Jose Contreras is 6-foot-4, a thick and imposing 255 pounds, and when he stands on the mound and reaches back for a fastball that sometimes drifts around, you can tell the batters are really paying attention.

"He can make you give," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He'll buckle your knees.

Manuel refers to Contreras as "Big Truck," a nickname that fits the hulking pitcher perfectly, even if the manager arrived at it for less esoteric reasons.

"He drives a big truck," Manuel said.

Sometimes, simple is what works, and when Manuel had to rummage around for a closer to fill the gap left by Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson, he went for the pitcher who had the best stuff.

It didn't matter to Manuel that Contreras, a starter all his career, had never picked up a save. It didn't matter that other guys in the bullpen had experience in the closer's role. Contreras throws a nasty array of pitches, and that was good enough for Manuel.

"He didn't like the bullpen at the beginning," said reliever Danys Baez, a fellow Cuban, who translates for Contreras. "He was looking for an opportunity to start again. That's why he signed here to be a long reliever - in case somebody got hurt, he could start again. But now he's enjoying this. He's having a good time."

It wasn't a good time every moment on Thursday as Contreras pitched an eventful ninth inning, but he was able to protect a win for Baez and pick up a save as the Phillies beat the Cubs, 5-4.

"He made it interesting, but he stayed with it and got them out," Manuel said.

Contreras began the ninth by plunking Alfonso Soriano with a full-count fastball that got away and brought an epic 11-pitch battle to an end. When Mike Fontenot singled up the middle, moving Soriano to third base, the game was a long fly ball from being tied. But Contreras struck out Starlin Castro and Aramis Ramirez, then got a foul pop off the bat of Geovany Soto to end the game.

After the game, Contreras said he had been trying to make perfect pitches, and that was what had gotten him into trouble. He tried to throw his fastball just right - and it did travel 97 m.p.h. - and watched as it sailed up and into righthanded hitters. He tried for a little extra bite on his split-finger pitch and had catcher Paul Hoover diving around in pursuit. Still, it all worked out.

"He's not afraid to pitch, and he's got good stuff," Baez said. "He's got everything he needs to be a closer. The only thing I say to him is that he has to control his adrenaline. That moment when the fans are standing, you have to control yourself, and everything will be fine."

The Phillies have had an odd spring, not because they have played well and compiled the best record in the National League but because they have done so with a number of things going wrong.

Not having either of their potential closers has been just one aspect of that. Jimmy Rollins missed six weeks. Lefthander J.A. Happ has been on the disabled list since mid-April. Outfielder Raul Ibanez, who carried the Phils early last season, has had a terribly slow start at the plate.

Other players have filled those voids, and Contreras, who now has saves in his last two outings, is just the latest. If he can truly harness his control, he might find that, at age 38, closing games is his new calling.

"You go through the adrenaline of the game. You focus on holding the game and saving the game," Contreras said through Baez. "But afterward, the adrenaline is still there. It will be there for the next three hours. But I'm glad they told me it happens to everyone. I thought it was only me."

"Yeah, he's been talking about how different the ninth inning is," Baez said. "At the beginning, he was saying that it's only one inning. It's just like any inning in the game. It'll be fine. Now he feels how tough that one inning is."

Being a closer is one of the hardest jobs in baseball and one of the most difficult to fill. Contreras might not turn out to be the answer, but he is the best answer Manuel has at the moment.

"All this is new for him, but I think he's going to be big for us," Manuel said.

Big like a truck, perhaps. And right now, the Phillies need to get some mileage from him.