SAN DIEGO — A 2-0 Phillies victory was far from guaranteed Thursday night and Vance Worley couldn't see. He recorded the first two outs of the seventh inning but then walked Padres third baseman Chase Headley. That's when the white Oakley goggles started fogging up. The unusual cool air in this beautiful city combined with sweat pouring from his forehead created a maelstrom.
"Maybe I'll just wipe them off," Worley said. It didn't work. Orlando Hudson singled on the fourth pitch and runners were at the corners, threatening to derail one of the 24-year-old's finest outings.
"Do I call somebody over?" Worley said. "Whatever. I'll just finish the inning."
Mark Kotsay pinch-hit and Worley threw a slider for ball one. He could not see what Carlos Ruiz had called for. That was enough.
Worley stepped off the mound and signaled to the dugout. No one knew what was wrong. Head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan arrived with a towel. Worley has worn the goggles since high school. But he had never needed to stop a game to wipe them down.
"I didn't want to give up a run," Worley said, "because I threw the wrong pitch."
Kotsay fouled off five pitches and worked the count full. Worley threw the right pitch, a backdoor slider that was close enough in umpire Hunter Wendelstedt's generous strike zone. He rang up Kotsay and Worley hopped off the mound with a scream.
This is the fine line these Phillies toe on a nightly basis. Ten innings of Cliff Lee sheer dominance resulted in a loss Wednesday. Worley was rendered blind but could see again at a crucial moment Thursday. He fanned 11 Padres, setting a career high.
The Phillies needed every one of them. Worley recorded six outs with a runner on third base. San Diego never cracked him.
"His confidence level is big," Charlie Manuel said. "He concentrates, and he definitely can rebound when he gets in jams. He can turn it up."
Much of the same offensive malaise that has infected the early part of this season continued. Wednesday was the bitterest taste yet. "That one left me sleepless," Manuel said.
Again, the Phillies squandered a bounty of opportunities. Scuffling hitters continued the same disturbing trends. Their starting pitcher operated with the slimmest of margins.
"We had an offensive surge out there, didn't we?" Manuel quipped.
When asked if he saw anything encouraging from the offense, Manuel said, "We scored two more runs than we did last night." This is true.
So the fretting was skipped for one night, although the Padres are not exactly a barometer for success. (The Phillies' 12th straight win at Petco Park established a franchise record for consecutive wins in one stadium.) Other than Worley, few Phillies failed to instill much confidence.
They scored both runs without a hit. A Jimmy Rollins sacrifice fly scored Juan Pierre, who walked, in the first. A ninth-inning Padres passed ball provided an insurance run to score Hunter Pence, who also walked. And that was that.
The bespectacled Worley made it hold up in sensational fashion. He pitched to a different catcher, Carlos Ruiz, for the first time in 14 regular-season starts dating back to last July. Brian Schneider was Worley's catcher and the Phillies paired the two because it bred success. But Worley's confidence is self-sufficient now and Ruiz's bat is too valuable.
With a new guide, things were different. Worley said Ruiz called for his breaking balls — a slider and curveball — with more frequency early in the game. In his last start, Worley threw 22 sliders. He used it 36 times Thursday, according to Pitch F/X data. Opposing hitters swung and missed at it six times.
"He did a really good job of mixing up the pitches for me," Worley said.
But mostly, Worley stuck with the sinker-cutter combo that has paved his success. He had the advantage of unfamiliarity again Thursday. Apparently no amount of video can prepare an opposing hitter for his devastating sinker, which was result of more called strikeouts. The only Padres hitter who had faced Worley before was Yonder Alonso, and that was in only three at-bats.
He allowed a leadoff triple in the second and stranded the runner there. He navigated trouble in the sixth with a double play on a strikeout and caught stealing.
The seventh was when things turned foggy. Worley will often poke fun at how his propensity for sweating and necessity to wear goggles does not mesh well. Typically, he'll wipe them down between innings. But in such a crucial situation, it could not wait.
"I didn't want to screw it up," Worley said.
There was satisfaction in a victory Thursday. It might not have eased the manager's sleep deprivation, but confidence in Worley has never been higher.
That is, so long as he can see.