Michael Tucker’s two-run pinch hit in the top of the sixth broke open a five-run rally, as the Phillies rolled to a 13-3 win to open a critical series with Florida.
The Phillies had plenty of heroes in this one, but the game may have been won and lost by the managers – specifically, lost by Florida skipper Jack McKeon. McKeon micromanaged the hell out of his bullpen, shuffling through eight stiffs before the night was over.
On the other side, Charlie Manuel worked one of his finer nights as the Phillies’ boss. When Todd Pratt drew a walk to load the bases with two outs in the top of the sixth, Cholly pulled pitcher Jon Lieber out of the game, using Tucker to pinch hit. The call could have gone either way. Lieber singled twice in the game and was pitching very well.
Tucker rewarded his choice with a seeing-eye single back through the middle, scoring Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell. Then, Jimmy Rollins smashed a two-run double to right, and Kenny Lofton brought J-Roll home on a single to left.
The Phillies rallied again in the eighth and ninth, driving the nail right through the heart of Florida’s quaking bullpen.
The Phillies remain one-half game behind Houston for the NL Wild Card, and the Marlins fell 1 1/2 games back with their third straight loss.
Bullpen rights and wrongs
McKeon jumbled through four pitchers in one-half inning: Jim Mecir, who came in for starter Brian Moehler (who had just set a season-high in strikeouts with eight); left-hander Ron Villone, who was brought in to face Ryan Howard; right-hander Paul Quantrill, in for David Bell; and Antonio Alfonseca, just for fun I guess.
That’s madness – four pitchers in a situation when there was no call for panic. In using Villone, McKeon burned his only left-hander. That’s either tremendous respect for the bat of Ryan Howard, or sheer lunacy. The score was tied 2-2 at that point, and they were playing in their home park.
On the other side, Manuel has managed his bullpen very well since trimming the fat of Tim Worrell and Terry Adams. He’s established some fairly concrete roles back there, even when the game doesn’t dictate using the nice, neat seven-eight-nine combination of Ryan Madson, Ugueth Urbina and Billy Wagner.
Unheralded pitchers like Aaron Fultz (53 G, 2.18 ERA), Geoff Geary (34 G, 3.63 ERA) and Aquilino Lopez (7 G, 1.08 ERA), who would be used randomly elsewhere, seem to have spots that make sense. I’ve always been a fan of that.
Manuel deserves credit, not criticism, for establishing a pattern in the bullpen. Last night, he even had a chance to give an inning of work to Robinson Tejeda, who is on the mend. Excellent stuff, Cholly.
Salisbury on Lieber
Outstanding, thoughtful recap of the game by Inquirer columnist Jim Salisbury on the quiet professionalism of Jon Lieber.
Lieber is finally showing why the Phillies - and blogosphere - were high on bringing the veteran to town. (We also liked the stingy home runs allowed, but that didn’t work out as planned.)
“Like Andy Ashby in 2000 and Kevin Millwood in 2003, Lieber was the Phillies' big winter pitching acquisition,” writes Salisbury. “He never got the fanfare that Ashby and Millwood did. The feeling was that he was a nice pitcher, maybe a No. 3 guy on a five-man staff, but definitely not an ace. You could still say he's not an ace, but he has been everything Ashby and Millwood never were for the Phillies.
More often than not, Lieber has responded in pressure situations, and any time a pitcher takes the mound in a meaningful September ball game, it is most assuredly a pressure situation.
Lieber is 3-0 in four starts this month. He has allowed a total of five runs in those starts. Five runs in 26 innings. That's called stepping up, leading and showing the way.”
Watching last night, I appreciated the way Lieber responded to being pulled for a pinch hitter: with respect for his team and manager.
Other notes: J-Roll en fuego
J-Roll extended his hitting streak to 22 games with a two-run homer to right in the third inning. There's no doubt he should earn player of the week honors.
More from Salisbury on the importance of last night’s win: "(Vicente) Padilla gets his shot today against 21-game winner Dontrelle Willis. It's not an easy assignment for the Phils. But imagine how difficult it would have been had not Lieber helped get the trip off to a good start last night … Thanks to Lieber, Rollins and Tucker, Padilla can relax and try to build on a win today instead of trying to stop a losing streak.”
The Hardball Times links for advanced Phillies batting and pitching stats have been upgraded. Thanks to Vinay from THT for the updates.
For readers who feel alienated by some of the new math discussed on this site on in our comments section, THT makes it really easy to understand those numbers. Specifically, Win Shares is a great comparative tool to find out how much a player is actually contributing to his team, offensively and defensively. Check it out.
Also, I'll be out of town cheering on my alma mater Penn State this afternoon in Happy Valley, but I'll still be able to read your comments on my cell during the long, three-hour drive up and back to State College. I'm anxious to hear your thoughts on last night's game, or on college football this Saturday. This is such an amazing time for sports. Let's go Lions and Phillies!