Having pushed their home record above .500 for the first time this season with a win on Saturday, the Phillies stepped onto the field Sunday in sultry, tropical-like Citizens Bank Park and could have been excused if they thought their game with the Marlins had been hijacked overnight to South Florida. And sure enough, when a torrential downpour arrived in the top of the seventh inning, delaying the game and sending the sold-out crowd for cover, even the weather man seemed to be in on the old switcheroo.
In between, the Phils watched the Marlins jump out to a quick 4-0 lead against Jamie Moyer before most fans had taken their seats only to roar right back with seven runs of their own in the bottom of the third en route to a 10-7 win. Then, it was on to scoreboard watching, and what a experience that turned out to be. First, the Padres maintained their 1.5 game lead over the Dodgers in the NL West with a 2-1 win against the Pirates and later Nomar Garciaparra added his name to Los Angeles’ wall of fame but most assuredly not to the Phillies Christmas card list by hitting his second walk-off home run of the week, this one a grand slam, as the Dodgers beat Arizona 5-1 to remain half a game behind the Phils in the Wild Card chase.
Speaking of the Wild Card, a few ploggers and I will be at Citizens Bank Park this evening for the final regular season home game. In anticipation of attending, I informed my wife I would not be home for dinner.
“How are they doing?” she asked in blissful ignorance.
“They’re a half game ahead in the Wild Card chase,” I replied.
“What is the ‘wild card’?” she inquired.
After I explained the finer points, my wife’s take on the whole matter was this:
“So, let me get this straight. They’re playing for fourth place and the best possible outcome at this stage won’t even see them on the medals’ stand. Am I correct?”
I started to say, well, no, not exactly but stopped myself short. Leave it there, I told myself, and with that, any thoughts of inviting her to join me at the game vanished.
After a long pause, she looked at me and must have guessed what I was thinking. “Have a good time at the game, dear.”
Back at the Bank, Sunday’s affair featured the continued torrid hitting of Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, a near home run by Ryan Howard (who had two hits), and the daily Abraham Nunez show at third base. Nunez is routinely turning in three or four outstanding plays a game at the hot corner and, temporarily, making everyone forget his anemic batting average. As a matter of fact, in yesterday’s win with the Phils trailing 4-0 after only one inning Nunez started the first rally of the day with a solid single in the hole. After Moyer sacrificed him to second, Jimmy Rollins smote a home run to left and the comeback was on. Utley followed with the first of his two home runs of the day and Chris Coste capped off the rally with a three-run blast. Later, Coste told reporters it was the “biggest home run of my career” and he wanted “to do cartwheels around the bases.”
Nunez is still not the likely answer at third base next year, but his continual astounding play in the field and his slow, inexorable climb back to respectability at the plate may induce the Phillies to believe he can man the fort for one more season while they fill other holes.
For his part, Utley’s sense of timing is as marvelous as his overall approach to the game. He’d been scuffling for weeks until this current home stand, but ever since his average temporarily dipped below .300 during Wednesday night’s game he has been impossible to retire, raising his average in the process to .309 including 31 home runs and 98 rbi’s. Meanwhile, Jimmy’s home run was his 24th and the two rbi’s raised his total to 76, both career highs. He also has 183 hits and 122 runs scored.
So the Phils are in the position of controlling their own destiny. No matter what the Dodgers do this coming week, the Phillies can keep them at bay by playing as they have for the past week. A short while ago Charlie Manuel declared the team that got hot would win the Wild Card. Right now the Phillies are that team. All they have to do now is remain so.