Phillies/Padres Game Thread 4/19/12

Last night, Cliff Lee threw the 24th ten-or-more-inning shutout for the Phillies since 1918, and looked nothing short of brilliant in the process, as Paul detailed earlier today. Still, the Phillies were left standing on the field, watching the other team celebrate, because they could not produce a single run in 37 trips to the plate. That sort of heartbreaking outcome has been typical for the Phillies when playing at AT&T, so, while they find themselves in another offense-suppressing venue, it’s a welcome change of scenery.

Tonight, the Padres (3-10) send Joe Wieland to the mound with the staggering task of keeping the Philly bats silent in PETCO park. He is matched up against Vance Worley (3.66 xFIP in 2011), who had some trouble with the long ball in his last start against the Mets, surrendering one a piece to Lucas Duda and David Wright. In his 3rd start, Worley will look to resume his modus operandi: called third strikes and limiting the long flies. He’ll have the benefit of facing a Padres offense that has been substantially below average so far (though not as woeful as Philadelphia’s), in a park where the flyballs tend to stay out of the bleachers. With a win tonight, the Phillies can pull within a game of .500.




A Closer Look at Lee’s Masterpiece

Last night’s 10 innings of wonder were just the latest installments to a Phillies season that
has seen some great things on the rubber. Lee collected a bunch of trivia footnotes in going
10 scoreless innings, ultimately yielding after 102 pitches and no run support. His was the
best outing by a Phillies pitcher since Roy Halladay’s NLDS no-no (in this writer’s opinion), with the only thing missing being a win.

We could harp on managerial strategy and lament the missed chance at a win, but I’ll choose instead to delve a bit deeper into Lee’s work and see just what made him so successful in San Francisco Wednesday.

  • Up, Up and Away (Literally)

Lee only faced seven lefties in last night’s start, but he seemed to favor an unusual approach when confronting them: throwing up and out of the zone.

Of the 20 pitches he threw to lefty batters Nate Schierholtz and Brandon Crawford – an average under three pitches per PA – Lee threw 12 out of the zone, inducing seven total swings and three whiffs. Schierholtz and Crawford went 0-for-7 against Lee, swinging at pitches out of their comfort zones. Crawford, for his career, his a bit more of a tendency to chase pitches in that area, but neither he nor Schierholtz could really be considered free swingers when it comes to that particular zone.

  •  A Perfect Curve
Lee’s curveball was excellent Wednesday, and that might be putting it mildly. Only 16 of the 102 pitches were of the curved variety, but each one was perplexing to Giants hitters.
Throwing it mostly to righties, Lee arced his curve just right often enough to catch the lower outside edge of the plate. He didn’t register any Ks against a RHB with the pitch (he did have one against Schierholtz in the 2nd). but he kept them off-balance enough to keep working ahead in the count.
  • Man at Work
As mentioned above, Lee did a lot of pitching in favorable counts, but even when he fell behind, he didn’t stay that way for long. Lee threw 25 first-pitch strikes to 34 batters, meaning he started 1-0 on just nine hitters. Bearing that in mind, consider how impressive this next figure is: Lee needed to throw just 12 total pitches in hitters’ counts (1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1) Wednesday, and 11 of those were thrown for strikes. Lee did not have a single three-ball count, which will also typically work heavily in a pitcher’s favor.
Lee’s outing was a special performance that deserved a better fate, but should still be remembered as likely the season’s finest effort by a Philly pitcher to date and one that will be hard to top by season’s end.

Cliff Lee Historically Great, Phillies Still Somehow Lose

In this millennium, only three pitchers have completed the tenth inning of a game they started: Aaron Harang, Roy Halladay (twice), and Mark Mulder. That is how rare it was to see Cliff Lee toe the slab in the tenth inning of tonight’s game in San Francisco. Given the complete lack of offense, it was a necessity.

Lee looked the best he has ever looked as a Phillie, as his curve ball was sharp as a knife and his change-up was on par with that of teammate Cole Hamels. The Giants couldn’t touch him — it took until the seventh inning to see more than 12 pitches in a single inning. Matt Cain matched him pitch-for-pitch through nine regulation innings, inducing his usual weak contact. Cain left the game for a pinch-hitter having allowed only two hits and one walk.

Because of his low pitch count — 89 pitches through nine innings — Lee came back out for the tenth inning. Buster Posey led off with a single, but was quickly erased in a ground ball double play off the bat of Brett Pill. Lee wrapped up the inning with a ground ball to second baseman Freddy Galvis, who raced to first base for the unassisted putout in spectacular fashion.

It was at this point that Charlie Manuel got his greasy manager hands on the game and caused it to slip out of the Phillies’ grasp. Carlos Ruiz led off the top of the eleventh inning with a double. Galvis, hitting left-handed, laid down a successful sacrifice bunt rather than swinging at the ball and trying to hit a ground ball to the right side. Jim Thome pinch-hit for Lee, forcing Giants manager Bruce Bochy to bring in left-handed reliever Javier Lopez. In that situation, with a runner on third base and one out, the attribute you want most in a hitter is a high contact rate. Last year, Placido Polanco swung and missed at fewer than ten percent of pitches while Thome swung and missed at 30 percent, per ESPN Stats & Information. As bad as Polanco has looked to start the year, you still have to go with the guy with a good chance of putting the ball in play.

Thome struck out, as was the most likely scenario. With two outs and a runner on third base, Manuel chose to pinch-hit John Mayberry for Juan Pierre, replacing a high-contact ground ball hitter with a low-contact fly ball hitter. Manuel wanted the right-on-left advantage (despite no platoon split for Pierre), but Bochy brought on right-hander Clay Hensley and induced a weak ground out to shortstop to end the inning.

The bad managing continued when baseball orthodoxy dictated Manuel use his non-closers, as opposed to $50 million man Jonathan Papelbon. Lefty Antonio Bastardo was selected to start the 11th inning against the left-handed Brandon Crawford. Bastardo struck him out relatively easily, bringing up left-hander Brandon Belt. Belt singled to center, which should have signaled the end of Bastardo’s night and the start of Papelbon’s, with switch-hitters Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera due up. Papelbon stayed in the bullpen. Pagan hit a ground ball to third baseman Ty Wigginton, who muffed the grab, allowing Belt to advance to second and Pagan to first safely. (Don’t forget, Gold Glover Polanco could have been in the game at third base if he had been used to pinch-hit, or at the very least put in the game as a defensive replacement.) The game ended when Cabrera pushed a single to shallow right-center for the walk-off 1-0 Giants victory.

Due to an impotent offense and terrible decision-making by their manager, the Phillies squandered ten brilliant scoreless innings from Cliff Lee. Since 2000, only 12 pitchers have thrown at least nine scoreless innings with a game score of at least 85 and taken a no-decision. Lee joins the list at #13. The Phillies drop to 5-7 and own sole possession of last place in the NL East.

Game graph courtesy FanGraphs.