Friday, August 13, 2010

Broxton Ain't This Bad, Phillies Fans

Carlos Ruiz took a hard slider from Dodgers' closer Jonathan Broxton and shot it on one big hop off the wall in left-center field in the 9th inning at Citizens Bank Park last night. Jayson Werth easily scored the tying run, and right on his heels was Ben Francisco with the winning run as the Phillies rallied from 9-2 down entering the bottom of the 8th and 9-6 entering the 9th to defeat LA by a 10-9 score.

As all Phillies fans (and Dodgers fans) are well aware of by now, this latest incredible late rally to overcome Broxton and the Dodgers is not the first time that it has happened, not by a long shot.

Flashback #1: October 13th, 2008: National League Championship Series game four in Los Angeles. The Phillies are leading by 2 games to 1, but the Dodgers are winning by 5-3 after 7 innings and appear ready to wrap up the 4th game to tie the series, with the next one on their home turf as well. But in the top of the 8th, Shane Victorino rips a 2-run homer off reliever Cory Wade to suddenly tie the game. When Carlos Ruiz follows with a single off Wade, manager Joe Torre goes to his bullpen and calls on big flame-throwing Jonathan Broxton to shut the Phils down. Phils' manager Charlie Manuel counters with the free-swinging veteran lefty pinch-hitter Matt Stairs, who blasts what turns out to be a game-winning 2-run homer off Broxton. The Phils wrap up the series the following day.

Flashback #2: October 19th, 2009: Stop me if you think you've heard this all before. National League Championship Series game four, this time in Philly. The Fightin's are again leading by 2 games to 1, but again the Dodgers lead late, and this time it seems that time is about to run out for the Phillies. There are two outs with two runners on base as shortstop Jimmy Rollins steps in against Broxton. One more out and the Dodgers tie the series up. Instead, Rollins turns on a Broxton fastball and shoots it up the right-centerfield gap, splitting the outfielders. Both runners score as the Phillies and their delirious fans at Citizens Bank Park celebrate yet another miracle over Broxton and the Dodgers. The Phils blitz LA two nights later and advance to the World Series for the 2nd straight season.

So all that leads up to last night's dramatics, which are only slightly less incredible due to the stakes being a bit lower in a regular season matchup as opposed to a pivotal playoff game. But for the 2010 Phillies, every win is important as they attempt to maintain some momentum and stay close to the front-running Atlanta Braves while waiting for their numerous injured players to recover. The Braves were off on this Thursday night, and as the Phils entered their half of the 8th trailing by that 9-2 margin it appeared as if a loss was about to sink them to 3 games back in the NL east division race.

They put together a little rally and closed the gap to 9-6, and still down by that margin as they came to the plate in their half of the 9th there was some hope. Torre again called on his big closer Jonathan Broxton. Now at this point, some Phillies fans who don't know better might be asking "Why?" Well, as it turns out, Broxton is really good at what he does. He does everything you want a closer to do, from giving up fewer hits than innings pitched, to striking out more than a batter per inning, to striking out about 3 hitters for every walk allowed. His fastball comes in at a consistent 96-98mph, he saved 36 games a year ago and has 21 more already this year. He is the prototypical big armed closer that every team loves to have.

Jonathan Broxton is good, Phillies fans. Joe Torre knows it, and didn't hesitate to call on his big horse of a closer once again to try and finish the Phillies off last night.

When Broxton grazed Placido Polanco's jersey to put the leadoff man aboard, the crowd remembered, and rose to roar and remind Broxton. An epic battle followed with newcomer Mike Sweeney, who worked a walk on a full count pitch. Jayson Werth then walked fairly easily, with Broxton appearing to come more unnerved as each pitche missed the strike zone. At one point, Torre went to the mound and clearly asked his closer "Due you trust your stuff?". He must have gotten the right answer at the time, because he left the clearly struggling pitcher in the game.

So with the bases loaded, Broxton induced Ben Francisco to bounce a ground ball to 3rd baseman Casey Blake. It appeared to be a relatively easy double-play grounder, the kind the Dodgers closer would happily trade a Phillies run for in order to get the two outs. But instead of two outs and a 9-7 lead, all hell broke loose for the Dodgers closer - again. Blake anticipated the ball's bounce, and somehow it stayed down on him, rolling under his glove and into left field as both Polanco and Sweeney scored to cut the lead to 9-8. Oh, and there was still nobody out.

Werth was now the tying run at 2nd base and Francisco was the game-winner at 1st as catcher Carlos Ruiz stepped into the batter's box. Ruiz has begun to put together a nice little season for himself as he has developed fully into an integral part of the Phillies' lineup, and has also fashioned himself a well-deserved reputation as a clutch hitter. That the Phillies announcers even considered the idea that Manuel would have Ruiz bunt the runners over was ludicrous, but they said it anyway.

There would be no bunting from the Phillies catcher. On a 1-1 pitch, Broxton unfurled a hard, low slider, and Ruiz was right on it, driving it deep into the left-centerfield power alley where it one-hopped high off  the wall. Werth held up momentarily to ensure that the ball wouldn't be caught, and so as he romped home with the tying run there was Francisco flying on his heels with the winner. The Phillies rushed from their dugout and mobbed the heroic "Chooch" as the half of the crowd that hadn't left early erupted in pandemonium all around them.

For the Dodgers and Jonathan Broxton it was yet another disastrous, epic meltdown for the ages. How many disastrous meltdowns for the ages can one team and one pitcher have against any one other ball club anyway? While rightfully celebrating a great victory, the Phillies and their fans simply cannot hope that they will continue to catch Broxton like this in key moments of big games. He is simply too good, too talented, to allow this to keep happening.

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