But like a lot of Madson's early save opportunities, perfection was not in the cards. He threw a cutter inside, Jason Giambi fought it off, and after the ball dropped into leftfield the game was tied. The Phillies would pull out the victory in the ninth, later advancing to their second World Series in as many years, but Madson would never forget his role in the drama.
Around 9:30 last night in front of a home crowd starving for a victory, Madson watched Giambi walk to the plate with the tying run on second base and two outs in a game the Phillies led, 2-1. He had allowed a leadoff double to start the frame, but responded by striking out the two most dangerous hitters in the Rockies' lineup. After an intentional walk to Todd Helton, Madson locked himself in.
"I said, 'I'm not going to let him get me this time,' " Madson said.
Five pitches later, Giambi swung and missed at a 93 mph fastball, and Madson pumped his fist with a loud yell. For the first time in what felt like forever, a wave of energy swept through the Phillies' dugout. A 2-1 victory over a fellow contender will do wonders for morale, particularly in the fashion that Madson provided it.
For most of the night, the Phillies had survived on good defense and tremendous pitching, John Mayberry Jr. and Carlos Ruiz providing the former and Cole Hamels contributing the latter. Mayberry threw out Alfredo Almezega from rightfield for the second out of the first inning when the speedy outfielder attempted to go first to third. Ruiz provided the final out of the second inning, delivering a strike to catch Ryan Spilborghs stealing second. Hamels retired the next 13 batters he faced, keeping the Rockies off the scoreboard until two outs in the seventh, when Helton's RBI double tied the game at one.
The Phillies took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the eighth as the strings that Manuel pulled proved correct. After Wilson Valdez led off with a single, Manuel sent Shane Victorino up to the plate to bunt for Cole Hamels. The manager thought about letting Hamels (5-2, 2.92) lay down the sacrifice - he had thrown 107 pitches through eight innings and could have pitched the ninth in a tie game - but opted to go with the most reliable bunter on his bench. That turned out to be Victorino, who had not appeared in a game since Friday and is scheduled for an MRI on his sore hamstring today.
"I didn't particularly want Hamels bunting in that situation," Manuel said. "I wanted one of our best bunters up. Although Cole can bunt, he has trouble with lefties."
The centerfielder came through. Valdez moved to second, took third on a wild pitch by Rockies starter Jorge de La Rosa, then scored on a sacrifice fly by Jimmy Rollins, beating the throw home by a split-second.
Then stirred Madson. The righthander said he felt out of sync while warming in the bullpen before fellow reliever Danys Baez shouted out some advice on his mechanics. He allowed a leadoff double to Seth Smith but struck out Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki to prevent the runner from advancing. In the ensuing conference on the mound, the Phillies decided to pitch around Helton, who was 5-for-10 in his career against Madson.
A few minutes later, Madson pounded Ruiz on the back as the Phillies streamed to the center of the diamond to celebrate their 26th win. He entered the season as the club's third option at closer, landing the role only after injuries to Brad Lidge and Jose Contreras. But as both pitchers creep closer to their returns, Madson might have rewritten the depth chart.
"When he's pitching like that, it makes it kind of tough to move him," Manuel said. "What would be the point?"
The Phillies managed just five hits, their fifth straight game with fewer than six hits, their longest streak since 1969 . . . The Phillies said Shane Victorino's hamstring has improved. The MRI was scheduled before his at-bat last night. If a disabled-list stint is required, which as of yesterday sounded unlikely, the Phillies will only be able to backdate it to yesterday . . . Ryan Madson has an 11-inning scoreless streak . . . Righthander Mike Stutes played catch with head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan and said afterward he does not believe his strained right side, suffered on a 1-0 pitch in the Phillies' 2-1 loss to the Cardinals, will require a DL stay. "But," he said, "I don't make that call" . . . Righthander Jose Contreras (elbow) allowed three runs in two-thirds of an inning last night at Class A Clearwater. He is tentatively set to make another rehab appearance Saturday, after which the Phillies will decide whether he is ready to be activated.
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at www.philly.com/HighCheese.
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