On Wednesday against the Cardinals, the Phillies received something they haven’t gotten much of this season. No, not a night without a fan getting Tasered (though it was nice that the fans ended their two-game streak of cavorting on the Citizens Bank Park turf).
The rarity responsible for the Phillies’ 4-0 win over the Cardinals was a stellar performance from both the starting pitcher and the bullpen on the same night, in the same stadium. Kyle Kendrick knows exactly how uncommon these two elements have come together this season for the Phils. In his only quality start of the season entering Wednesday, Kendrick baffled the Braves for eight innings April 20, only to see Ryan Madson blow a 3-0 lead in the ninth inning.
Entering the game, the matchup of starting pitchers seemed tilted in St. Louis’ favor. Kendrick, with an ERA north of seven, was coming off a pair of choppy outings. His counterpart, Brad Penny, had put together five straight quality starts to begin the season and had looked a lot like the Penny who went 16-4 with the Dodgers in 2007.
The first three innings were a wash, with the bend-but-don’t-break Kendrick mixing his sinkerball in well and keeping the ball down. Penny, working with primarily just two pitches – a four-seamer and a split-fingered fastball – buzzed through the Phillies’ lineup without allowing a runner to reach base.
Now, it’s important to point out here that the Phillies have eight steals all season, the lowest total in the National League and second-lowest in the majors (only the Orioles have fewer); it’s a perplexingly low figure given their success on the basepaths the past few years and the relative speed of their lineup.
So, back to the game. When Shane Victorino led off the fourth inning with a single to center, he immediately made plans for taking up residency at second base. On the first pitch to Placido Polanco, Victorino took off. He might have had the base stolen, but we’ll never know, because Polanco golfed the low fastball just over the fence in right-center. It’s been that kind of year for the Phils’ offense.
Here’s how untouchable Penny – and the rest of the Cardinals’ starting rotation – have been this season: Polanco’s blast was the first home run allowed this year by Penny and the first given up by a Cardinals starting pitcher in the past 21 games – a truly brain-melting streak in any era. So, for good measure, Victorino ripped his own home run to right on a low inside fastball in the sixth inning for a 3-0 lead.
On a night in which the Phillies’ performance was as spotless as the early-May weather, there was one blemish. Shortstop Juan Castro, who has been dealing with hamstring issues constantly this season, came up lame after busting it down the first-base line for an infield single in the seventh. Castro was immediately removed from the game, and his injury was diagnosed as a left hamstring strain. Wilson Valdez will play short as long as Castro is sidelined (which, best-case scenario, will be a few games).
Danys Baez and Jose Contreras picked up right where Kendrick left off, holding the Cardinals hitless in the eighth and ninth. Baez’s outing was especially encouraging, not only because the hard-throwing righty entered the night with an 8.10 ERA, but also because he has generally been inconsistent from one pitch to the next. But on this night, Baez looked the best he has all season – a promising sign for a beleaguered bullpen.