Charlie Manuel likes to dream up scenarios where his team solves the Atlanta Braves lights out bullpen. Usually, though, Manuel talks about his hope that the youthful Braves relievers struggle with stamina so late in a long baseball season.
With back-end guys Eric OFlaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel sporting microscopic ERAs, while averaging more than a strikeout per inning, late leads are pretty safe for the Braves.
But after a busy three days at Citizens Bank Park where the staff got plenty of work in between waiting out rain delays, the Phillies got a crack at the Braves pen.
Trailing by a run going into the eighth inning, the Phillies rallied for a two-out run off Venters on a single by Placido Polanco to set the stage for Ross Gloads walk-off single in the ninth.
As a result of the 3-2 victory, the Phillies, at 91-48, swept the three-game series against the Braves and extended the lead in the NL East to 10 games. With 23 games remaining in the season, the Phillies magic number to clinch a playoff berth is five. To clinch the NL East title for the fifth year in a row, the Phils magic number is 12.
For now, though, the Phillies are taking a lot out of the comeback against the Braves bullpen. In fact, its especially meaningful at this time of the season when teams will hold onto their best lefty relievers just to face the Phillies big lefty hitters.
Were going to have to hit lefties and in those situations, Manuel said. We played good enough to tie the game up and, of course, Gload got the big hit there at the end. All year long they save left-handed pitchers for us in that situation at the end and we have to come through and get some hits.
Trailing 2-1, the Phillies started the eighth with a pinch single from John Mayberry and a sacrifice bunt from Wilson Valdez off lefty set-up man Venters. After Shane Victorino struck out, Placido Polanco singled home the tying run.
The ninth-inning rally started with a walk to Raul Ibanez and a single to left for Carlos Ruiz to bring Gload up in the big spot.
Four pitches later, Gload ended the game.
For me its huge because I havent had much of anything, Gload said. Ive struggled pretty good. But Ill take it. Its big for me, but its bigger for the team.
Indeed Gload has struggled a bit and then some. Manuel has used Gload strictly as a pinch-hitter this season, largely because he has been playing for nearly all of the season with a torn labrum in his hip. When the season ends, Gload will have to undergo surgery to repair his hip, though he refuses to use it as an excuse for not hitting well.
Its not an excuse so I wont blame anything on the hip injury, Gload said. I work to get hits and if I dont get hits its my fault.
Im getting by. I havent been doing less, if anything Ive been doing more.
Interestingly, even though Gload was batting just .236 with no homers and six RBIs going into Wednesday nights game, the lefty pinch hitter is leading the majors with 17 pinch hits, batting .250 in that role.
Last season, Gload had 15 pinch hits, three of them for homers, and would have had a chance for more if he hadnt gotten injured late in the season.
Either way, Gload has settled into a difficult and sometimes thankless role.
Youre hitting off the better pitchers, but they are pretty big opportunities, said Gload, who is in the final season of his two-year contract. I can think of a couple of those 16 or 17 hits that actually meant something. This one helps out a little bit.
Gloads hit got the win for reliever Ryan Madson, who pitched a scoreless ninth inning. He came on after starter Roy Oswalt tossed seven innings in which he allowed four hits and four walks. Otherwise, the Phillies offense had just one hit until the sixth inning, which was a solo homer in the second from Ibanez.
Nevertheless, it was all a prequel to Gloads game-winner, the pinch-hitter with the bum hip.
Im trying to get through the year and if I can get a couple more hits like that it will be a completely rewarding year for me, Gload said. Hopefully it starts now and it leads into September and October and stuff like that.
E-mail John R. Finger at firstname.lastname@example.org.