Phils' bullpen hangs on to beat Pirates

Posted: June 28, 2012

CARLOS RUIZ tagged Michael McKenry on the shoulder and Michael Schwimer turned to the nearest human beings he could find. They were the fans seated behind the on-deck circle. Schwimer screamed at them in excitement, pumped his right arm, and dashed into the Phillies' dugout.

"I was trying to stop myself," Schwimer said, "from jumping in the crowd."

The bullpen roulette spun Tuesday to the 26-year-old righthander, who said 3 weeks ago, "This is it. This is a huge opportunity." In the Phillies' 5-4 victory over Pittsburgh at Citizens Bank Park, he threw the game's most important pitches.

Asked to secure the final nine outs, a capricious Phillies bullpen held. That was cause for celebration on Utley Eve.

"I feel like we have more life," Ruiz said.

They will blast Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" on Wednesday to signal the expected return of Chase Utley. Ryan Howard, scheduled to start playing in minor league games Thursday, could be 3 weeks behind. A team resigned to last place for much of this season has escaped the cellar — for now.

It already has Ruiz, baseball's best hitter nearly halfway through the season with a .361 batting average. He erased tension in the eighth inning with his career-high 10th home run as insurance.

The pitching, predictably, created drama before that. Manager Charlie Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee straddle a dangerous line on most nights. The relief corps is so bad that starters are stretched to their limits. Vance Worley passed his season high in pitches when trouble brewed in the seventh inning.

So enter Schwimer, who had pitched with a lead in a mere three of his 14 appearances before Tuesday, with runners on second and third and none out in a one-run game.

Jose Tabata tapped the second Schwimer pitch back to the pitcher. One out. Neil Walker fouled off two sliders and skied a fastball to left. Two outs. A charging John Mayberry Jr. fired home and Ruiz applied the tag. Three outs.

"I've had a problem in the past of getting too emotional with it," Schwimer said. "It has gotten me in some trouble … I'm learning as I go. I was able to channel it pretty good."

It saved Worley, who was solid for the six innings before he tired. He thought he had navigated six innings of one-run ball, but a 1-2 pitch to Casey McGehee was called outside. Worley hopped off the mound and the crowd gasped. Two pitches later, McGehee lashed a run-scoring single and Worley threw seven extra pitches to escape.

He walked the leadoff batter in the seventh and screamed at no one in particular. Once Worley permitted a double to Drew Sutton, plucked off waivers by Pittsburgh 2 days earlier, Manuel emerged and called for Schwimer.

The bullpen had allowed 39.2 percent of its inherited runners to score before Schwimer stranded two.

The Phillies have still not won a game when scoring fewer than five runs since May 26, which says as much about the offense as it does the pitching. They scored four runs in the game's first three innings Tuesday and four of their five runs were scored with two outs.

Their relievers needed it all. Staked to a two-run lead, Jonathan Papelbon threw a fat fastball rocked for a homer by McKenry. That was the only damage.

It was testy in the eighth, too. Antonio Bastardo, pitching for the first time since blowing Sunday night's game, served up an Andrew McCutchen double on the first pitch he threw. He never advanced.

Ruiz pumped his fist once Bastardo fanned Pedro Alvarez to end the inning. He led off the bottom half and swatted the homer to left.

"It's hard to explain," Ruiz said of his torrid season. The catcher was asked if he had to pinch himself. He squeezed his left arm.

"That's me," Ruiz said. n

Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com

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