Ryan Madson sat in the trainer's room, ice on his shoulder, his head in a whirl, when Danys Baez approached.
"You've been perfect 20 times this year," Baez told Madson after Tuesday night's disaster. "You cannot worry about this one time."
Baez was right. Madson, as the setup man or stand-in closer, had never hurt the Phillies in his first 19 appearances this season, allowing only one run, that while the Phillies trailed.
"This one time" had been brutal. He entered a tie game in the ninth as the Phillies' closer and loaded the bases on his own one-out error, a two-out intentional walk and a single.
Madson then fired a 1-1, four-seam fastball hard, inside, to lefthanded hitter Jay Bruce. The four-seamer ran back over the plate. Bruce crushed it to right-centerfield, emptied the bases and won the game.
Baez told Madson that he made one bad pitch in the outing, and that was a pitch Bruce had been expecting. The Phillies, said Baez, had been pounding the inside of the zone against Bruce since the middle of last season, and continued to do so Monday and Tuesday.
"He was looking for that pitch," Baez said before last night's game. "We've been pitching him in, and in, and in. I don't even call that pitch a mistake."
He made none last night.
Called upon in the same situation - a game tied at 3 in the ninth - Madson mowed down 2-3-4 hitters Brandon Phillips, reigning MVP Joey Votto and Scott Rolen with full command of a cutters, four-seamers and changeups.
Really, Madson has made very few mistakes this season. He has converted all seven opportunities since he took over for injured Jose Contreras. One of the game's better setup men since 2004, Madson's inability to pitch effectively in the ninth kept Phillies manager Charlie Manuel from making Madson the closer when Brad Lidge was declared unfit for duty in spring training.
For years, the Phillies have wanted Madson to claim the closer role. His 95 mph fastball, his lethal changeup and his developing cutter make him, at 30, a wonderful option.
Entering a tie game at home is the hardest thing to ask of a closer, Madson said: "You have no room for error."
Contreras is expected to return from the disabled list today. The Phillies have made every indication that Madson will remain their closer; after all, Contreras, 39, was not even a full-time reliever until last season.
Madson is the future. And his future is now; a free agent at the end of the season with a healthy background and a late-innings pedigree, he could command double-digit millions if he develops into a real closer. Which should be the case. He has had an absurdly short leash since he stuck in the majors in 2004.
Madson was a standout, four-pitch starter throughout his minor league career, yet he was given only one real chance to start for the Phillies, in 2006, after two full seasons in the bullpen. Madson went 8-5 in 17 starts, but with a whopping 6.28 ERA.
Madson performed passably well as Lidge's understudy in 2009 and 2010. However, the Phillies likely recalled the 16-day stretch in the middle of 2009 when Madson went 0-3 with three blown saves in seven outings. They only gave Madson this chance as closer because of Contreras' injury.
Of course, Contreras was 5-for-5 in save opportunities before he was hurt.
It's easy to endorse Madson now, but say the mechanical flaw that hurt him Tuesday - his 6-6 frame simply got too long in its delivery - is not immediately fixable? Will the leash be short again?
"I hope not," Madson said. "And I hope I earn that."
He already has. And he went a step further last night.
Vance Worley, who labored through five innings in his return to the rotation Tuesday night, raised some eyebrows after the game when he said that he was tired because he hadn't been stretched out. It was his first start since May 4. After that he made two relief appearances and then was optioned to Triple A Lehigh Valley, where he threw 75 pitches in three innings in his only game before being recalled.
Rich Dubee shrugged it off. "There's some rust there probably. But again, that's why you work so hard in your bullpen sessions. That's why you try to maintain everything you've got," the pitching coach said. "There's in shape and there's pitching shape. That's why guys come into spring training in good shape, but they're not in pitching shape. Vance still needs to get in a little pitching shape because of the layoff, somewhat. He had a couple innings out of the bullpen for us. He'll be fine."
Charlie Manuel had vowed to slowly break in outfielder Domonic Brown, rated the organization's top prospect by Baseball America. And, sure enough, Brown didn't start last night against Reds lefty Travis Wood.
"He's getting a chance to play, just like the other guys. We want to see something. I want to see something. I want to win the game," the manager said. "As we go along, he'll probably get to hit against [lefties] . . . We'll kind of work him in."
Second baseman Chase Utley was also out of the lineup after playing two straight games. The team wants to take every precaution to be sure he doesn't aggravate the patellar tendinitis that had caused him to miss the first 46 games of the season.