You could sense the tension, both amongst the Phillies players and throughout the Citizen Bank Park stands last evening. Furrowed brows and serious demeanors suggested the importance of victory was on the minds of players, especially knowing that the Atlanta Braves were on a winning roll and aided by a favorable schedule. Fans were noticeably quiet and cautious, seemingly devoid of confidence and afraid of the worst.
The Phillies went quietly in the first couple innings as they faced the hazard of yet another young, struggling pitcher. Over the past week, they had been shut down three times in similar situations, including the previous night against Phillies cast-off Yorman Bazardo. After witnessing the home team being dominated by starter Wilton Lopez through two innings, when Lance Berkman launched a two out home run to left to give the Astros a 1-0 lead in the third, you could sense a deja vu feeling and further tightening of the tension throughout the stadium.
Jimmy Rollins took a little of the edge off by doubling home Paul Bako, who had walked and moved to second on J.A. Happ's sacrifice bunt. On the mound, Happ worked in and out of trouble, but seemed to be nibbling and his pitch total quickly grew. He appeared to fear making a mistake, rather than attack the zone, perhaps another indicator that he was not feeling the confidence of having the league's best offense and defense behind him.
In the home fourth, the Phillies quietly mounted a threat when Ryan Howard reached on an infield dribbler, Raul Ibanez bounced a ball up the middle and Jayson Werth worked a walked. This rally from humble beginnings turned into a bang when Pedro Feliz drilled the first pitch into the left-center field bleachers for a grand slam. It was his second of the season and extended the Phillies seasonal team record to eleven. Most importantly, one swing of the bat may have given the team the jolt it needed, clearing the air and affording everyone the chance to breath out and smile.
A single and catcher's interference put Happ in jeopardy in the 5th inning. Similar to the night before, Carlos Lee then muscled a broken bat blooper into left to plate one run, but Happ gathered himself to contain the damage. In the bottom half of the inning, Werth clubbed a two run homer to extend the lead to 7-2.
Of course, the Astros have owned the Phillies in 2009, so they weren't going to go down easily. Charlie Manuel stuck with Happ in the 6th despite his high pitch count , and he surrendered a 2-run homer to Phillies nemesis Kaz Matusi on his 119th pitch of the evening to cut the lead to 7-4 and make it a game. It seemed to be a classic case of one pitch too many.
Jamie Moyer came onto record the last out of the inning. He pitched a scoreless 7th inning, but on the last pitch went down with a groin injury as he watched a long fly out to center. Manuel surprisingly had Ryan Madson warming up in the inning and then brought him in to the pitch the 8th.
After a 1-2-3 inning, Manuel decided to stick with Madson rather than go to Brad Lidge as he had originally planned. Considering the importance of nailing down this victory, along with Madson's save on Sunday, it is hard to understand why Manuel would have taken that risk. In keeping with the Phillies new found tradition, Madson worked into a jam by giving up a pair of singles and having to face two longball and Phillies threats Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence. Madson took another step forward as a closer, though, shutting the door by striking out both hitters to end the game.
Simultaneous to all of this, everyone kept an eye on the scoreboard, where the Braves rebounded from a 4-1 deficit against the Marlins to tie the score at 4-4. On this night, though, the Marlins scratched out a run in the ninth and held on to win 5-4. The Phillies win and Braves loss dropped the team's magic number to 1. Additionally, the Cardinals loss allowed the Phils to move 1 game ahead for playoff seeding.
It took a big blow by Pedro Feliz to ease the tensions and perhaps allow the Phillies to relax in their effort to close out the division championship. He has quietly made a strong contribution all year with great glove work in the field, and by driving in key runs when they needed it most. Last night was no different. Now the team hands the ball to the more famous "Pedro" in hope of wrapping things up and popping some champagne to celebrate their third consecutive NL East title.