Friday, May 2, 2008

Checkmark on the path to October

Former MVP Ryan Howard had just been thrown out of the game by the home plate umpire. Future MVP Chase Utley stood at first base after knocking a single on the first pitch he saw. But now, all the attention was on Pat Burrell, who stepped to the plate with the weight of the world seeming to rest on his shoulders. Burrell climbed ahead in the count early, letting three straight balls pass by. The fourth pitch was called a strike, and the the fifth was fouled away by Burrell. The count stood at three balls, two strikes. With two outs, Chase Utley would be running on the pitch, and had a chance to score if Burrell could get the ball into the corner or back to the wall. All of this ran through the head of each player on the field. Each knew where he should be, and what he should do if he got the ball. Burrell, who had seen five straight fastballs, had to wonder whether he would see another. As Burrell dug his cleats into the dirt, as pitcher Brian Wilson nodded to the catcher and wound up to deliver, the world seemed to pause, recognizing the gravity of the situation. As he had done 20,339 times before in his life, Burrell watched the pitch come towards the plate at 139.365 feet per second. He had less than .43 seconds to decide whether to swing. He made the right decision. In another 2.5 seconds, the baseball was long gone into the stands, and the Philadelphia Phillies had won their seventeenth ballgame in 2008.

All wins count the same towards your record, but this one was incredibly important. No matter how the season ends, this win will be underlined as one of the highlights of the season. Should the Phillies make the playoffs, it will be labeled as a important point on the path to October.

Yesterday, the Phillies took the division lead after their first winning April since 2003. The Marlins, who came into today a half game behind the Phils, won their game tonight. If the Phillies had lost today, they would have dropped back in to second place immediately after taking the lead. Now, with their win, they are guaranteed to be alone in first going into tomorrow, solidifying their place as the division leader.

Also, for the last two days, the Phillies have won a one-run ballgame. Coming into Wednesday, April 23,their record in one-run games was a pitiful 2-6. Tonight, they won their fourth one-run ballgame in the last nine days, and they now have a 6-6 record in one-run games. During the course of a 162 game season, you are going to blow some teams out, and get blown out by some teams, but the close ballgames usually end up making the difference between a good season and a bad one.

It is extremely important to have a good record in one-run ballgames. So many one-run ballgames are ones in which one team goes ahead, and the other attempts, successfully or unsuccessfully, to battle back. For instance, today, the Phillies took an early 4-1 lead, but in the seventh inning, the Giants scored three runs to tie the game and starter Kyle Kendrick's night. Former Phil Aaron Rowand added a solo shot in the top of the tenth inning off JC Romero. 5-4 Giants, and the momentum all in their favor. If the Phillies had failed to at least tie the game in the bottom of the tenth, they would have seen what was a promising game until the seventh inning slip into the loss column, haunting them for the rest of the season.

Every game that is won in this fashion adds momentum to a team and gives them the feeling that no matter what, they will win the ballgame. Many one-run games are built around these types of stories. Win most of them, and you definitely have the resilience that is required to be a contender in September and a champion in October.