The Phillies infielders went to Ryan Madson on the mound Wednesday night, one out away from what would be a 2-1 victory over Colorado, and universally suggested the next move: Walk Todd Helton. In the ninth inning of a one-run game, they did not want Helton doing what he had done two innings earlier, when he momentarily nudged his team into a tie with an opposite-field double.
Pitching coach Rich Dubee joined the meeting and endorsed the idea. Riding a four-game losing streak, the Phillies had played small ball to reach this point, and it would not end with a decisive Helton swing. Madson was aloof. "All right," he said, "let's just walk him."
After four balls, the closer saw Jason Giambi lumber to the plate as the Rockies' pinch-hitter. He instantly recalled an encounter the two had during the 2009 postseason.
"Jam shot," Madson said. "Cutter in."
Madson was not the closer then as he is now, using each save opportunity to disprove the notion that he is not suited for the pressure of the ninth inning. These Phillies do not score often and they do not allow many runs. A dominant closer, far from a given during these glory days of Philadelphia baseball - a magical 2008 by Brad Lidge the exception - will be required.
Madson struck out Giambi on five pitches, his third strikeout of the inning. He has converted all seven of his save opportunities. His ERA is a minuscule 0.53.
"His change-up is absolutely the best I've seen it," manager Charlie Manuel said afterward.
"It's good because my fastball is good," Madson said. "My change-up is like it's always been."
One of the game's best setup men has morphed into a reliable closer at age 30, on the precipice of a potentially lucrative free-agency winter.
"I don't care," Madson said about pitching the ninth. "Obviously, it's fun."
Fun was a word used by no one around the Phillies in the previous four games, or even the first eight innings of Wednesday's win. Cole Hamels dazzled in those eight innings. The offense failed to support him. Ho hum.
But then, in the bottom of the eighth, small ball came to Citizens Bank Park. Wilson Valdez led off with a single over the drawn-in third baseman. Shane Victorino, still not healthy enough to play but apparently good enough to bunt, pinch-hit and laid down a sacrifice. A wild pitch moved Valdez to third. He arrived home just ahead of a Ryan Spilborghs throw on Jimmy Rollins' sacrifice fly.
Never mind that the Phillies had five hits again, marking the fifth straight game of five or fewer hits. That is the longest such streak for this franchise since 1969, and that Phillies team finished 63-99. This win at least avoided a five-game losing streak, which was the longest such skid in 2010.
To save it, Madson navigated his most strenuous outing yet. He had not pitched in five days and allowed a leadoff double to pinch-hitter Seth Smith. The next two outs were strikeouts of Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki - two of the game's best hitters - on his devastating change-up.
Madson was the third choice as closer after Brad Lidge and Jose Contreras, who are injured. Both pitchers are nearing a return, possibly creating a closer debate. After watching Madson on a night like this, Manuel had one question.
"What's the point?" he said.
No, Madson is the closer now, and if he continues to pitch this way, he will hold the role the entire season. Confidence is high for the righthander, as it was the moment he saw Giambi coming to the plate, triggering the past.
"I didn't forget," Madson said. "I wasn't going to let him get me."
A 93-m.p.h. Madson fastball ended it all. Madson said he was hyped but did not want to show up Giambi. But then the closer saw Carlos Ruiz pump his fist and decided a little celebration was warranted.
He hopped off the mound, yelled to no one in particular, and formed a fist with his right hand. Game over.
The Four Need More
The Phillies' Four Aces are 15-10 with a 2.96 ERA and 1.083 WHIP (walks and hits divided by innings pitched), but they have been plagued by a lack of run support. Here is what the offense has produced for each of the four.
GS RUNS MOST LEAST AVG.
Roy Halladay 9 34 11 0 3.78
Cliff Lee 9 27 9 0 3.00
Cole Hamels 9 30 8 1 3.33
Roy Oswalt 6 29 10 1 4.83
Totals 33 120 11 0 3.64