Even professional baseball players need a little assistance now and then -- from teammates, from the manager, better still from the Big Man Upstairs.
Charlie Manuel was in the dugout before the game on Tuesday. He should get a gold glove for fielding all those questions about his struggling team -- about the starting pitchers and the bullpen and the slow start and more. His best answer was about the lumber slumber the Phillies have been in this year.
“We can coach and we can talk and you can take all the batting practice you want, but when you get in the batter’s box -- sometimes I hope the good Lord up above is with you, because you’re gonna need some help.”
Can he get an Amen from the congregation? Strike that. Can he get some home runs and an offensive outburst instead?
As Manuel suggested, these Phillies did need some help, didn’t they? They won just two of their first seven games, and while the pitching wasn’t great, neither was the hitting. Excluding the Kevin Frandsen walk-off win, the Phillies entered the Tuesday’s game against the Mets with just one hit and one RBI in 17 at-bats with runners in scoring position and two outs. And while they hit .265 in the first six innings, their collective average dipped to just .197 in the seventh inning or later.
And lo they prayed to the Baseball Gods, and Dillon Gee was delivered unto them, and it was good.
Gee threw for the Mets at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday. He did not throw for very long because the Phillies chased him off the mound rather quickly. Call it good news for the Phillies. Call it divine intervention. Call it whatever you like, but call it a win.
Phillies 8, Mets 3 (see game recap).
Gee, who looked like he was auditioning for a job as a batting practice pitcher, tossed some fat pitches over the plate and the Phils were all too happy to send them screaming off into the night. In the second inning, John Mayberry drove in two runs, while Cliff Lee and Jimmy Rollins each had an RBI.
The next inning, Ryan Howard picked up his first extra-base hit of the season, which also happened to be his first home run of the year. The next batter, Michael Young, mashed a homer as well. And two batters after that, Mayberry hit one over the wall for good measure.
Just like that, the Phils had seven runs on the board. Just like that, Gee was yanked. It was the shortest outing of his career. Perhaps the Fightins will send him a thank you card.
“It’s easier to throw with a lead,” said Lee, who threw 8 2/3 innings, allowing eight hits and two earned runs while striking out six and issuing no walks. “You can be more aggressive. You’re not as worried about giving up a solo home run or lead-off hit or whatever. You can be more aggressive and go right at them. ... It is more comforting knowing you have a lead.”
The Phils posted three home runs and 11 hits, five of which went for extra bases. They tied their season high with eight runs. And they never trailed.
They needed a night like that. Needed it badly. It is early, but the first few games of the season did not go well for the Phillies. They blew two four-run leads against Kansas City, which is the kind of thing that can mess with a man’s mind. Manuel said he was “staying positive,” because that’s the kind of manager he is. And Young said the team wasn’t sweating it, because that’s the kind of “veteran team” they are. And yet they had to talk about how it was no big thing. When you have to talk about how it’s no big thing, it’s usually a bigger thing than you’d like.
They needed a comfortable, get-out-in-front-and-stay-there win. They needed it for their record and their confidence, and they needed it to keep the city (semi) sane and interested.
Saturday’s game against the Royals drew fewer than 40,000 fans to the Citizens Bank Park for the first time in four years. It also broke a streak of 313 consecutive games with at least 40,000 fans. They were under 40,000 again on Sunday, and Monday’s attendance of 35,393 was the lowest mark since April 2009. They drew 38,305 on Tuesday. It’s not a crisis, but it’s not good, either. At the least, it’s a minor referendum on diminishing faith in this club.
A win, then. A big win without any sweating in the unseasonably warm April air. The team needed it and so did the town.
“We have so much talent up and down our lineup,” said Young, who was a double short of hitting for the cycle. “For a while, we were having trouble getting that big blow. That big hit. But we kept saying to ourselves, as long as we keep getting guys out there, that’s the most important thing. [Tuesday], hopefully, is the start of something good and we can build some momentum.”