Choose Your Own Adventure: Utley or Bullpen?
Each night, my job as a sports writer is to decide the most appropriate way to present my account of what happened at the ballpark. This might sound easy. And, most nights, it is. When Jayson Werth hits three home runs, I'm not going to end up focusing on Chris Coste. When Cole Hamels pitches a complete game shutout, I'm not going to focus on Charlie Manuel's decision to hit and run in the second.
But every now and then, there are nights like tonight. The obvious angle was Chase Utley, and for good reason. He hit his 21st home run of the season. He homered in five straight games for the second time this season, tying a Phillies record that he already owned a piece of. He has hit home runs in seven of his last eight, and is just one shy of his total from last season. He also made a couple of great plays in the field, including a diving stop of a line drive off the bat of Joey Votto to end the game.
However. . .
I thought the story of the game was the performance by the bullpen. Chad Durbin, Tom Gordon and Brad Lidge retired nine of the final 10 batters in the game, all of them representing a potential game-tying run. Durbin allowed a two-run double after inheriting two men on and one out in the sixth. But the runs were charged to Kendrick, meaning the bullpen statistically pitched 3 2/3 scoreless.
Last year, that might not have happened. Manuel might have left Kyle Kendrick in the game. Kendrick might have worked out of the jam. But he was leaving the ball up, and the Reds were hitting it hard. Lots of fly balls. Two home runs. So Manuel went to the bullpen. Last year, the Phillies had the third-worst ERA of any bullpen in the National League. This year, they have the best. By far the best. Six of seven relievers have ERAs under four right now. Most importantly, they are healthy. Gone is the gravy train of forgettable faces the Phils turned to throughout the season. The same seven guys have lasted most of the year. And they've pitched well.
So I'll ask you, the reader. It'll be like one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books I used to buy at the Book Fair at Barrett Elementary Center.
Who had more of a hand in the Phillies' win: Utley, or the bullpen?
By the way, whatever you say, they won't let me re-write the story. It's 1 a.m., after all.