In poker, you can be at the top of your game, making no mistakes and capitalizing on your opponents’ weaknesses and miscues, but still end up losing. When that happens, you abdicate your chair, shake your opponent’s hand, tell him “nice hand,” and mutter “That’s poker” back to the bar to drown your sorrows.
The same holds true in baseball. Wednesday’s Braves-Phillies game is one of the few where the box score doesn’t tell the whole story. To the many Phillies and Braves fans who stopped watching the game once it was “out of reach” at 8-2 in the top of the 8th inning, the box score will tell you that Tom Gordon and Brett Myers combined for an impressive performance in blowing a six-run lead.
Sure, Gordon did give up a legitimate lead-off double to Chipper Jones. But the three singles that followed were flukey in every sense of the word. After getting Mark Teixeira to fly out to right field, catcher Brian McCann hit a fly ball to shallow right-center field, and neither Aaron Rowand nor Chris Roberson could reach it, and it fell for a single. Jeff Francoeur followed in similar fashion, blooping an end-of-the-bat single to the shallow outfield, well in front of Roberson, allowing Jones to score. As if the game was a perpetual torture machine, Scott Thorman gave us an encore with a bloop single in the dreaded “Bermuda Triangle” between left-fielder Jayson Werth, Rowand, and shortstop Jimmy Rollins.
Things were getting tense, but it’s only 8-3… but it was also a save situation (the tying run is on-deck), so in came closer Brett Myers, who wasted no time in letting the Braves’ fourth run cross home plate by throwing his first pitch in the dirt in front of new catcher Carlos Ruiz. Showing no command, Myers threw three more balls to Yunel Escobar to give him a free ticket to first base.
To Myers’ credit, he made a good pitch to the next hitter, Matt Diaz. He got it on on his fists, and the ball had little momentum, but just enough to get past the pitcher in-between the third baseman and shortstop. One of those flukey base hits again, this one scored Francoeur to make it 8-5. Myers’ lack of command flared up again, walking Willie Harris and forcing in Thorman for an 8-6 bid. Kelly Johnson helped him by fouling out to third base early in the count, and frustrated Chipper Jones by throwing him two straight 3-2 curveballs to fly out to left-center.
To Phillies fans, watching that inning was like passing a kidney stone. And it wasn’t over. Just for the added suspense, what I am about to describe happened after Myers easily retired the first two batters, Mark Teixeira and Brayan Pena.
Francoeur grounded a ball past third baseman Abraham Nunez, just deep enough in the hole so that Rollins couldn’t get enough on the throw to beat Francoeur at first base. Martin Prado came up to the plate and chopped the ball off of home plate. Phillies fans held their breath as Myers and catcher Ruiz stared up into the sky for a good three seconds — enough to ensure an infield single for Prado. The ball had to have richocheted off of home plate into the air at least 50 feet. At this point, Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas was having an aneurysm, and Phillies fans were having flashbacks of the Craig Biggio homerun off of Billy Wagner (spooky — it was almost two years ago to the day). To add insult to injury, Myers walked Yunel Escobar, putting the tying run at second base, and the winning run at first base.
Matt Diaz would be the last batter to swing his bat, ripping the deathblow to right field, off of Chris Roberson’s glove, scoring all three Braves baserunners.
So, in the 8th, the Braves had one legitimate hit (Jone’s double), four flukey hits (McCann, Francoeur, Thorman, and Diaz), a wild pitch, and two walks. In the 9th, the Braves had one legitimate hit that should have been caught (Diaz’s walk-off), two flukey hits (Francoeur and Prado), and a walk.
I can’t blame the bullpen for this loss. I can’t blame Charlie Manuel, either. I blame Lady Luck for choosing the Braves. Maybe she was sympathetic to Chipper Jones’ cause.
As for what the win could have meant for the Phillies, the Mets lost and so did the Padres, Rockies, and Dodgers. The only team the Phillies wouldn’t have picked up or gained ground on were the Diamondbacks, who beat the Padres. Instead, the Phillies have 5 games to pick up in the East, and 3 games in the Wild Card with 23 games to go. They can earn a playoff berth thusly:
Assuming the Mets go 12-11 in their final 23, the Phillies would have to finish the season 18-5 to win the East.
Assuming the Diamondbacks win the NL West, the Padres go 12-11 in their final 23, and no one else in the Wild Card chase picks up ground, the Phillies would have to finish the season 16-7 to win the Wild Card.
Assuming the Padres win the NL West, the Diamondbacks go 11-10 in their final 21, and no one else in the Wild Card chase picks up ground, the Phillies would have to finish the season 17-6 to win the Wild Card.
There’s always next year.