Bob Ford | Bullpen keeps Phils in race

Posted: September 22, 2007

WASHINGTON - And on the ninth day, the bullpen still didn't rest.

After carrying the Phillies for more than a week, there was apparently some baggage left to haul, although last night certainly would have been a nice spot for a break.

J.C. Romero, Tom Gordon and Brett Myers, the best of the lot, had each pitched three consecutive days. The others were tattered and torn after the eight-day stretch in which an average of five relievers had gone to the mound.

As it turned out, last night's 6-3 win over the Nationals was a bit better. Manager Charlie Manuel needed only four relievers - Romero, Gordon and Myers among them, of course.

In retrospect, it was an unlikely time for the overworked, underloved bullpen to expect a night off - an Adam Eaton start and all - but you can't blame them for hoping.

"Those guys have been amazing out there," said Eaton, who should know.

So the Phils have won eight of nine now and a bullpen that was only good for a few laughs and the random save earlier in the season has made it possible. In this surge, the relievers have pitched to a 1.69 earned run average, which would even have been good for a good bullpen. For the Phillies, it's nearly scary.

During their hot steak, Manuel has gone out there and raised his arm to call in such notables as Kane Davis, Francisco Rosario and even Fabio Castro. Somehow, it still worked, perhaps not fabio-usly all the time, but well enough.

"We've got a bullpen that at times can give up runs and it seems like we can't stop nobody," Manuel said. "Then all of a sudden when you need it, they come out and do pretty good."

Eleven guys trotted into the games to clear the smoking ruins on the mound left by Kyle Lohse or J.D. Durbin or Eaton or whomever. Romero has worked in eight of the nine games, including four straight now. Gordon and Myers have worked in seven of the nine, also including the last four.

Everyone could use a day off, but that won't arrive until Monday. Of course, what everyone could really use is a complete game by the starter. But we jest.

"That would be ideal," Manuel said before the game. "Be great if we could."

It looked like another long night destined to further thin the ranks when Eaton loaded the bases in the first inning and forced in a run with a walk. He stopped the bleeding there, however, and the Phils bought Manuel and Eaton some time by pounding out a 6-1 lead. That allowed Eaton to make it through the fifth despite giving up two more runs.

"A 6-3 lead is not a safe lead for us," said Manuel, who went once again to the guys in the bullpen he can count on. Can you blame him?

This team is so close to making the postseason, so near the players can almost feel what it would be like to pass the stumbling Mets. When their own comeback win ended on Thursday night, every player gathered around the television in the cramped visitors' clubhouse to watch New York lose in extra innings.

"I didn't see anybody that wasn't into it," Manuel said. "In the past, I've seen guys that didn't give a damn, just get dressed and get out of there. I've wondered about that sometimes."

Because that is his nature, he didn't say whether those past clubhouses with their shrugging inhabitants were in Philadelphia or Cleveland or Tokyo or any of the far-flung waypoints where baseball has led him. If he saw it with the Phillies during his previous two seasons, perhaps that is what he wondered about when the team came up just short.

"I've been here three years and this is three times in a row we've been here [at the end]," Manuel said of RFK Stadium. "It seems like we just left and here we are again."

Here we are, with September dwindling and the infernal mathematics of the two races narrowing each day. Here they are, with this awful pitching staff (the Phils are 4-39 when they score three or fewer runs), trying to hold it together just a little longer. And - get this! - depending on the bullpen as they do.

"I've had guys say to me, 'Well, every [team] has holes.' And I say, 'Yeah, but some are bigger than others,' " Manuel said. "We just try to survive. Basically, that's what we've done this year . . . survive."

They have survived long enough to smell it now, to lean in together around the clubhouse TV and try to make it happen by sheer will.

Maybe this time. And maybe in the end, the bullpen will lead them. Stranger things have happened. But not by much.

Contact columnist Bob Ford

at 215-854-5842 or Read

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