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

Sunday morning: Hamels steps up

PROGRAMMING NOTE: We are going LIVE during the second game of the day-night doubleheader against the Brewers. With no local television broadcast available and limited terrestrial radio outside of the Philadelphia region, I will give inning-by-inning synopses during the night cap. The format will be similar to past live offerings, though we may attempt to sneak in a little extra fun with a  chat or something like that. Anyway, be sure to dial it up or go to CSN for the latest.

Back to your regularly scheduled post…

Cole Hamels isn’t shy about telling people what he wants to achieve during his baseball career. Ask him and he’ll say he wants to have a career as long as Jamie Moyer. Hamels also wants to pitch a few no-hitters, take home a bunch of Cy Young Awards and be enshrined in the Hall of Fame when it’s all over.

Certainly such claims can sound boastful when read in print, but that’s hardly the case when Hamels says it. In fact, it comes out rather matter-of-factly, as if it’s a typical cliché answer to a regular old question.

Yeah, I’m going to take it one day at a time and hopefully I’ll be in the Hall of Fame.

But Hamels is wise enough to understand that legacies and greatness are not contrived solely from the numbers on the stat page. After all, anyone can pile up numbers. That’s easy. The true test is delivering in the really big games when post-season glory is on the line.

Hamels hasn’t had too many chances in so-called clutch starts, but the four he has pitched in run the gamut. Last Sunday at Shea Stadium Hamels came back on short rest with a chance to pitch the Phillies into a first-place tie with the Mets on national TV, but came up with a real clunker in a 6-3 loss. Needless to say, a win in that game could have gone a long way for the Phillies.

Prior to last Sunday’s big thud, Hamels was both awful and brilliant in Game 1 of last season’s NLDS. After a rough and sweaty second inning in which the Rockies put the Phillies in a deep hole, Hamels rebounded to retire 13 in a row and 15 of the final 16 hitters he faced.

Saturday afternoon’s victory over the free-falling Brewers wasn’t as great as the Sept. 28, 2007 outing in which Hamels whiffed 13 hitters and put the Phillies into first place, but definitely was clutch. Knowing that his season will be remembered for what he does these last two weeks, Hamels needed 113 pitches to grind out 6 1/3 innings to beat the Brewers for his 13th win. But in doing so he gave the Phillies a chance to move into a first-place tie in the wild-card race as early as Sunday night.

“It’s all about the team and the win, especially now,” Hamels said.  

“We want to play in October. We don’t want to be going home. Guys are kicking it in.”

Most notably (and it’s about time!) two of the guys kicking it in are Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins.

Rollins has had some nice Septembers in the last few years like when he put together that epic hitting streak and surged to the MVP Award. Luckily for the Phillies, he is at it again. In 11 games this month, Rollins is batting .362 with two homers, seven RBIs and a .417 on-base percentage.

In 2005 Howard set the rookie record for most homers during September and might be making a case for a second MVP Award this month. So far Howard has six homers, 17 RBIs and a .366 batting average. In doing that, Howard became the first player to pile up three straight 130-plus RBI seasons since Sammy Sosa from 1998 to 2001.

“There’s definitely more emphasis on things that are done in September,” Rollins said. “This last month, that’s all people are going to be talking about.”

Yes. Yes they are.

***

Beg, borrow, buy or steal a copy of the book Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Quite simply, the novel is a masterwork and a once-in-an-era work by a writer whose life ended way, way too short. Luckily for us, his work remains.

Getting smart and lucky

Rightly or wrongly, Charlie Manuel has always been a lightning rod for criticism amongst the hometown fans. Then again, that goes with the territory. Most big league managers are used to having all of their decisions deconstructed.

Second-guessing the manager is the true pastime of the national pastime.

Nevertheless, Manuel, like most managers, has certain moves and uses specific players in designated situations without even thinking. For instance, if at all possible, Manuel likes to remove Pat Burrell late in the game for a pinch runner or for defensive purposes.

Sometimes those moves are like an old crutch the skipper likes to fall back upon that he uses out of habit more than necessity. Other times, Manuel plays hunches despite what the statistical trends bear out.

And sometimes he just gets lucky.

Last night’s 5-2 victory over the Dodgers in 11 innings at the Bank might have been one of those grey areas – either it was a fallback move, a hunch or just dumb luck. Whatever it was, it worked out for the Phillies.

Looking to boost his languid offense, Manuel gave top-pinch hitter Greg Dobbs the starting nod at third base last night. The reasoning was that Dobbs would give the Phillies’ lineup more potency than it would have with Pedro Feliz at third. With just a .254 batting average and 12 home runs heading into the game following a month on the disabled list with a bulging disc in his back.

Though Feliz has been a bit of a disappointment at the plate, the Phillies admit that he has been better than advertised defensively at third base. Actually, Feliz probably is the club’s best defensive third baseman since Scott Rolen was in town.

Dobbs, on the other hand, is exactly a butcher at the hot corner, but when Manuel saw a chance to replace him in the late innings last night, he moved swiftly.

Here’s where it worked out – entering the game as part of a double-switch in the seventh, Feliz was in the game long enough to get two of his best at-bats of the season. With two on and two outs in the ninth of a 2-1 game, Feliz lashed a first-pitch single to right to force extra innings. And since he was the guy who made everyone stick around well past midnight with the clutch hit in the ninth, Feliz figured he ought to be the guy to end it, too.

With two on and two outs in the 11th, Feliz knocked one into the seats in left-center for a walk-off blast as well as an improbable ending for a team struggling with its hitting.

Good move Charlie, right?

“When he’s swinging good and staying aggressive, he can hit the ball as good as anyone in the game,” Manuel said.

Certainly the Phillies thought they would see much more of Feliz’s offensive prowess this season. At the very least it was believed that Feliz and injured right field Geoff Jenkins would more than make up for the numbers lost when center fielder Aaron Rowand bolted to the Giants. In that regard, both players have been a disappointment though Feliz has an outside shot to reach 20 homers this season (he has 13).

Either way, Feliz has accepted whatever role Manuel has slated for him on a particular day, which was a start at third in the series finale against the Dodgers on Monday night.

“I want to be there every day, but if I’m not in the lineup, I’ll try to be ready,” Feliz said. “I won’t be crying about it. I’m happy the team is doing good. We’re in a fight, and whatever chance I get, I’m happy about it. As long as we get the ‘W,’ I’m happy.”

Though he helped the team with his bat on Sunday night, Feliz knows it’s his glove that has gotten him his playing time. In fact, it was some fine glove work that might have saved the game for the Phillies on Sunday.

With the bases loaded and no outs in the 10th, Casey Blake hit one to Feliz at third. Quickly identifying that Manny Ramirez was busting it for home from third, Feliz stepped on third and fired it home to catcher Chris Coste, who completed the double play and saved the Dodgers from scoring the go-ahead run.

“As soon as I saw the ball, you have to know who’s on third,” Feliz said. “He didn’t take off for home right away, so I knew I could tag the bag and throw home. If he took off right away, I would throw home.”

So give Feliz a hat trick in the win. A game-tying hit, a game-saving play in the field and a walk-off homer…

Not bad.

Looking ahead
With starting pitcher John Maine headed for the disabled list for the Mets, the Phillies might have received the break they needed as they race for a second straight NL East title. Of course the biggest issue for the Phillies will be taking care of their own business.

Still, in the five games that remain against the Mets, the Phillies will not have to face Maine, who has been tough lately. In three starts against the Phillies this season, Maine has held them to a .190 batting average. Better yet, in nine career starts against Philadelphia, Maine is 5-0 with a 2.54 ERA.

Facing Maine will be one less thing for the Phillies to worry about.

Nor will the team lose much sleep over facing the Nationals six more times, nor the fading Braves and Marlins six more times apiece. The Cubs and Brewers, on the other hand, could present a challenge.

This weekend the Phillies get the core of the Cubs’ pitching staff when they face Ryan Dempster (15-5, 2.85) on Thursday night, Rich Harden (4-1, 1.47) on Friday afternoon, Ted Lilly (12-7, 4.25) on Saturday afternoon, and Carlos Zambrano (13-5, 3.29) in Sunday’s finale.

Of course that comes after the Phils host the Mets and Pedro Martinez (4-3, 4.97) and Johan Santana (12-7, 2.64) in back-to- back games.

Yes, it will get interesting in a hurry for the Phillies.