Red-hot Phillies complete four-game sweep of Reds

"I'm glad I don't have to face him," Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard said of Antonio Bastardo. (Ron Cortes/Staff file photo)
"I'm glad I don't have to face him," Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard said of Antonio Bastardo. (Ron Cortes/Staff file photo)
Posted: September 02, 2011

CINCINNATI - There is a moment that only a pitcher knows, and it must feel amazing. Some say it's indescribable, that the violent act of repeatedly throwing a baseball becomes natural. Others plead ignorance, that they have no idea how a ball popped a catcher's mitt exactly where intended.

Antonio Bastardo had no difficultly putting it into words Thursday after a 6-4 Phillies victory over the Reds, and that is baseball poetry. He is a quiet 25-year-old from the Dominican Republic who did not pick up a baseball until he was 15. He is still sharpening his English, but five months of incredible pitching has bred undeniable confidence.

He is having one of the greatest seasons for a relief pitcher ever.

"I make the ball move where I want," Bastardo said.

A few lockers away from Bastardo, who faced four batters and recorded five outs to preserve a four-game Phillies sweep, Brad Lidge shook his head in disbelief. This is Brad Lidge - 48 for 48, knees on the ground, "Oh my God!" - the man who authored one of the finest seasons for a reliever in Phillies history.

"I've been in a lot of bullpens with a lot of good pitchers," Lidge said, "and I don't think I've ever seen anyone doing what he's doing right now."

No, the superlatives do not suffice any longer. The Phillies are 41 games over .500 on Sept. 2, tying the highest mark in 129 years of Phillies baseball. They swept the Reds in a four-game series on the road for the first time since 1916. With 29 games to play, they are 15 wins from setting a team record.

So now what?

"Win some more," manager Charlie Manuel said.

Bastardo ensured victory Thursday, just as he's done all season. Asked to enter a game with the National League's reigning MVP at the plate as the potential tying run, Bastardo induced a pretty, 3-6-3 double play to end the seventh inning.

With three more lefties due to bat in the eighth, Bastardo remained in the game. He threw 13 pitches in the eighth. Three Cincinnati batters swung and missed at an absurd six of them. He struck out the side.

"I can't say enough about him," Manuel said.

Opponents are hitting .112 against Bastardo this season. That is the major-league record for any pitcher with at least 50 innings in a season. Eric Gagne held the opposition to a .133 batting average during his Cy Young season of 2003. Bastardo is 21 points better in 2011.

Bastardo has struck out 14 of the last 23 batters he's faced. Entering this season, people around the Phillies never questioned Bastardo's ability. His durability was the concern, but here we are in September and he's as filthy as before.

His services were needed Thursday because Vance Worley, handed a large lead, tired in the seventh inning. He faced three batters in the seventh, and all three scored on Chris Heisey's pinch-hit home run.

Come October, the Phillies may not open the bullpen door before the eighth inning, but even the best rotation in baseball can suffer a hiccup. Manuel often talks about the Atlanta Braves' ability to cut the game into pieces with their stellar relief corps. Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters, and Craig Kimbrel pose a difficult challenge late in games.

"We go deep in games," pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "That's the way we're built. Teams are built differently. The Atlanta Braves are happy when they get six out of a starter."

And the Phillies have Bastardo, if needed. That's as good a guarantee in all of baseball, and there is a certain beauty to his rise.


Phillies At Their Peak

The Phillies moved to 41 games over .500, the best in their history, for only the third time Thursday. Here are the three times they have reached that mark.

DATE   RECORD   HOW

 Aug. 24, 1976   82-41   Defeated Braves, 14-3

Aug. 26, 1976   83-42   Defeated Reds, 5-4

Sept. 1, 2011   87-46   Defeated Reds, 6-4

Source: baseball-reference.com


Contact staff writer Matt Gelb

at mgelb@phillynews.com

or @magelb on Twitter.

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