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October 3, 2008

On the Beat

Game Two Report, Brewers versus Phillies

by John Perrotto

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PHILADELPHIA-Brett Myers had retreated to the Phillies' clubhouse after a 20-minute post-game interrogation from the media in the interview room, and then he stood at his locker and made small talk with a few reporters. "All everyone wanted to talk about was my hitting," the right-hander said with a shake of his head. "Didn't anyone realize I pitched tonight, too?"

Years from now, those who made up largest crowd ever to watch a baseball game at Citizens Bank Ballpark probably won't remember that Myers not only started for the Phillies on Thursday night, but he also went toe-to-toe with the best pitcher in baseball and out-dueled him-on the mound. It's doubtful those 46,208 fans will recall that Myers, in the same season in which he made a tour of the farm system in order to relearn how to be an effective starting pitcher, used his right arm to propel the Phillies to a 5-2 win and a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five National League Division Series on a night when the Brewers had the best pitcher on the mound. Instead, they are most likely to recall how Myers, owner of a .116/.162/.140 batting line in 390 career plate appearances, stepped into the batter's box and battled the best pitcher in baseball, forcing Sabathia to throw an amazing 19 pitches spaced over two PAs. It was Myers' pesky at-bats, reminiscent of a modern-day Jack Crooks, that made the fans wave their rally towels frantically. They also helped the Phillies not only beat CC Sabathia, but put the biggest whipping on the big left-hander since the Brewers acquired him from the Indians on July 7 in what will go down as one of the greatest in-season trades ever.

While Myers allowed just two runs and two hits in seven innings, and Shane Victorino capped a five-run second inning with a grand slam that put the Phillies in the driver's seat in this series, it was Myers' imitation of Crooks in those two at-bats that left the most lasting impression and helped exhaust Sabathia, who was making his fourth consecutive start on short rest. Crooks was a star infielder in the late 19th century, and was perhaps the original Moneyball player, long before computers and sabermetrics came along. He drove opposing pitchers to distraction with his uncanny ability to foul off pitches and stay alive.

Myers has never been confused with Crooks before. "I can't hit a lick and I don't even try to pretend that I can, like some pitchers do," Myers said with a smile. Phillies closer Brad Lidge concurred with that assessment. "He was going so bad at one point early in this season that he went up to the plate and refused to even swing the bat," said Lidge, who pitched a perfect ninth to get his second save in the series. "He was just hoping that maybe somehow the pitcher would walk him if he just stood there."

Myers first time at bat came in the second, after the Phillies had scored once in the inning to tie the game at 1-1 on back-to-back doubles by Jayson Werth and Pedro Feliz. An inning earlier, Myers' bases-loaded walk to J.J. Hardy had given the Brewers the game's first run, but then Corey Hart killed the rally by grounding back to the mound for a 1-2-3 double play. With two outs and Feliz on second, Myers swung through Sabathia's first two pitches, and then suddenly morphed into an ideal leadoff man. Myers took a ball, then fouled off a pitch. Then he took another ball to even the count at 2-2, then fouled off another pitch, breaking his bat in the process and receiving a standing ovation as he walked back to the on-deck circle to retrieve some replacement wood. Myers took yet another ball to run the count full, fouled off one more pitch, and then coaxed a walk to keep the inning alive.

Brewers pitching coach Mike Maddux came to the mound but couldn't settle Sabathia down; the big lefty walked Jimmy Rollins on four pitches to load the bases. Victorino then drove a 1-2 cut fastball that didn't cut into the left-field stands for the slam, and the Phillies suddenly led 5-1, putting themselves in position for a possible sweep of the series on Saturday night at Miller Park when Jamie Moyer will start against the Brewers' Dave Bush in the first post-season game in Milwaukee since 1982. "We had two goals. One was to run up CC's pitch count, and two was to score some early runs off him," said Victorino, the center fielder noted more for his speed than his power. "Thanks to [Myers], we were able to do that. I was the guy who hit the home run, but Brett was the guy who really made the inning."

Myers topped his nine-pitch plate appearance with a 10-pitch at-bat in the fourth. While Myers ended that trip to the plate with a fly out, Sabathia didn't make it through the inning; interim manager Dale Sveum lifted him with two outs and the bases loaded and brought in rookie left-hander Mitch Stetter to face Ryan Howard. Stetter struck out Howard to escape the jam, keeping Sabathia's final line from getting even worse. "I don't how to explain it," Myers said of his at-bats. "It's just one of those freaky things that happen in baseball, where a really bad hitter just happens to have a couple of good at-bats against a really good pitcher. It just happened. I don't think it will happen again anytime soon, I'm telling you that."

Sabathia wound up allowing five runs and six hits in 3 2/3 innings while walking four, striking out five, and allowing three stolen bases, as he completely neglected to hold runners at times. He threw 98 pitches, only 55 for strikes. Sabathia had gone an amazing 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 17 regular-season starts for the Brewers after they sent a package of four prospects to the Indians for the reigning American League Cy Young winner. In those 17 starts, he had pitched at least 5 2/3 innings every time out, and at least seven innings on 13 occasions. He had also not given up more than four runs in a game, a total that Victorino matched with one swing. Sabathia even finished 15th in the NL in SNLVAR with 5.6, despite not switching leagues until the mid-point of the season, and making 10 fewer starts than any of the other 14 pitchers who finished ahead of him.

Sabathia insisted that he was not tired from pitching on three days' rest four consecutive times, and claimed he was not frustrated by being unable to put Myers away quickly. Furthermore, he scoffed at the idea that he has a mental block about pitching in October, as his career post-season ERA rose to 7.92 in five starts. "Tonight was all about not finishing," Sabathia said. "I couldn't finish at-bats and I couldn't finish innings. If I could have finished, it would have been different."

Meanwhile, Myers gave up only two hits, doubles hit by Ryan Braun in the first inning and Hardy in the seventh, and walked three while striking out four. Hardy scored on Craig Counsell's groundout to draw the Brewers to 5-2. The Brewers did threaten in the eighth, putting runners on first and second with two outs, but left-handed reliever J.C. Romero came on to get Prince Fielder to ground out to second base, the broken bat traveling nearly as far as the ball. "I'm a firm believer that a lot of times a middle reliever can win the game in the seventh inning just as easily as a closer can in the ninth," Romero said. "Prince is dangerous. He can easily tie the game up with one swing. That was a huge out there."

The Brewers bullpen shined for a second straight game, getting a combined 4 1/3 scoreless innings from Stetter, Seth McClung, Eric Gagne, and Salomon Torres a day after four relievers had combined for four shutout innings, but it was too little too late.

Myers had been moved into the closer's role last year after four seasons in the rotation when Tom Gordon went down with a shoulder injury, and his transition back to starting at the beginning of this year did not go well. Myers went 3-9 with a 5.84 ERA in 17 starts through the end of June before management asked him to go to the minor leagues. Myers made a combined four starts with High-A Clearwater, Double-A Reading, and Triple-A Lehigh Valley, and then returned to the Phillies and went 7-2 with a 1.80 ERA in 11 starts before showing signs of regression in his final two outings of the regular season, when he was blasted for 16 runs (14 earned) in 8 1/3 innings while losing both times.

Myers went from pitching 68 2/3 innings last season to a combined 217 between the majors and minors this year. He felt that fatigue played a factor in his last two starts, and that he benefitted from having a full week off before his Game Two assignment. "I worked really hard on getting more angle on my pitches during my two bullpen sessions between starts," Myers said. "My arm had been dropping in the last two starts, and I'm sure it was because I was tired. I felt really fresh this time."

Did Myers even feel frisky enough to battle Sabathia with a bat in his hands? "They pay me to pitch, not hit," Myers said. "Don't get confused about that."

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

Related Content:  Will Myers,  Brett Myers,  The Who

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