On paper, it was just another 6-4 loss, in just another road ballpark, to just another young team that happened to get some timely hits. The Phillies entered having won nine of their last 11, and they left still enjoying a seven-game lead over the Marlins and Braves in the National League East, and nothing that occurred in between did much to derail what has become a beeline toward October.
But in a 162-game season, the moments inside the losses often mean more than the losses themselves, and last night there were two: First, Lidge jogging toward home plate to back up the catcher as pinch-runner Brian Bixler sprinted home to tie the game at 4-4 and clinch Lidge's ninth blown save of the season. Second, McCutchen's game-winning home run exploding off his bat and landing beyond the centerfield fence, capping Lidge's sixth loss of the season.
For the first half of the ninth inning, the Phillies seemed on the verge of winning in the same fashion they had throughout last season's title run: a one-out double by Carlos Ruiz, then a double by Ben Francisco that tied the game at 3-3, then a two-out, go-ahead triple by Shane Victorino on a line drive that McCutchen misplayed in center.
The Phillies had struggled all night at the plate, going hitless in 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position before the ninth inning. Joe Blanton pitched out of trouble for most of his six innings, but gave up a two-run homer to Steve Pearce in the sixth to allow the Pirates to take a 3-2 lead.
With a heavily pro-Phillies crowd roaring throughout the night, ignited early by Jimmy Rollins' solo homers in his first two at-bats, the Phillies rallied.
But then Manuel called on Lidge, who had pitched three consecutive games against the Mets.
"I didn't have anything on the ball tonight," said Lidge (0-6), who is 25-for-34 in save opportunities and has a 7.33 ERA. "The fourth day in a row for me historically has been pretty bad. I wasn't able to make an adjustment tonight, and I just didn't have anything on the ball. I need to be able to try to make an adjustment . . . I wasn't able to do it tonight."
It was the third time this season Lidge has thrown 4 days in a row. From May 14 to 17, he threw 62 pitches in 4 straight days, saving two, blowing one, and finishing with two-thirds of a scoreless inning. From May 29 to June 1, he recorded four straight saves, striking out four and allowing one hit.
Last night, however, he struggled from the outset, allowing a leadoff single to Luis Cruz, throwing a wild pitch to move the runner to second, then giving up an RBI single to Brandon Moss to tie the game. McCutchen then drilled the next pitch he threw for a home run.
"The last 3 days I felt real good," Lidge said. "The ball was jumping out of my hands. Tonight, it just wasn't there. The last pitch, I tried to throw a two-seam to get a little movement on it, and it didn't do anything. It just ended up being a fastball right down the middle. It's real frustrating.
"Obviously, I'll take the ball 10 days in a row, whatever they want. Today's frustrating. Like I said, I want to get out there and compete and get those guys out, but unfortunately today, it just didn't happen. I didn't have enough in the tank, I guess."
The Phillies fell to 72-51. After it was over, Manuel said he walked by Lidge at his locker and told him, "Stay in there, hang with them."
Later, he repeated a familiar phrase, although in the dismal tone of a man still processing reality.
"That's where we're at," Manuel said. "That's our closer. I've said it all along. That's the guy that we give the ball to in the ninth inning."
Stay in there, hang with them.