The Phillies' lead-off hitters reached base in all five extra frames and finally made the last one count - sort of - as Ryan Howard's towering home run brought in Chase Utley to sink the Nationals 7-5 in 14 innings.
With Cole Hamels bobble heads in hand, a sellout crowd watched Hamel's seven-inning, two-run effort vanish in smoke as Antonio Alfonseca allowed double, walk, double in the 9th, cutting the lead to 4-3. Then with runners at second and third, the wacky hijinks began when manager Charlie Manuel called on struggling rookie Mike Zagurski instead of Tom Gordon, who was up and warming and would eventually pitch later. Zagurski promptly allowed a two-run double to Jesus Flores, making it 5-4 Nationals lead. Then in the ninth, Jimmy Rollins sent the game to extra innings when he tripled and crossed home thanks to an error and dropped ball at the plate - one of the season's most thrilling plays.
Manuel mania had only just begun. After Jose Mesa and J.C. Romero clawed through the top half of the 10th unscathed, Utley and Howard led off the bottom half with a pair of walks. The Phillies' skipper then called on Aaron Rowand - the team's best clutch hitter, who's locked in at the plate - to bunt. Rowand popped out, leaving Michael Bourn and Chris Coste, batting for the pitcher, to drive in the runs. They stranded them.
In the 11th, there was more bad bunting, when Greg Dobbs hammered a bunt back to the pitcher, forcing a fielders choice at second.
Clay Condrey (4-0, 6.29 ERA) picked up the war-of-attrition win with three shutout innings. Howard's homer came off former Phillies' property Chris Booker. If Howard hadn't ended it, J.D. Durbin would have entered in the 15th. Expect no more than five relievers to be active for tomorrow's game.
After all that, the Phillies picked up no ground on the Mets, who won 6-3 against Pittsburgh. However, they are now just two games back of San Diego, who were thrashed 10-2 by Colorado.
Last night's comment highlights: When the games get tight, the board lights up. Last night saw 465 comments, third most for a single entry in Beerleaguer history. A sampling:
“Gordon must be seriously ill. There's no other explanation.” And then ... “Gordon untouched in his first 2 appearances off the DL. Cholly didn't sub him for the struggling Alfonseca in the 9th because.....um....because.....”
“Earl Weaver would have a good laugh watching Cholly manage. ‘You only get 27 outs. Why would you ever give one away?’”
“watching jose mesa pitch is like watching your slutty girlfriend drunk at a frat party. where all the other guys are bigger than you. and there is nothing you can do as you watch her spill your broken heart across a dirty basement floor. and all you can do to ease the pain is drink and use illicit drugs.”
Roster suggestion: A move the Phillies should entertain is sending Zagurski back down to find himself again. He's not the same pitcher they first brought up. Now that Romero is somewhat established, and Gordon gives them back-end depth, I'd demote Zagurski and bring back Gas Can Geoff Geary. Zagurski looks like he can be useful down the line, but is a lost pitcher at this point.