Redemption may not be a grand slam away for most of us, but for Pat Burrell it might be.
Burrell’s slam off of Roger Clemens in the first inning provided all the runs and the winning margin as the Phils hung on to beat Houston 4-3, their first victory in that jurisdiction since 2003. Coupled with San Diego’s loss to the Dodgers, the Phils moved to within 1.5 games of the Wild Card leader.
Burrell has been having the most miserable 25 home run, 88 RBI season imaginable and recently had suffered the ignominy of being benched for long stretches despite the Phils’ desperate need for a big bat, preferably right-handed, that could protect Ryan Howard. Last night, however, when his mates needed him most, the struggling left-fielder delivered. In a brief post-game interview Burrell acknowledged his frustration while stating Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins had carried the team all season and it was time for someone else to step up.
The game was vintage late season 2006 Phillies baseball. The Phils got only five hits, kicked the ball around too much, got an up-and-down performance from their starter, and still managed a win. In the top of the fourth the Phils had men on second and third against Clemens with no outs and later the bases loaded with one out but failed to score. Phillies’ fans have seen that scenario all too often this season and could have predicted what would come next. Sure enough, in the bottom of the frame Brett Myers underscored that failure to capitalize by grooving not one but two fastballs right down Broadway that Morgan Ensberg and Luke Scott deposited in the stands to cut the lead to 4-3. That’s where the game ended but not without an adventurous ninth inning that included errors by Howard and Jeff Conine (the official scorer changed the ruling on the Howard play twice, finally declaring it a hit) before Tom Gordon closed the door for good.
The Phils look like they are pressing right now and well they might be with only fifteen games remaining. During the first two series on this three city road trip they have gotten out of the gate quickly winning the first two contests in Florida and Atlanta before dropping the final two against the Fish and one against the Braves. San Diego currently has a game in hand and Florida and San Francisco are only a game back of the Phillies. With so many teams bunched together (Cincinnati is also in there, only two games behind the Phils) playing .500 ball will get you nowhere and .600 won’t do the trick either.
The consensus is the WC will go to the team that gets hot and puts together a long winning streak. Wasting scoring opportunities by failing to hit in the clutch isn’t going to make that happen. Between Ryan Howard’s prodigious home runs at home against Atlanta two weeks ago and in the opening games in Miami last week and Burrell’s shot in the first inning last night, the Phils have been stranding runners at an alarming rate that is high even for them.
They are seeing opportunities, but they rarely seize them.