The impact of the blown save

lidgePITTSBURGH – Figuring out how to get those final three outs in the ninth inning of a ballgame is one of those great mysteries of baseball. For some reason the final inning is that much more difficult than the eight that precede it that there needs to be a specialist earmarked specifically to pitch that one inning.

Moreover, ballplayers buy into the mysteries of the ninth inning. They say things like, “Oh yeah, he has closers stuff, but to actually be a closer is a different beast.”

The word they use a lot is “mindset.” Anytime that word gets thrown out there chances are no one has a real explanation.

But that’s not to disparage the poor baseball man attempting to answer an unanswerable question about pitching the ninth inning. That one inning, as sometime closer Ryan Madson said, is “magnified.”

Of course the last inning is magnified because it’s the only one the closer pitches in. Back in the 1970s when Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter were going two to three innings (and sometimes even four innings) to nail down a game, the blown save meant a lot less. That’s why several of the all-time leaders in blown saves in a season are in the Hall of Fame.

Still, the ninth inning is Machiavellian in the truest sense. It doesn’t matter how Brad Lidge saved 48 straight games last season, it just matters that he did it. Just the same as it matter that this year he isn’t doing it as well.

Last season the Phillies pitchers had 15 blown saves with Chad Durbin leading the way with six. Of those 15 blown save chances, zero came in the ninth inning and nary a one came from the closer or that day’s closer. As a result, the Phillies’ save percentage of 76 was 14 percentage points better than the league norm.

This year the Phillies already have 18 blown saves, including one in back-to-back games against the lowly Pirates here in Pittsburgh. Of those 18, 14 have come from Lidge and Madson and 12 of those have come in the ninth inning.

Nevertheless, with 38 games to go there is a chance that the Phillies could surpass last season’s save tally of 47. What’s more, the Phillies have actually won five of the games in which there was a blown save. In fact, the team has come back and won three games that Lidge got a blown save.

That says more about the Phillies offense and resiliency more than anything.

So maybe in a sense the Phillies have merely blown 10 save chances this year? I know that’s not the proper formula and minimizes the impact of the blown save chance, but it is worth thinking about where these Phillies might be if Lidge can get it together for the playoffs.

Meanwhile, Lidge has been on the mound for four walk-off jobs this season. I’m not sure if I can recall an instance of one walk-off piece against the Phillies last season at all.

Eighth inning: Easy as 1-2-3-4

Ryan Madson was back to getting outs in the eighth, notching a 1-2-3 frame with a pair of strikeouts. Apparently, that long, loud out by Casey Blake was nothing more than an aberration.

Instead, it was clear that Madson was ready to get four outs in order to give the ball to Brad Lidge for another save chance.

On another note, it’s worth mentioning that the Phillies have not gotten a hit since the fourth inning and haven’t had a base runner since the fifth until Eric Bruntlett walked with two outs in the eighth. However, these Phils are all about manufacturing runs tonight… somebody look up the last time they scored eight runs without a homer.

Here comes Lidge.

End of 8: Phillies 8, Dodgers 5

Seventh inning: Close calls and Nomar

Things are starting to come together nicely for manager Charlie Manuel this afternoon. Actually, I guess it’s the evening now – it’s after 7 p.m.

Semantics aside, the game is playing out just the way ol’ Charlie likes it. He just had J.C. Romero in the seventh with set-up man Ryan Madson warming up for the eighth. For the last two months, Madson has been as sharp as he ever has at any point of his career. In the eighth, Madson has been as reliable as closer Brad Lidge has been in the ninth.

Meanwhile, Lidge isn’t throwing, but he’s stirring around out there in the bullpen.

Interestingly, though, Manuel looks as if he’s going to lean on Madson to get four outs tonight. After Romero gave out a two-out walk to Matt Kemp, manager Joe Torre sent in Nomar Garciaparra to pinch hit.

Isn’t it amazing that Nomar is pretty much just a pinch hitter these days? Remember how good he was before all the injuries took their toll? Remember that six-hit game he had at the Vet in the wild game that ended with Todd Pratt belting that walk-off bomb?

Mayhem reigned in that one.

Speaking of mayhem, the scene nearly broke into a state of anarchy with two outs in the inning when Casey Blake drilled one 400-feet to center field. The crowd actually gasped when it was hit, clearly thinking the worst. But when Shane Victorino measured it up, leapt up against the wall and hauled it in, the roar from the stands reverberated.

Just looks like any other out in the box score.

End of 7: Phillies 8, Dodgers 5

Eighth inning: Mad dog to the rescue

An interesting situation came up with one out at the top of the eighth. After throwing a diving changeup to strikeout Andre Ethier, Charlie Manuel bolted from the dugout to have a discussion with Ryan Madson about the next hitter.

Whatever Charlie told Madson was right on the money because it only took one pitch for him to get Manny Ramirez to line out when one swing could have tied the game.

Instead, Madson handed the ball over to closer Brad Lidge with at least a one-run lead for the ninth.

On another note, I had planned on writing about Madson since the last day in Milwaukee, but for some reason I sensed that he would pitch tonight and saved it. Guess what? I’m going to write about Madson tonight. Why not? The guy has been lights out down the stretch with an 0.64 ERA in 13 games and 14 innings. During that span, the lanky righty has held opponents to a .222 batting average, issued just one walk and whiffed 17.

Better yet, after sitting out with injuries for much of the second half last year, Madson has thrived in his first taste of playoff action.

More on Madson later tonight.

End of 8: Phillies 3, Dodgers 2

Seventh inning: Big effort from big Joe

MILWAUKEE – Joe Blanton struck out for the third time to lead off the seventh. That’s a good thing because it means manager Charlie Manuel wants the right-hander to gobble up some innings.

However, Ryan Madson and Chad Durbin got up in the ‘pen shortly before Prince Fielder pounded a long home run over the bullpen in right field. J.J. Hardy followed with a single to right a pitch later which brought Manuel to the mound to summon Madson with one on and no outs.

Then those damn thunder sticks started up again…

Between the wieners, the Fonz, arresting Charles Barkley, fried cheese, and those damn thundr sticks, these people are nuts.

Sinker baller that he is, Madson got two grounders and a pop up to right to end the threat.

The Phillies are six outs away from winning their first playoff series in 15 years.

Blanton’s line:

6+ IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 7 K, 1 HR – 107 pitches, 72 strikes

Not bad… not bad at all.

End of 7: Phillies 5, Brewers 0

Eighth inning: Oh, those runners left on base


MILWAUKEE – Geoff Jenkins made his first post-season plate appearance to start the eighth after 10 years in the big leagues playing for the Brewers. They really like Jenkins here and some even call Miller Park, “The House that Jenk Built.”

Not quite, but it’s a nice sentiment.

Nevertheless, Jenkins lifted an easy fly to left off once-dominant closer, Eric Gagne for the first out of the eighth before Jimmy Rollins tried to beat out a bunt, but was off on the execution.

Jayson Werth helped the Phillies add to their impressive runners-left-stranded-in-scoring-position totals by ripping a double off the wall in left before Chase Utley ended the inning with a fly out.

Combined, Utley, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell are a combined 3-for-26 in the series. That total fits nicely with the 22 runners left on base during the series, including 15 in scoring position.

Fortunately, the Brewers could not add on against Ryan Madson in the eighth as the Phillies go down to their final three outs against closer Salomon Torres.

We’ll all know what we’re doing on Sunday very soon.

End of 8: Brewers 4, Phillies 1

Seventh inning: Eyre over Madson

MILWAUKEE – Obviously, Milwaukee is filthy with media folks this weekend. Aside from the usual suspects like four writers from The Inquirer and the Daily News apiece and six folks from Comcast SportsNet, a bunch of national types have dropped in to see if the Phillies can get it done.

And since most folks are stuck here all weekend, a bunch are hoping for the Phillies to end it tonight so they can spend a leisurely Sunday writing and hanging out in Chicago, which is about 70-minutes south of Milwaukee.

Another option is the 90-minute drive north to Green Bay to watch the Packers at Lambeau Field.

My choice is Chicago. If the Phillies get this done tonight it might have to make the jaunt down there tonight.

But if the Phillies are going to make it a clean sweep they can’t have innings like the seventh where Carlos Villanueva buzzed through the Nos. 6, 7 and 8 hitters for an easy, 1-2-3 frame.

Meanwhile, Scott Eyre returned to pitch the seventh and gave up J.J. Hardy’s third hit of the game. A sacrifice bunt and an infield single from Craig Counsell put runners on the corners with one out, but manager Charlie Manuel decided to stick with the lefty Eyre to face right-handed hitter Jason Kendall.

Bad move.

Kendall’s single to left made it 4-1 and immediately got J.C. Romero and Ryan Madson up in the Phillies’ bullpen.

But why didn’t Madson start the inning? After all, Eyre is mostly a situational lefty these days and the Brewers had two straight right-handed hitters up to start the inning, followed by lefty Counsell and another righty, Kendall.

Madson quickly got out of the inning, but now the Phillies are six outs away from making us all stay in Milwaukee and show up at the ballpark for breakfast tomorrow morning.

End of 7: Brewers 4, Phillies 1

Eighth inning: Save situations

Ryan Madson has a simple job here in the eighth inning…

Keep the lead.

That’s it. All the lanky right-handed reliever has to do is get through the inning relatively unscathed so Brad Lidge can come in for the ninth and close it out.

Frankly, Madson has one of those jobs that no one notices until he doesn’t do it properly. But the fact is his job is every bit as important as Lidge’s. This time, Madson kind of got it done. The Phillies left the eighth with the lead intact, though the reliever only notched two outs before Charlie Manuel summoned lefty J.C. Romero.

The move became necessary when Madson allowed a two-out hit to Ryan Braun that brought up lefty Prince Fielder with two on and a chance to tie the game with one swing. Needless to say, it’s not a position the Phillies have been too unfamiliar with during the first two games of this series.

Baseball is about pitching and defense in the playoffs. In that regard, Romero had a short – and vitally important – outing in the eighth. He threw just one pitch. It was a fastball that got in on the hands of Fielder, broke his bat into tiny pieces and sent the ball rolling slowly toward Chase Utley at second.

Inning over. Lidge will get the ball with the lead in the ninth.

End of 8: Phillies 5, Brewers 2

Seventh inning: Into the ‘pen

Here are some fun facts:

So far, both teams have scored all their runs in one inning per game. However, the Phillies have notched at least one hit in seven/eight straight innings.

Go figure.

J.J. Hardy got the Brewers’ first hit since the first inning when he led off the seventh with a double. He moved up to third on a long fly out to right by Corey Hart and scored on a ground out to second by veteran Craig Counsell.

Just like that it turned into a save situation.

As a result, the Phillies’ bullpen was stirring as Ryan Madson loosened up. With Brett Myers set to hit third in the order in the seventh, it’s likely his night is over…

And indeed it is. Greg Dobbs came in to pinch hit for the “professional hitter” Myers, who went 1-for-2 with a walk in his playoff starting debut.

Myers line: 7 IP, 2 R, 2 H, 3 BB, 4 K, 1 HBP – 94 pitches, 56 strikes.

Madson will make his playoff debut in the eighth.

End of 7: Phillies 5, Brewers 2

Eighth inning: Phew! That was close!

Brad Lidge has been in a few big games during his career. Actually, he’s been in some really big games with everything on the line, including that one in Houston in the NLCS when Albert Pujols hit that home run.

Yeah, everyone remembers that one.

Though he seems relaxed and laidback away from the field, it’s obvious he gets amped up when he gets the ball. Even if the game is tight and the pressure is about to boil over, Lidge wants the ball.

After last night’s game when the prospect of pitching in the ninth inning of a clinching game was broached, Lidge’s eyes lit up.

“I don’t care if it’s 100-0 – I will be available,” he said. “There is no scenario where I won’t want to be out there.”

Of course Lidge usually only comes into the game when the Phillies have the lead. That thin thread became even more precariously delicate during the eighth inning when Ryan Madson entered and promptly got into a jam.

Unlike Lidge, this is the first time Madson has been in these high-pressure situations. Last season he was on the disabled list when the Phillies made their march to the post-season so all he could do was celebrate with his teammates and watch from the bench.

This year Madson gave up a leadoff single to (Phillie killer) Cristian Guzman and a long double to Ryan Zimmerman. Things really got worrisome for the 45, 177 in the house when Lastings Milledge lifted a blooper into short center field that shortstop Jimmy Rollins somehow hauled in.

But in doing so, Rollins collided with Shane Victorino — seemingly kicking him in the shins – as Guzman tagged and scored. After the play, Victorino remained on his back, but remained in the game.

Madson stayed in, too and got Elijah Dukes on a broken –bat grounder before whiffing Aaron Boone to end the inning.

When Boone swung and missed, Madson screamed and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

The Phillies tacked on one with two-outs in the bottom half of the inning when Victorino legged out an infield single and came around to score on Pedro Feliz’s RBI double.

Here comes Lidge…

End of 8: Phillies 4, Nats 2

It’s when, not if for Phillies

Last season the Colorado Rockies finished the season by winning 14 of their final 15 games. Carrying that hot streak into the playoffs, the Rockies won seven more in a row to land in the World Series. The crazy part about that was the Rockies were in fourth place with 12 games remaining in the season and third place at game No. 161. Had they gone 13 for 15, it would not have worked out.

Certainly the Rockies’ hot streak through the last two weeks of the season and into the playoffs was one of the greatest closing runs ever. Six times they won by two runs or less, including a pair of extra-inning affairs.

In the understatement of all time, things just clicked for Colorado.

Meanwhile, things certainly are clicking for the Phillies these days, too. With five games remaining in the season, the Phillies can one-up the Rockies great closing run by winning 15 of their final 16 games. But unlike the Rockies, it doesn’t seem as if the Phillies are going to need the all-or-nothing surge. Instead, the Phillies fans aren’t thinking about “if,” the big question is, “when.”

As in, “When are they going to clinch?”

Yes, going 10 for 11 during the season’s final fortnight has a crazy way of putting things into better focus. After all, it wasn’t even three weeks ago when the Phillies left Washington, D.C. after a crippling 9-7 loss to the hapless Nationals that put their playoff hopes teetering on the balance. The slightest slip up at Shea Stadium against the Mets could have sent things spiraling out of control. A week later, after dropping a three-game series to the Marlins at the Bank, the margin for error got even tighter. Trailing the Mets by 3½ games with 16 to go seemed like too big of a mountain to scale.

Instead, 11 games later we’re sitting here wondering “when,” not “if.”

“Things happen. Sometimes you get the breaks, sometimes you don’t,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “You’d be surprised. When you’re going good, somebody will hit a screaming foul ball. It goes foul by about six inches. What happens if he hits it on the line or something?”

Certainly Manuel isn’t losing much sleep over things like balls that land centimeters on one side of the line these days. Everything is working out for his club these days – every move is the right one, like when September call up Greg Golson entered Monday’s game as a pinch runner only to go from first to third before a pitch had been thrown.

In the ninth, with lights out closer Brad Lidge unavailable after a full weekend of closing out games in Miami, Brian McCann’s long fly ball to left field off Ryan Madson just missed being a two-run home run by inches. Rather than cutting deep into the Phillies’ lead, McCann’s hit was a simple double – nothing more than a chance for the Braves to pad their left-on-base totals.

So with five games to go in the regular season, the Phillies can seal things up before the weekend. Another victory over the Braves on Tuesday coupled with a loss by the Brewers ensures a Game 163 playoff game even if the Phillies lose their final four games. Better yet, two more victories ought to be enough to sew up the NL East and most likely send the Dodgers to Philly next week for the NLDS.

But if the Mets fold up again and the Brewers slip past them for the wild card (the Mets lead is one game with six to go), then the Phillies get to host Milwaukee again.

No matter the scenario, the Phillies are sitting pretty. Two more does the trick…

It not a matter of if, but when.

***
Speaking of which, it seems as if the Mets’ pitching is in full self-destruct mode as the games become more important. On Monday night, the fans at Shea were masquerading as empty, orange seats after an early battle against the Cubs turned into a laugher when pitcher Jason Marquis slugged a grand slam to break open the game as if it were a 10-pound bass.

So that’s the way it is, huh? Are the Mets nothing more than a dead fish waiting to be carved up?

Maybe so.

Either way, the Mets are not getting too far ahead of themselves like they did last year when it appeared it was simply a matter of “when,” not “if.” Because of that, the team installed extra seats near the dugouts to handle the overflow crowd and high-rollers in need of tickets for the playoffs — a plan that became foolhardy when the Phillies caught them on the last day of the season.

This year the Mets aren’t acting so quickly on the extra seats. With six more games to go and a wild-card berth looking more like the best post-season possibility, the club will wait to install those seats.

In the meantime, manager Jerry Manuel is looking to infuse his with the proverbial shot in the arm(s). Though it seems tenuous at best, starting pitcher John Maine could come off the disabled list in time to work out of the bullpen.

The best bet for the Mets, however, looks to be the notion that the Brewers are an even bigger dead fish with no more fits and flops left in them for one last push.

In the meantime, the Phillies could have the luxury of resting a few arms before learning who their first-round opponent will be.

***
The Philly scribes now have all angles of the J.A. Happ-as-Marty Bystrom bit covered. At least we do after Rich Hofmann chatted up the always loquacious Dallas Green for the latest update on the premise.

Big D’s big quote in Rich’s story?

“Marty did one hell of a job,” he said. “We don’t win without him – that’s for sure. We’d probably still win without Happ but we wouldn’t have won without Marty. He was 5-0, he started two games for us in the playoffs and the World Series. He was a hell of a pitcher, he really was, for a kid. He just got himself all messed up afterward. He got a sore arm.

“He never really got, I mean, that was Marty’s shining light, that September,” Green said. “Hopefully J.A. will get a little more than that.”

My favorite part of the other Bystrom story by that other guy was when it retired pitcher revealed that he did not know he was going to pitch in the decisive Game 5 of the NLCS until after the Phillies won Game 4. That meant all Bystrom could do was go home and take a nap before attempting to pitch the Phillies into the World Series.

“I hadn’t pitched in nine or 10 days and Dallas came up to after Game 4 and said, ‘You got the ball tomorrow, kid,’” Bystrom said. “I said, ‘I’m ready.’”

I guess Rich’s story is better… at least it’s shorter.

Showdown at Shea

Regardless of how the weekend series in New York shakes out, it’s very likely the Phillies will take the race for the NL East all the way to the final days of the season. The Phillies may not have much of a shot at a second straight playoff berth, but make no mistake – the Phillies will be in it until the end.

Be that as it is, the series against the Mets at Shea Stadium will carry a lot of weight in regard to the Phillies’ post-season hopes. The Phillies are definitely on the edge. In fact, the Phillies most definitely HAVE to win two games this weekend. Trailing the Mets by three games with just 22 remaining in the season, it could all slip away very quickly if the Phillies aren’t careful.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all know that the Phillies won the NL East after trailing the Mets by seven games with 17 to go. In fact, the Phillies know it all too well. Lately, anytime a player is asked about the race against the Mets a pad answer about how the team did it before comes trotting out.

The truth is the Phillies got lucky last year. The Mets fell flat on their faces and handed it over in an epic collapse. Come on… who loses a seven-game lead with 17 to go?

Can lightning strike the same spot twice? Maybe.

But then again, maybe not.

It might not be correct to suggest the Phillies are in better shape than the Mets at this point. Oh sure, Billy Wagner might not pitch again this season (though he did have a bullpen session today), and the Mets’ bullpen has struggled throughout the second half. Meanwhile, the team’s offense is filled with some older players prone to slumps and injuries.

However, the Phillies’ ‘pen isn’t in great shape either. Even though they still have the best bullpen ERA in the league, some guys are beginning to feel the toll of the long season. Chad Durbin, Ryan Madson and J.C. Romero likely won’t get many days off over the final three weeks of the season.

Durbin, meanwhile, is in his first season as a full-time reliever and never pitched in 36 games before hitting 60 this year. Madson, who missed most of the second half of ’07 with injuries, has already appeared in 64 games and could snap his career-high of 78 appearances from 2005.

Reliever Clay Condrey also has established a new career-high in appearances, while Romero has already pitched in 120 games for the Phillies since joining the team late last June.

Fortunately, starting pitchers Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer and Cole Hamels – the hurlers scheduled to go this weekend at Shea – have been pretty good at eating up some innings. Myers has taken the game to the seventh inning in seven straight starts and could inch toward 190 innings despite missing a month while in the minors. Moyer has pitched at least six innings in 18 of his 28 starts, and Hamels leads the league in innings with 203.

Now if they could just hit the ball there would be nothing to worry about…

Right?

Pre-game for Game 1

Ryan MadsonJust ran into Ryan Madson in an elevator. He’s obviously still on the disabled list (though he hopes to return for the NLCS) and was trying to get back to the clubhouse to change into his uniform so that he could be part of the pre-game introductions.

It seemed like Madson wanted to get down to the field level via the concourse, which by that point was loaded with fans. Knowing this, Madson pulled a cap over his eyes, threw a hood over his head and dashed into the fray.

I hope he makes it.

Meanwhile, Kyle Kendrick did a pre-game press conference with Charlie Manuel in the basement media room. He says he’s treating tomorrow’s start in Game 2 like it’s just another game (I’m going to write about that, so stay tuned). Judging from his demeanor, I think I believe Kendrick – maybe it is just another game.

Then again, what does he know? He’s 23, was called up in June and though he seems pretty non-plussed about everything, maybe he’s just flying by the seat of his pants… who knows?

Time for the introductions.