THE PITCH was up, and it was crushed, and as Jonathan Pettibone whipped his head toward rightfield, he did so with a grimace. Eighteen pitches into his major league career and he was already down a run. Except that he wasn't. Because as Garrett Jones' line drive screamed toward the turf, John Mayberry Jr. did something that the Phillies desperately needed. He saved a run.
"And who knows what would have happened after that?" said Pettibone, who clapped his glove and exhaled after Mayberry robbed Jones of an RBI double with a diving catch that ended the first inning.
Twenty games into the 2013 season, the Phillies have yet to look like a team that is going to consistently score runs in bunches. As long as that look continues, they are going to need to win games the way they did in Monday night's 3-2 victory over the Pirates. That means preventing opposing hitters from taking an extra base, as Domonic Brown did in the second inning, throwing out Russell Martin at second base when he tried to stretch a single into a double. It means taking advantage of a pitcher when he gets wild, as the Phillies did with A.J. Burnett, drawing three walks and scoring runs on a hit batsmen and a wild pitch. And it means making the occasional spectacular play, as Mayberry did in the first inning.
Nights like the last two? The Phillies needed them. Needed them bad. You could see it as Jonathan Papelbon popped off the mound and pumped his fist in the direction of the home dugout, and you could feel it in the clubhouse afterward as the music pulsed and Pettibone talked through his major league debut. The rookie righthander held the Pirates to two runs on six hits, striking out six and walking none in 5 1/3 innings.
If the Phillies had not scratched out the runs that they did, getting an RBI single from Jimmy Rollins to go with the ones Burnett gift-wrapped them, we'd be talking about another game that got away. But they did scratch out those runs, and the resulting victory left them at 9-11, just 1 1/2 games behind presumptive NL East favorite Washington.
"We've got to win the one-run games," manager Charlie Manuel said. "When we get good pitching like we did tonight, we've got to win the games. So far, we've had some very well pitched games and we haven't been able to win very many of them. That's probably the difference between us having a winning record right now and being a couple of games under .500."
Another difference is the play of Rollins. In five games since he returned to the top of the lineup on April 18, Rollins is 8-for-21 with three extra-base hits, three runs scored and two RBI. A player who 3 days ago boasted a .232 batting average is now hitting .273.
As has been the case throughout much of the season, the Phillies failed to get a big hit that would have built them a sizable lead. They put their first two batters on base in the second, third and fourth innings, but in the subsequent at-bats went a combined 1-for-9 with five strikeouts. The conditions - air temperature in the mid 40s and a steady wind blowing in and to leftfield - did not help. After the Phillies put a couple of runners on base to start the second inning, Brown and Erik Kratz both hit long fly balls that might have left the ballpark on a different night. Instead, both were caught.
They made up for it by letting Burnett feel his way around the strike zone, and by making the plays that were there for them. In the sixth inning, seldom-used pinch-hitter Ezequiel Carrera legged out an infield single, diving into first base to extend the inning and set up Rollins' RBI single. Brown, who was booed on Sunday night, tracked down a fly ball in the alley in left-center for the second out of the ninth inning.
Against one of the hottest teams in the National League, the little things proved to be the difference between 8-12 and 9-11. Now, the goal is to keep on executing.