Everything went well for the Phillies on Opening Day yesterday afternoon.
The Phillies executed small ball in getting the lone run of the game, and they received great performances by Roy Halladay and Jonathan Papelbon. It was good enough for them to earn a 1-0 victory over the Pirates at PNC Park.
It’s hard to complain when everything goes right. Still, observations can make one think many things that result to nitpicking. A good example came in the ninth inning when Phillies manager Charlie Manuel took Halladay out and inserted Papelbon to close out the game.
With the way Halladay was mowing down the Pirates, it was disappointing he did not pitch a complete game. Everyone at PNC Park thought he was. The Piraters announcers were stunned a new pitcher was on the mound for the Phillies.
It wasn’t like Halladay was tired or slowing down. If anything, he was getting better as the game went on. He worked faster in his last two innings of work. Common sense would convince Manuel to let him go out there and finish. Anytime a pitcher has an opportunity to get a complete game, it’s something they relish.
Manuel manages the game by feel, which he makes decisions based on instincts. Based on the way Halladay was pitching, it was a no-brainer the Phillies manager would have let him finish the ninth. After all, the Phillies pitcher threw eight complete games last year and nine complete games two years ago.
It was surprising it did not happen, and it’s disappointing. With Halladay surrendering two hits and throwing 92 pitches after eight innings, there was no reason to take him out of the game. There’s nothing worse than taking a pitcher out for a pitch count limit, especially when he is on a groove. Manuel does not subscribe to the pitch count limit like most managers do, so let’s eliminate this theory that he wanted to save his starter’s arm.
It came down to the Phillies manager unveiling his new closer to get the first save of the year as a way to kick off Opening Day in style. It wasn’t a bad idea in theory based on Papelbon’s track record, but there was no guarantee he could get it done. Sometimes, a manager has to let his starter win or lose the game if he is throwing the ball great.
It took 10 pitches for Papelbon to finish off the Pirates with him throwing nine strikes in the ninth to show for it. He made an impression by making that inning go fast, which is what great closers do. Good thing he did. Had he blown it, he would have lost Phillies fans right away.
Instead of fans celebrating the Phillies’ victory, they would have savaged Papelbon for not earning his expensive contract by blowing his first save opportunity. They would have ripped Manuel for taking Halladay out of the game. They wouldn’t let stuff like this go. The criticism is not what Papelbon needed in the team’s first game of the year, so it’s a good thing he came through for his sake.
Halladay had no problem with being taken out. That’s what happens when he notched a win after his closer did not blow it. It would have been interesting if he would feel the same way after a loss.
He is the type of pitcher that loathes being out of the game. He wants to go nine innings whenever he starts. He does not want anyone else losing the game after he did all the work. He takes pride of doing that. It is rare guys like him want to accomplish this feat. Most pitchers don’t argue if managers take them out. They don’t like the idea of them being a scapegoat if they blow it late, and they don’t want to pitch through the pain late in the game. Complete game has become a lost art thanks to general managers and managers using pitch counts to get guys out of the game.
It’s great for the fans see a starter go out nine innings and find a way to labor through it. It shows the guy is tough enough to get it done. That’s what makes Halladay fun to watch.
Plus, it’s special to throw a complete game on Opening Day. It means the pitcher did all he could to lead a team to get that elusive first win. It shows that he is in control of the game and he wanted it.
If Halladay had his way, he would have gotten the complete game. Maybe next year he can get an opportunity on Opening Day.