His demeanor is stately, almost regal, so it was a little unusual to see Phillies third baseman Pedro Feliz remove his glove, playfully flip it in the air, and catch it during a pause with two outs in the ninth inning of yesterday's 11-6 bashing of the Boston Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park.
It was a rare light moment for Feliz, but it was understandable. He has every right to feel good about himself these days.
In a lineup with attention-grabbing players such as Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez, who sat out the game with a sore Achilles tendon, it's easy to overlook Feliz. But the slick-fielding third baseman is quietly having an outstanding season at the plate, so much so that few teams can claim to have a No. 7 hitter who has been as effective.
The Phillies escaped a weekend sweep by Boston with a six-run seventh inning that broke open a 5-5 game, and Feliz delivered the backbreaker by ripping a two-run double down the right-field line off hard-throwing reliever Daniel Bard that stretched the Phils' lead to 9-5. It was his third hit on a day when he raised his batting average to .318.
"Like I always say, when you work hard, good things happen, and that's what I've been doing, trying my best," Feliz said after the Phillies went four games up on the New York Mets in the NL East.
By this point in a season, it is the rare hitter who has yet to hit a dry patch. Feliz is one of them. He has hit safely in 16 of the last 19 games, batting .361 with 12 RBIs in that stretch. But what has been most impressive is how timely so many of his hits have been. With runners in scoring position, Feliz is batting .368 (21 for 57) with 29 RBIs. He is also hitting .410 (32 for 78) from the seventh inning on.
"If you notice, he's hitting a lot of balls to right-center and right field, and he's hitting some hard throwers, some pretty good pitchers," Phils manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's keeping his hands up and he's not overswinging. He's making good contact and attacking the ball."
The 34-year-old Feliz has shown dramatic improvement over last season, when he hit .249 while his production numbers were down from his previous five seasons playing for San Francisco. A big difference, he said, is that he is free of the back pain that cost him a month on the disabled list last year. He had disk surgery during the off-season and eased into spring training.
"Last year, I had a lot of pain in my back that I don't have this year," he said, "so it's more fun. There's no pain and that's the way I want to be. But that was no excuse. I was there and I had the bat in my hands. I would just say I didn't have a great year. Now I've been working on keeping my hands back and staying patient."
Meanwhile, the Phillies went into the game with a worn-out bullpen and desperately needed starter J.A. Happ to eat some innings and give the relievers a break. But it didn't look as if Happ was going to last long after the Red Sox scored four in the second inning. Boston threatened to pull away when they loaded the bases in the third, but Happ got Jacoby Ellsbury on a fly out. Chan Ho Park gave the Phils 2 1/3 innings of solid relief after Red Sox starter Josh Beckett homered to tie the score at 5 to lead off the sixth.
Happ said he felt as through he was rushing his pitches early on and wasn't controlling his fastball.
"Finally, I was able to convince myself to slow down a little bit and I was able to hit my spots, and that was the difference," he said. "I would have liked to have gotten through that sixth."
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