NEW YORK - Rule No. 1 for the outfielder, in this case, is simple: Don't let the ball get by. Keep it in front of you.
Sometimes rules are made to be broken.
With two outs and speedy Mets runner Fernando Martinez on first, tie score in the bottom of the 10th last night, Mets third baseman
David Wright smoked a line drive toward the gap in right-centerfield.
Out in right, Jayson Werth knew that the Phillies were in no-doubles defense. And that the purpose of that alignment is to keep the ball from getting to the wall. At the moment of truth, though, Werth simply did what he had to do. He launched himself into the air. And in that split second, two thoughts flickered through manager Charlie Manuel's mind.
If he doesn't catch it, I hope he at least knocks it down.
If he doesn't, this ballgame is over.
Werth caught it.
"The ball kind of snuck into the lights," he said. "I felt like I was running for a long time. When I got into the vicinity, I was hoping I could get it. It all happened so fast. There wasn't a lot of time to think."
Really, going on instinct is probably what saved the game for the Phillies, holding the tie and giving Chase Utley a chance to lift the Phillies to a 5-4 win by leading off the top of the 11th with his second home run of the game.
Because that was probably the only way Werth was going to be able to keep the ball from getting past him, the only way that Martinez didn't score to end it right then and there.
"I agree with the play he made," Manuel said. "I knew he was going to dive. If he couldn't catch it, I was hoping that he'd keep the ball in front of him. Otherwise, I think Martinez would have scored. He's pretty fast, an above-average runner, and with two outs he was running as soon as the ball was hit."
Baseball teams always talk about needing more pitching and everybody loves watching an offense that scores a ton of runs. Defense often gets overlooked. But last night's game neatly illustrated how important solid glovework can be.
Without Werth's catch, the Phillies probably wouldn't have had a chance to win the game in the following inning.
But without a pair of Mets miscues, the Phillies probably wouldn't have forced extra innings in the first place.
They were doing almost nothing against Mets starter Mike Pelfrey, trailing 4-1 going into the seventh, when Ryan Howard led off with a long fly ball to dead center.
Carlos Beltran, a Gold Glover, went back. He got to the ball in time, but it clanked off the heel of his glove. The official scorer charitably gave Howard a hit, but it was a play that Beltran normally makes.
Two more singles knocked Pelfrey out of the game. Sean Green gave up a base hit that scored the Phillies' second run. Then Carlos Ruiz topped a slow roller toward third base where Wright, who also won the Rawlings hardware the last two seasons, muffed it.
Two of the runs the Phillies scored that inning were unearned.
They won by one run.
You do the math.
Werth has found himself at the epicenter of a few plays in the field recently. In Wright's previous at-bat, with runners on first and second and two outs in the eighth, he went into foul territory and reached over the rail to make the catch that ended the inning.
Who knows what would have happened if Wright, who had three hits and a walk at that point, had stayed alive?
Last Saturday in Los Angeles, Brad Lidge was charged with a blown save when pinch-hitter Rafael Furcal homered in the ninth, a drive that just cleared the wall and barely avoided Werth's glove. In analyzing his play, he gives himself points for effort but believes that if he had been a little further from the fence when he made his leap, he probably would have made the catch.
"That's just how it goes," Werth said. "Sometimes you're in the center of things [defensively] for a few days. Then you go through a couple months where it seems like the ball is barely hit to you."
Werth, by the way, might have appreciated the drama of what he had done less than anybody in the Phillies' clubhouse. He said he was pretty sure that, if he had missed the ball, that centerfielder Shane Victorino was close enough to have cut it off.
Manuel, among others, strongly disagreed.
Werth said that even if the ball had gone all the way to the wall, he doubted Martinez would have scored. "He wasn't stealing or running with the pitch. He's got to stop at third," he said.
Again, he seems to be the only one who saw it that way.
What most saw was a catch that ended up winning the game for the Phillies as surely as Utley's home run. *