Posted by Kevin Durso
Ryan Howard and his teammates celebrate the Phillies' 2-1, 10-inning win over the Marlins (Courtesy of SI.com)
The top of the ninth inning had that "nothing can go wrong" feel. And as Cliff Lee worked through the first two hitters, including getting an excellent diving catch from Raul Ibanez for the second out, it seemed certain that another shutout was on the way. And in one pitch, it was all gone.
A windy night made it tough for scoring and hitting. Hits were few and far between. Runs were even harder to come by. Cliff Lee and Marlins' spot starter Alex Sanabia were matching scoreless frames the whole way. As the night wore on, it was clear that home runs weren't the way to score tonight. The only way to go deep was to hit a screamer.
So, in the sixth, that's just what John Mayberry Jr. did. He got a hold of a fastball from Sanabia and put it into the seats in left.
And from that point, it seemed like Lee was going to cruise behind that lone run. The seventh and the eighth went by with ease, and as the ninth started, it appeared nothing was going to stop him. Two quick outs, one on a spectacular diving catch by Raul Ibanez, and Lee found himself one out away from his seventh shutout of the season. He quickly worked ahead of Jose Lopez 0-2. Then, he tried to finish him off with a cutter. The cutter didn't cut, and Lopez served the pitch into the seats in left to tie the game.
With that, the Phillies would end up needed extras to win this one. Michael Schwimer pitched a perfect tenth, which set the Phillies up for a chance in the bottom of the inning. Michael Martinez worked a leadoff walk, and Ryan Howard, who was not in the starting lineup for this one, came up and worked ahead 3-0. Burke Badenhop threw a 3-1 fastball that Howard drove into the gap in left-center. Martinez flew around the bases and came home to score, and the Phillies swept the doubleheader, winning in 10 innings tonight, 2-1.
Ryan Howard ended today's game with an 0-for-4 day at the plate, adding two strikeouts. And he seemed destined to do something big tonight. That's exactly how it happened for Howard tonight.
As for Cliff Lee, he was stellar on the mound tonight, and made one mistake all night. Nine innings pitched, five hits, one run, no walks, and 12 strikeouts. 117 pitches, and there were two too many. From the end of the ninth until Howard's walk-off hit, Lee looked as down as I'd seen him all season. That one pitch hurt, and as great as its effect was on the sellout crowd, it was ten times worse for Lee. Howard's hit made up for it. As Lee said after the game, at least they won.
And with that win, the Phillies are even closer to all the milestones. They are 97-51, three wins shy of 100 wins. Their magic number is 2, which means that they could clinch as soon as tomorrow night. The Phillies are even closing in on home field advantage. That magic number is down to three. Sometime this weekend, we'll be talking about a division clincher. It simply wouldn't be another playoff race without a little drama. It's all good when the good guys win in the end.
The Phillies open a four-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals tomorrow night.