VARIOUS theories floated around the Phillies clubhouse last evening as to the impetus of the remarkable turnaround that took place on the pitcher's mound at Citizens Bank Park.
Perhaps it was Brett Myers' hip, or the seven runs the offense provided him in the second inning, or the strikeout of Marlins star Hanley Ramirez in the fourth.
But as varied as the explanations might have been, there was no arguing with the results: After one of the worst innings of what was already a tumultuous season, the veteran righthander put together a spectacular, seven-inning stretch of pitching that highlighted a 12-3 win over the Marlins and maybe, just maybe, ushered the old Brett Myers back to town.
"I threw a couple pitches tonight that made me feel like I was back to where I wanted to be," said Myers, who struck out 11 and pitched eight innings, while propelling the Phillies past the Marlins into first place in the National League East.
There is a school of thought that exists both in athletics and in life that a man must reach rock bottom before he can truly rebuild himself. For Myers, that moment might have come during the first inning.
The Phillies, who improved to 32-24, entered the game having won four straight, while playing, by far, their best baseball of the young season. Myers, meanwhile, entered with a question mark hanging over his head. The Phillies had lost each of his previous five starts, and, after he allowed four runs in six innings against the Astros last Saturday, his ERA had ballooned to 5.79.
Before the game, manager Charlie Manuel told reporters he believed that Myers would rediscover himself. But that prediction looked tenuous at best, only minutes after Myers took the mound.
Seventeen of the righthander's first 18 pitches were either called for balls or put in play, and the Marlins scored three quick runs, as five of their first six batters reached base.
Then, perhaps, came rock bottom. After home-plate umpire Scott Barry mercifully called a strike on a 2-0 pitch to Florida catcher Matt Treanor, the sellout crowd erupted into a mock cheer at an embarrassingly high decibel level.
Myers eventually worked himself out of the inning, limiting the damage to three runs. And even though Manuel had reliever Rudy Seanez warming up in the bullpen midway through the first, Myers didn't appear shaken.
"He was OK," said pitching coach Rich Dubee, who visited the mound early in the first to calm Myers down. "He was still fighting a little bit, but he was OK. Even when I went out to talk to him, we had a good talk, and I think he settled down."
Myers told reporters his hip felt tight throughout that first inning, which hindered his delivery. After he worked his way out of the jam, a Phillies trainer helped him pop it, which he said helped.
Myers also was helped by the red-hot Phillies offense, which exploded for seven runs in the second. Chris Coste tied the game with a three-run home run, and Chase Utley hit his 18th home run of the season as the Phillies took a 7-3 lead. Myers reached base on a walk and scored a run during the rally, which he said helped loosen his hip further.
From that point on, Myers was on point. Ryan Howard added a three-run home run in the fourth inning, and Utley finished 2-for-5 with two runs scored and two RBI. But the way Myers was throwing, the extra runs were exactly that: extra.
He pitched a perfect second, struck out the side in the fourth, allowed only three hits and one walk in his final seven innings.
"He was able to relax and make pitches," Dubee said. "He was able to pitch inside, he moved his fastball around very well. He pitched. He was able to pitch backwards. He was able to throw breaking balls in fastball counts and fastball in breaking ball counts, instead of getting all revved up and just becoming a thrower to one half of the plate."
Seven innings after Manuel pondered pulling Myers, he allowed him to bat in the seventh with the bases loaded and two out. Myers returned to the mound in the eighth and struck out the side, punctuating his most impressive performance of the season.
His final line: eight innings, three runs, six hits, 11 strikeouts, three walks.
"That little bit of Brett Myers' grin was back," Coste said. "Not the big smile, or cockiness, just you can see a look in guys' eyes when you know they are going well or they are going bad, and he had that little bit of grin that said that's the Brett Myers that we've seen last year and the year before." *