Kyle Kendrick. All through Spring Training, he was a puppy waiting to be adopted. Every day, as the Phillies coaches window-shopped through the drills and exhibition games of the pre-season, Kyle was hopping up and down, tail wagging, yearning for attention. He saddled up to Roy Halladay and became his workout partner. He got Rich Dubee to say nice things about him.
Last night in the 8th inning, when he was plucked from his masterpiece, Kyle walked to the dugout, a small smile flickering across his face. He’d fought off the Braves. He’d done his job. The war was over. He’d won.
It’d been a long spring. Kyle had fought for a job in the rotation, was led to believe he could get it, didn’t get it, and then got… another. One. Then, on the day of his big debut, Kyle promptly ruined all the excitement, the underlying hum of vibrant enthusiasm hoping to electrify the rotation with a surprise chunk of dominance, and let pretty much anyone score who wanted to.
He sucked to such a ridiculous degree it was hard to accept that he was even within five miles of Roy Halladay, who assumingly emits a potent “winner’s ooze” from his pores that is, in turn, absorbed by all living organisms nearby. Fireflies and stray cats are never more victorious than when Roy Halladay is taking out his garbage.
As he watched his former workout partner start carefully and consistently placing runs in the opponents’ column, not even lasting two innings, Roy probably said nothing, as he usually does. Kyle’s head, however, was more than likely swimming with angry, ludicrous rants, from both himself and the coaching staff that trusted him. Confidence began to rot. There just weren’t any outs to be had.
This Braves series, and all that follow it, will be big deals this year, and in the end, may be the deciding factors in who emerges division champion (While the Mets, nowhere to be found, continue to be trapped under something heavy). Already, with only two starts under his belt, it was a sea of eye rolls and annoyed grunts that answered the question for last night: “Who’s pitching?”
Kyle had become the bane; the sure loss; the guy with the arm made of cheese who was there to maintain blank expressions while opponents circled the bases. Against the Braves, this was all the more intolerable.
As Kyle walked off the field last night, that smile was on his face not because he had done a spectacular job, but because it was out of character for him to do so. It was unexpectedly brilliant, like finding your brother’s old Honor Roll-caliber report cards in the garage, after having just watched him back the Suburban into a marching band.
It was good for him, it was good for us. It was good for everybody. And unlike Cole, the offense had managed to find its way to the stadium, providing enough run support for a win.
And then, the bullpen gates swung open, and Ryan Madson rode out from center field to the mound on a tsunami of unfortunate terror. Could the fireballer hold it? Screw it, could he just get three damn outs and ruin Tuesday night for Atlanta, Georgia?
When Twitter exploded in a fiery blast of obscenities and exclamation points like twenty minutes later, a collection of Braves had proven the benefits of waiting for a break, and in the bottom of the 9th and 10th innings, they got three of them. And they all landed beyond the outfield wall.
A functioning offense doesn’t make up for a faltering starter, and an efficient first eight innings don’t delete the need for an efficient ninth. Maybe Brad Lidge left a curse behind when he defied nearly every law of nature and went perfect in 2008, because since then, there really has not been anyone in which I’ve had 100% confidence to get the three outs necessary to end a baseball game pitching in a Phillies uniform.
And sure, we suffer with our anger-Tweets, involuntary twitching, and nightmares about a 20-story tall Jason Heyward smashing our childhood homes to dust with a bat the size of a space shuttle. But the bullpen’s realest victim last night was Kyle Kendrick, a guy who’s been forced into a seemingly endless cycle of proving himself, and fought hard to finally get his win; only to watch Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras snatch it back disapprovingly.
Like sending your dog out to get the paper, but seeing he has returned with a dead squirrel in his mouth, tail wagging, ready for compensation in the form of love, the bullpen just can’t seem to get the job done. Which means we’re playing eight inning baseball in a game that requires nine.