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.