All told, said Tommy Greene: "It makes me feel like they can count on me, and that, if I'm healthy, I'll be there if they need me. Two hundred innings is a plateau for me. I haven't pitched that many since the year I got out of high school."
The Pirates are driving for a pennant in high style, and last night's 8-3 trouncing probably has all the impact of a pebble landing in a roaring river. Indeed, with the St. Louis Cardinals' loss to the New York Mets, Pittsburgh's magic number to clinch the East Division dwindled to three. But for the Phils, at least, it was an evening of multiple pleasures.
They won their fourth straight, and they did it with a touch of brawn - Dickie Thon homered, Charlie Hayes hit four singles - but mostly, they did it with an overdose of good fortune.
Put it this way: They scored four runs in the third inning, and never got the ball out of the infield. In the words of Phils manager Jim Fregosi: "We had a St. Louis Cardinal offense out there - high choppers, infield hits, and speed. The kid (Pirates starter Randy Tomlin) really didn't get the best of it."
All the key breaks accrued to the visitors. The Phils weren't exactly ripping shots to the far corners of the stadium. Tomlin throws four different pitches, usually for strikes, and he changes speeds well. He seemed to be doing all the right things. But the balls kept landing in the wrong places.
In the pivotal third, Randy Ready bounced a ball to the shortstop hole, and beat Jay Bell's throw. Thon walked on five pitches. Wes Chamberlain came to the plate, and the Pirates held a mound conference - no surprise, since Chamberlain entered the game hitting .410 against the team that lost him in a waiver snafu last summer.
With the count 2-0, Tomlin threw a change-up. Chamberlain, swinging way ahead of the pitch, chopped a grounder to Bell, crossing in front of the second-base bag. Taking a short hop, Bell tried to cradle the ball against his chest. But it squirted loose, and the bases were loaded.
Later, Hayes recounted this key play: "The Pirates are a fundamentally sound team. If Jay comes up with that, he gets the double play. He was just trying to make a big play and help his pitcher. Physical errors are part of the game."
Facing John Kruk, Tomlin again did his job. Kruk rapped a bouncer to first baseman Orlando Merced, who had scads of time to nail Ready at home. But Merced threw the ball high and wide, and catcher Mike LaValliere did a fair imitation of those people who leap skyward in the Toyota commercials. LaValliere did haul down the errant throw, but by the time his feet hit the dirt, Ready had slid home with the first run.
Then came a truly rare sight - something akin to seeing a bald eagle
circling Center City. Dale Murphy got an infield hit.
The veteran slugger isn't known for having hot wheels anymore, but he managed to reach base after chopping a grounder to Jose Lind behind second base. Thon scored, and the Phils were up by two.
Hayes followed with yet another chopper, a virtual replication of Murphy's underwhelming smash. Lind dove to the turf, gloved the ball and tried to feed Bell for the force play at second. But Murphy slid safely, and Chamberlain crossed the plate.
And they weren't through yet. Darrin Fletcher delivered yet another chopper, this time to the left side. Third baseman Steve Buechele made a smooth throw to Lind for the force on Hayes, but the grounder hadn't been hit hard enough for a double play. Fletcher crossed the first-base bag, and Kruk came home.
Meanwhile, Greene was mastering his emotions. The previous time he pitched here, on Aug. 14, he looked like a cross between Nolan Ryan and Bob Gibson - great velocity, awesome intimidation. He retired seven of the first nine hitters, including five in a row. Then he blew a 3-0 lead in the fourth, losing his composure after a walk and two hits.
But last night, after surrendering two doubles to start the fourth, he calmed himself and yielded only two hits the rest of the way. A month ago, he said: "I felt that, in general, I was walking around the mound too much between innings. They've talked to me about how to conserve my energy. Now I just want to stay on the dirt as long as I can, keep my rhythm, not take too much time in between pitches."
And the Phils were still lucking out. With one out and a runner aboard in the fourth, Chamberlain sliced a flare down the right-field line. With Lind in pursuit, the ball landed just inside the chalk. Lind grabbed it, but couldn't hold it. Bobby Bonilla, newly arrived on the scene, grabbed it, but he couldn't hold it either.
It looked like they were playing pepper down there. While they busied themselves, Chamberlain went to third, and Ready came home with the fifth run. Kruk followed with an RBI single, and Greene had the cushion to help him cruise.
In the end, it was a satisfying night for Fregosi. He was hardly eager to help the Pirates clinch the division title. "The only time you want to see that kind of celebration," he said, "is when you're personally involved in it."
And he hopes that a pitcher like Greene can make it happen some day.