Wild night, Wild Card. The Phillies jumped in front of the San Francisco Giants in the Wild Card standings with a 9-3 victory thanks to a splendid offensive performance from Placido Polanco and others. Stealing the show from the newly-returning Chase Utley, Polly finished the night 4-for-5 and hits by Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and Carlos Ruiz gave the Phils all they needed to take a one game lead in the WC.
Ah, the Wild Card. Something that no one likes to talk about around here. Clearly, the focus is on the division, even though the Braves are making things tough on the Phillies. Jimmy Rollins just smirked and said, “No. There’s so much baseball to play, you know…but that thing (wild card) can get crazy. The only sure way in is to win your division.”
Charlie Manuel reiterated that feeling, as he has time and again as the team has moved closer and closer and now ahead of the Giants. When asked if he cared about the Wild Card, Charlie, laughing as well, said, “no, not at all.” With another Atlanta win tonight, they stay 2.5 up in the NL East.
As for Utley’s return, it didn’t go as swimmingly as he would have liked, but a win is a win. Utley finished 0-for-5 with a well-struck warning-track pop that stayed in the yard in deep center field. He also committed an inning-ending baserunning mistake, which could be attributed to a little bit of rust that he has yet to shake.
Roy Oswalt wasn’t brilliant, but he wasn’t bad, either. The other Roy tossed 103 pitches over seven innings of work, keeping the Phils lead secure with three earned runs. He also struck out seven and did not walk a batter.
Zito was smacked around after a quick first four innings. The Phillies got to him in both the fourth and fifth innings after he was nearly un-hittable through the first 12 outs. Zito would go five innings (plus three batters in the sixth), allowing four runs on eight hits. He was unable to strikeout a batter for the first time all season. His soft stuff was exploited after one trip through the Phillies order.
Jimmy Rollins got the team on the board with a two run single in the fifth inning, however, it was Carlos Ruiz’s fine at-bat that allowed the Phillies to tack two on. With Mike Sweeney reaching on a single, Ruiz worked a 10-pitch walk, which was followed by a two-strike sac bunt by Oswalt that moved Ruiz to second and Sweeney to third. Both men were sent home on J-Roll’s blooper to center. Chalk that up as another show of excellence from Ruiz, who has given the Phillies a lot of that lately.
In the sixth, it was more of the same as the Phils lit the board giving Oswalt two more to work with. Polanco singled, which was followed by a Werth double to make it second and third with no outs. Shane Victorino then stepped up in a big way. His hustling double turned the tides for good in favor of the Phillies. And then there is Polanco, who now leads the NL in batting at .325. He absolutely owns Barry Zito, smacking three more hits off of him to raise his career average against the southpaw to .750 (12-for-16).
The explosion came in the 8th inning off of San Fran reliever Chris May, as five Phils crossed home plate to blow the game open. Carlos Ruiz’s two-run double was the dagger – he sent home Victorino and Mike Sweeney, and all-the-while, Ruiz just continues to progress as a player. Gotta love Chooch.
So, Utley was back, Chooch was still hitting, Polanco was still spraying it all over the place, Oswalt was locked in, the bullpen didn’t fail, and Ryan Howard is close to returning. You’re about to see the Phillies at their very best. And that, my friends, is a scary thought.