PHOENIX – After firing a full-count fastball by A.J. Pollock for the final out in a tense 3-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday night, wild-eyed Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon pumped his right fist and screamed so loudly he was probably heard back in Philadelphia.
(OK, maybe not all the way back in Philly, but definitely somewhere around Reading.)
“Big win,” said the prickly closer, his eyes still glowing like embers 20 minutes after throwing the last pitch.
“Stopped the bleeding.”
There is no such thing as a must-win this early in a baseball season, but this game definitely had urgency attached to it and it could be seen in the way manager Charlie Manuel handled his bullpen. His team had lost by a run to Arizona each of the previous two nights. Five outs from victory, Manuel had seen enough of the Antonio Bastardo Adventure. He gave the ball to Papelbon.
“I don’t like doing that,” Manuel said. “He threw 29 pitches. We probably have him tomorrow, but we might not.”
Papelbon’s sixth save sealed Cliff Lee’s fourth win and second on this trip. Jimmy Rollins was a big contributor with two RBIs. Ben Revere reached base three times and scored two runs (see Instant Replay).
In the end, it all came down to Papelbon, who allowed a single and a double with one out in the ninth. With the tension rising in the Phillies’ dugout, he struck out Eric Hinkse and Pollack to end the game and snap a three-game Phillies’ losing streak.
“Intense, man,” Papelbon said of the ninth-inning high-wire act.
Did he feel the pressure rising?
“Nothing. I cherish it. I enjoy it. It makes me better,” he said.
Papelbon hadn’t had a save opportunity in eight days.
“I’m not thinking about that,” he said. “I’m just going to get the ball when Chuck gives it to me and throw it. I like any save opportunity, man.”
The need to go for the jugular was only part of the reason Papelbon was in the game in the eighth. Manuel said regular eighth-inning man Mike Adams, who allowed a tie-breaking homer in Friday night’s 3-2 loss, was not available. Manuel said Adams was healthy. He said he just wanted to be careful with the right-hander, who had been up a lot recently.
The Phillies’ clubhouse was a funeral parlor after Friday night’s game. After this one, something that sounded like music blared from the clubhouse speakers.
“We won a game,” Manuel said. “That’s all right.”
The Phillies’ offense scored just three runs in the first two games of the series and was a combined 2 for 15 with runners in scoring position. Things weren’t a whole lot better in this game. The Phils were just 3 for 13 with runners in scoring position and left 11 men on base. A hit here or there would have made things a lot more comfortable, but that’s not the Phillies’ style. Ryan Howard had a particularly difficult night, striking out four times. He is riding an 0-for-14 slump and has nine strikeouts in that span. He has 16 Ks in his last eight games.
Rollins, Revere and Lee – yes, Lee – led the offense.
Revere, who singled twice and walked one, scored the Phillies’ first two runs. Rollins knocked in both of them with a sacrifice fly in the fifth and a single in the seventh. Both times, Revere moved up a base in front of Rollins on a sacrifice bunt by Lee. He had three of them.
Lee seemed happier about his bunts than his seven shutout innings.
“It’s perfect,” he said. “It’s the first time I ever bunted three times in one game. I don’t remember ever bunting twice. It’s great. You have to give Revere credit. He led off the inning three times and we were able to get him to second twice and once to third (after a single and a stolen base).
“It feels good to bunt a guy over and watch him score. You feel like you contributed. As a pitcher, that’s our job, to sacrifice. I feel good about executing three for three.”
Lee executed on the mound, as well. He was up 2-0 and his pitch count was rising well over 100 when the Diamondbacks loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh. No one was up in the bullpen. It was Lee’s game. He retired pinch-hitter Wil Nieves on a ground ball to Rollins to end the threat.
“He did it all,” Rollins said of Lee. “Three sacrifice bunts and great pitching. He wanted that win. He worked hard and got rewarded.”