myers and down sat the bullpen. Thanks to seven innings from Joe Blanton in the opener, Manuel should have a stable of fresh arms when the Phillies go to Atlanta on Tuesday.

Through eight innings Myers has allowed two hits and has thrown just 88 pitches. Better yet, there is no one warming up in the bullpen. In fact, Myers received a well-deserved standing ovation and hanky wave when he walked up to the plate in the eighth.

How huge would a complete game be?

Meanwhile, Shane Victorino singled in the eighth to cap off a 4-for-4 game, while Jimmy Rollins drew his third walk to reach base safely in five straight plate appearances.

More from Leslie
I’m a big fan of Ned Yost, but either he’s making some bad calls or the inmates are running the asylum… and poorly. Yost’s team is exceptionally undisciplined. They’ve allowed Brett Myers to go deep in this game by routinely swinging at the first pitch. 88 pitches through 8 innings!!! This is a dream come true for the Phillies. They got 7 innings out of Blanton in game 1, tying his high as a Phillie… and now this out of Myers. With the day off tomorrow the Phils will head into Atlanta (a place they’ve dominated this year) with a lead in the wild card race and a well rested bullpen, thanks to the Brewers.

Could Yost have actually looked past this series and to their next series with the Cubs? At what’s soon to be 3-11 in their last 14 games, the Brewers are falling fast. Yost will likely finish out the season in Milwaukee, but at this rate, he won’t be there past that.

Phillies 6, Brewers 1

Sixth & seventh: Chowing down

Sorry about the delay, folks. I had to get up out of my seat and grab a drink to make sure I stay hydrated in this humidity. Hopefully we get a break from this oppressive, sultry weather soon. Truth be told, I’m a cool weather guy.

It should be noted that there is/was free food in the media dining room this evening. The Phillies served hot dogs, pizza along with the usual salad bar offerings. Not bad – all for free, too. Usually it costs $10.

Still, the concepts of “free food” and “the media” should send a cold shiver down your spine. Frankly, it’s a scary sight in which it’s quite possible for a guy to be mauled, run over, smacked with a pointy elbow by someone boxing out for position or lose a digit if grabbing for something.

Here in the press box they bite first, think second. Do yourself a favor and stay out of the way.

On the field Myers cruised through the sixth with another clean frame, including his second whiff of the game. But in the seventh, Prince Fielder broke up the shutout with a line-drive home run that reached the first row in right field.

It should be noted that Ken Mandel just walked by and said, “It should be noted that the Phillies ‘Never surrendered’ against a team with Corey Hart.”

Yes, I will apologize for Ken. Sorry.

Anyway, Fielder homered twice this series after not hitting one for a month. The big slugger is up to 30 now and it seems to me that the Brewers chances will ride on his wide back. Who knows – maybe he’ll get it going in Chicago this week.

For the Phillies, Jimmy Rollins walked in the sixth inning to reach base for the fourth straight time in the game. When Jimmy goes, the Phillies go. The team’s record is remarkable in games in which Rollins scores a run.

Meanwhile, Chase Utley has hit in eight straight games though he is really hitting. Who knows, the numbers in the box score to lead to something. After all, I recall during Jimmy Rollins’ long hitting streak that he really was scuffling despite the fact he had a hit in 10 straight games. But once he found a groove it was lights out.

It’s lights out here for the Brewers… stick a fork in ‘em?

Leslie chimes in
I’m sitting 20 feet from John and I can tell you it’s not nearly as hot out here as he perceives it to be. I’m thinking you need to take the Starbucks drip out of your arm, John… the caffeine has your sweat glands working overtime.

The conversation on this end of the press box has shifted from Brett Myers to Sarah Palin. A 6-0 lead can have that effect on people.

I guess you have to be from Southern California to enjoy this type of weather, huh? I guess your seatmates are helping to fan you off with those flapping gums.

Phillies 6, Brewers 1

Fifth inning: It’s really hot

It’s really muggy here at the park tonight. Oppressively so. I’m not doing anything other than typing and thinking and I’m sweating like Dom DeLuise at a clam bake.

Yes, that’s graphic. And obscure… graphically obscure.

Nevertheless, if I’m sweating like the irrepressible Captain Chaos (who didn’t love those Cannonball Run movies? Just thinking about them makes me laugh at the spot on Norm McDonald imitation of Burt Reynolds), I’m sure Brett Myers is as lathered up as a Clydesdale hauling a wagon full of hay.

So far the heat and humidity doesn’t seem to be bothering Myers. After Ray Durham’s two-out single in the fourth, Myers retired four in a row – three straight on balls that didn’t leave the infield.

Interestingly, Myers has just one strikeout, though the economy of his outing doesn’t really manifest itself in his pitch count at 57. Still, the big fella isn’t laboring and hasn’t been stressed by anything other than throwing strikes.

Check this out: Brett Myers is pitching a very mature game. He’s in control even though he isn’t exactly overpowering.

Myers doesn’t have to sweat out this one. It’s pretty evident here in the fifth that he is going to pitch the Phillies into a tie for first in the wild-card race. Moreover, the Phillies could be just one game behind the Mets for the NL East after the New Yorkers blew a late lead in a loss to the Braves.

Man do they miss Billy Wagner.

With the bats the Phillies didn’t kick up much of a fuss against reliever Tim Dillard. However, Shane Victorino picked up his third hit of the game with a two-out single. That’s not bad for a guy who came into today’s action with just seven hits in September. Today he has four in both games.

Leslie chimes in
OK, I seriously believe that’s the first time I have EVER been called a pessimist! More often than not I’m considered too soft when it comes to this team.

So, Pat talked about feeding off his clutch, game-winning hit in game one. He’s doing just that. That hit to deep center is another home run if he pulls it like he usually does. Maybe someone reminded him he’ll be a free agent in a few weeks. A nice run in these last 13 games would go a long way for both Burrell and the Phillies.

Phillies 6, Brewers 0

Fourth inning: Burrell goes deep

Is this irony or a coincidence? Ray Durham, a player for the Giants in the game that Kevin Millwood threw the last no-hitter for the Phillies busted up Brett Myers’ bid with a two-out single in the fourth inning.

I’m going with coincidence.

Meanwhile, just to show the single was not a harbinger of things to come for the Brewers, Myers whiffed Prince Fielder to end the inning as well as to pick up his first K of the game.

Myers threw 15 more pitches in the fourth – he’s up to 45 now.

And the hits just keep on coming …

Pat Burrell just might be out of his two-month long slump. After driving in the go-ahead run in the first game, the streaky slugger smashed a looooooooong homer to left off Jeff Suppan to open the bottom of the inning. Had Burrell’s blast – his 31st – been struck a few feet to the right, the ball would have landed in the upper deck.

So what’s the deal with Burrell? Is he coming back next year or will the Phillies allow him to test free agency? If I were a betting man (which, I guess I am on occasion), I would probably guess that Burrell will be playing for a new team in 2009.

Call it a hunch, but with big power numbers Burrell might be able to command a big salary again next season. However, since his production graph looks like the boom and bust of a bear and bull market, the Phillies might choose to pocket the money and go with the less costly Jayson Werth as the everyday left fielder.

Maybe Werth’s hot streak during the second half forced the Phillies hand?

And maybe that cash they save on allowing Burrell to walk could be spent on a top-of-the-line starting pitcher like… oh, I don’t know… CC Sabathia?

Ol’ CC has a relationship with Charlie Manuel and he just might be ready to get away from the free-falling Brewers now.

Apropos of nothing, has a manger ever been fired mid game?

Anyway, after Burrell’s homer, Werth picked up an RBI with a bases-loaded walk. That also forced Ned Yost to slink out of the dugout to give Suppan the hook.

Suppan’s line: 3 2/3 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 4 BB, 1 K, 1 HR, 1 WP, 1 HBP…

Ouch!

Phillies 6, Brewers 0

Third inning: Shhhhh! Don’t jinx it

I often wonder what went on in big-league press boxes before there was a such a thing as the Internet. From what I’m told the press box was a lot more animated and adversarial.

As if that’s not the case now.

Perhaps without the Internet, the public relations staff would be busier looking up stats and trends and that kind of stuff, but these days it’s all a mouse click away. So with a second weekend of day-night action, the scribes are about to visit their Facebook pages while simultaneously keeping an eye on their Fantasy Football matchups.

It should be noted that my team is beating all that is holy out of the team owned by Marcus Hayes. However, Marcus has DeSean Jackson and Wes Parker remaining in order to make up the 40-point deficit. I’m fresh out of players after benefitting from a stellar outing by a guy named E. Graham of Tampa Bay.

Nope, I don’t pretend to be an expert.

Meanwhile, bulldog scribe Mike Radano of the Courier Post just handed out the cards for the no-hitter pool. What happens is whenever a pitcher carries a no-no past the third inning, Mike hands out specific cards to 10 people for $5 apiece. If a card matches with the corresponding spot in the lineup of the player who busts up the no-hitter, the card holder takes home the loot.

If a pitcher goes on to toss the no-hitter, the person holding the King is the big winner.

For the record, Ken Mandel of Phillies.com won when Kevin Millwood threw his no-hitter.

OK… here comes the jinx – Brett Myers has a no-hitter through three innings. In the third he walked Craig Counsell to start the inning, but quickly erased him by coaxing a 6-4-3 double play. Jeff Suppan grounded out to end the inning.

Myers has thrown 30 pitches without a strikeout to get his goose eggs.

Soeaking of goose eggs, the Phillies just posted their first one of the game in the third. However, Ryan Howard kept the grounded-into-double-play streak alive for a third inning in a row.

Phillies 4, Brewers 0

Second inning: Hello, Mr. Baseball!

Saw Bob Uecker – the famous Mr. Baseball – in the media dining room between games. Bob was wearing a sharp button-down shirt and a gaudy Bluetooth device before preparing to entertain the good folks in Milwaukee with some more splendid analysis.

The character he played in Major League wasn’t far off, folks.

Which reminds me of a funny story:

A few years back when the Brewers were in town, a member of the Philly media approached Uecker to tell him how much he enjoyed his work as well as his acting in the film, Major League. After thanking the press dude for the compliment and exchanging some more small talk, the pair split up.

Suddenly, though, Uecker stopped, turned around and called back to the media guy, “Hey, have you seen the second movie yet,” referring, of course, to the sequel in the Major League film series.

“No,” the press guy answered.

“Don’t, it sucks,” Uecker said.

That Bob Uecker – always looking out for you.

Meanwhile, Brett Myers sat down three more Brewers in a row in the second inning. That’s six up and six down for the big fella on 16 pitches (11 strikes) and five on balls hit into the air.

The Phillies’ offense continued to put pressure on Jeff Suppan and the Brewers in the bottom of the second when Pat Burrell and Shane Victorino reached to leadoff the frame. But for the second inning in a row, a double play – this one from Pedro Feliz – ruined a potentially huge threat…

That was until Myers singled to right with two outs to drive home another run. The white rally towels handed out to the fans flitted and flew a few pitches later when Jimmy Rollins smashed a single to left-center to drive in Chris Coste from third and a rumblin’, stumblin’, bumblin’ and slidin’ Myers from second.

If the sight of Myers circling the bases and sliding into home doesn’t make a guy want to twirl a flag, nothing will.

Onto the third.

Phillies 4, Brewers 0

Leslie chimes in: Jimmy should have never tried to stretch that single into a double to start the game… but it worked.

Brett Myers should have never been sent home in the second… but it worked.

The Phillies have had some things fall there way today… they’d better not push their luck!

Always a pessimist, Leslie… sheesh!

First inning: Picking up where they left off

Ed. Note: Comcast SportsNet’s Leslie Gudel is here at the ballpark and sitting directly to my left. As such, it appears as if she might have a few thoughts to offer to the array of posts during tonight’s game. Certainly Leslie’s keen insight will offer a different slant to things.

The scene in the Brewers’ clubhouse following the opening game of the split doubleheader certainly told the story – those guys are cooked.

Well, maybe not. Certainly a lot can happen in the two weeks remaining in the season, but it’s quite evident that the Brewers are tighter than a drum. After the late-inning blow up to lose the opening game, no one talked or even glanced in the direction of another player. One writer – a veteran of some tense and bad-vibe filled clubhouses – called the scene “surreal.”

That bodes well for the Phillies.

Conversely, there is nothing that seems to make the Phillies tense. Since Charlie Manuel came aboard as manager, the ballclub has been loose and fancy free. Players know that their manager is going to allow them to do their jobs without interference or second-guessing. For instance, when Chase Utley bunted with Jayson Werth on first base and no outs in the eighth inning of a tied game, Manuel didn’t go into his post-game meeting with the scribes and wonder aloud, “What was Chase thinking? By sacrificing in that situation he took the bat out of the hands of the hottest hitter in the game… geez!”

Instead, Charlie talked to Utley on the spot. Nothing lingered or carried over to create undue animosity. Charlie told Utley to hit away and give Ryan Howard a chance to smash a homer.

Nevertheless, the move ended up working out for the Phillies anyway. Howard was intentionally walked and Pat Burrell singled in the go-ahead run. All is well that ends well.

Perhaps all is well that starts well, too. Brett Myers got through the top of the first on just eight pitches – and two long, loud outs – while the offense picked up right where they left off this afternoon.

After Jimmy Rollins stretched a single into a double to start the frame against Jeff Suppan, and next season’s everyday left fielder (OK, speculation on my part, but educated speculation) Jayson Werth singled, the Phillies opened the scoring with a run despite a double play from Utley.

One in the books. The Phillies are 24 outs from a tie for the wild card.

Phillies 1, Brewers 0