In the 8th inning and a lead of three runs or less, it is a familiar sight to have the bullpen gate squeak open, and, amidst a sea of loyal cheers and one of the four classic rock songs WMMR will play, the Phillies closer will come scampering toward the mound from the outfield, get three outs, we all get to here Drama from Entourage” scream “VICTORY!!” and then it’s off to swear loudly at each other in the parking lot as we all simultaneously head for I-95.
That man was Brad Lidge.
Who knows where Brad is these days? Alone in the desert? Trapped in the hypercube? The 15 day disabled list (Yes, that one)? The point is, even if he were here, his days of a functioning slider and falling to his knees with joy are behind him, and we are left with a rusty toolbox of decisions to make.
One of those tools is Jose Contreras, who, after over two decades in professional baseball, recorded his first save just the other day. And last night, as hard as he tried not to, he got his second.
Phillies 5, Cubs 4
The epitome of Contreras’ strangeness as a reliever was no more in-your-face than his 11-pitch battle with Alphonso Soriano, a guy who’s decline hasn’t been pretty or subtle to watch–much like Placido Polanco’s inexplicable sheer volume of errors in the past few days.
It was like two elder wolves circling each other, hoping that the other’s death could prove they still had what it takes to be in the pack. And then, at precisely the critical moment, of them has a stroke and dies instantly. Y… yay?
Contreras came inside on Soriano without any sort of shame or restrain, which may or may not have been on purpose. I seem to remember the Cubs outfielder dodging pitches like he was getting shot at in an Old West saloon. After fouling off an entire aisle in a sporting goods store, we reached the playoff pitch for millionth time and everyone leaned close to their televisions and said, just as they had so many times before, “Okay, this one has to be the pitch that gets him.”
Well, it got him, all right. It got him right in the back.
Once again, we started the top of the ninth with the leadoff runner on. Mike Fontenot, clearly not as patient as Soriano to get on base, whacked a single and sort of shrugged at Soriano from first base, as if to say, “… or you could just do that.“
And so, we once more found ourselves needing three outs to win, but instead, we had runners on first and third, zero outs, and Jose Contreras looking as dominant as a dead wolf lying in the woods.
A breeze swirled over Citizens Bank Park and those hideously enraged fans still sitting in their seats in glorious sunshine, heads in their hands, patience draining, kids pulling at their shirt tails to go home, were all hoping for the best, but finding it difficult to stop the slow vortex of dark thoughts from consuming their brains.
Somebody was going to get the ball out of the infield. Somebody was going to poke one up the middle. Somebody was going to draw a walk without even trying, or the third strike would skip past Paul Hoover, or a child behind the backstop would sneeze and derail Contreras’ delicate concentration, or a secuirty guard would accidentally taser his own foot, or an actual wolf was going to run out onto the field, whisper something prophetic in Contreras ear, and disappear into the wind.
Something was going to happen, but it was not going to be good.
Starlin Castro strolled toward home plate, having spent the majority of this two game series ruining my week. If there was anyone Cubs’ fans wanted at bat right now, it was him. If there was anybody Phillies’ fans wanted to just shut up already, it was him. And possibly that guy screaming “SHOW ‘UM WHAT YOU GOT KID” to the 38-year-old man currently pitching for us.
Six strikes later, there were two outs, and Castro was ass-down on the Cubs bench next to Aramis Ramirez, both of whom were probably not quite sure what just happened. Contreras had torn them both down and left himself with one final exit strategy: get a single out.
Of course, if the past half inning were any indication, this could go wildly far in either direction. Would Contreras put it past Geovany Soto to end it? Or would Soto take his head off with a line drive? Literally, it seemed, anything could happen.
I didn’t know what to do from my spot on the couch. Clench fists? Grind teeth? Scream and yell? Relax? Solve a Rubik’s Cube? Nothing felt right. Nothing felt certain.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to dwell on this for very long, and Soto popped out to Ryan Howard to end the madness.
Guys. The Phillies need a closer.