If you are curious about the lack of fire and brimstone emenating from the Phillies clubhouse in the wake of their 16-inning, 5-hour-and-20-minute fiasco of a loss to the Astros last night, know this:
Baseball is a game of controlled aggression, not only on its playing surface, but in the interpersonal relationships that lubricate its machinations.
A player must keep that in mind when he is dealing with his teammates. A manager must keep it in mind when dealing with his players. And all of the above must keep it in mind when they are dealing with the umpires.
"I don't know a team in baseball that got anywhere complaining and arguing about the umpires," Charlie Manuel said after one of the more bizarre games you will see.
Most games unfold in a three-act structure, but not this one. No, this was all set-up and conflict, with the resolution remaining very much in doubt. There was a concrete short-term finish, with the Phillies losing a marathon battle that kept them from pulling to within 1.5 games of the Braves in the NL East. But as the clubhouse quickly emptied, there was an air of uncertainty about how a team might respond in the wake of such an emotional defeat.
At first glance, the Phillies appeared to emerge in good health from a precarious set of circumstances that included their newly-acquired veteran righthander playing left field, their veteran left fielder playing first base, and their bullpen stretched to a point where Thursday starter Kyle Kendrick was preparing himself to take the mound. When Ryan Howard was ejected for throwing his bat and helmet after an appealed check swing strikeout to end the 14th with the winning run on third, it touched of a tense sequence of events that culminated in Roy Oswalt entering the game as an outfielder and Raul Ibanez moving to a position he last played in 2005.
Howard, who was called for two check swinging strikes for his fifth strikeout on an 0-for-7 night, charged third base umpire Scott Barry after Barry ejected him.
"I've never seen him upset like that," Manuel said. "I've seen him mad, but he was pretty upset."
After Howard was restrained and order was restored -- Ross Gload, currently on the disabled list, was also ejected, apparently for yelling from the dugout -- the Phillies were left with just seven available players to fill eight positions. Ibanez, who played first base early on in his career, volunteered his services, although he was probably the only option. After initially taking a first base mitt from pitcher Joe Blanton, he switched to the glove that reserve first baseman Mike Sweeney usually uses in games.
Oswalt, scheduled to start on Friday in San Diego, trotted out to left field to face his former teammates. He ended up recording the first out of the 15th, shagging a fly ball that Jason Castro hit directly at him. Ibanez recorded the last two, taking a flip from Herndon for the second out, then fielding a Michael Bourn bunt and making a diving tag of first base for the third.
"There's a saying in baseball," Ibanez said. "The ball will find you."
The Phillies ultimately ran out of gas in the 16th. David Herndon, who had already pitched a scoreless 14th and 15th, loaded the bases with one out and then allowed a single and a groundout, both of which pushed a run home.
"I felt fine," Herndon said. "I think I cut a few balls off. Physically, I felt fine."
Herndon threw 50 pitches, a season-high, but not abnormally-so. Previously this season, he has thrown outings of 49, 45 and 41 pitches.
Overall, the Phillies pitching staff kept them in the game longer than you might have thought. Cole Hamels allowed two runs in seven innings, but was on the hook for the loss until Jimmy Rollins tied the game on a home run with two out in the bottom of the ninth. Brad Lidge threw his 10th straight scoreless outing, twice as long as any stretch he put together last season. He also did not walk a batter for his 10th straight game, tying a career-high. Ryan Madson pitched for the 8th time in 11 days and recorded a scoreless inning. Every other Phillies reliever aside from Herndon entered the game and left without giving up a run.
Oswalt ended the game by grounding out with runners on first and second and the remaining crowd loudly chanting his name.
Besides the loss, the Phillies emerged from the night unscathed. Now, the question is how they will rebound. Their next off day doesn't occur for another 14 days. During that span, they will play 15 games.
"We'll find out," right fielder Jayson Werth said. "I know I haven't been playing the game as long as some people, but that's the first I've seen of anything like that. I'm not even going to say what I want to say. I'm going to sleep on it."
It was a sentiment echoed by all of the Phillies who spoke to the media in the aftermath of the loss. For the second straight night, a member of the umpiring crew made a crucial split-second decision that could have changed the outcome of the game.
Was Barry right to toss Howard in that situation? Should he have taken into consideration the extenuating circumstances of the game? Or was Howard's post-strikeout reaction, combined with the earlier hard look he tossed toward Barry after the ump called an earlier check swing a strike, grounds for immediate dismissal?
"I don't have anything to say," Ibanez said diplomatically.
Howard was not available for comment afterward.
"I'm sure it was just something that built up from the first check swing," center fielder Shane Victorino. "Is it right? Is it wrong? I don't know. I'm not the one to make the judgment on that. . .We've just got to move on. YOu've got to understand that it's his discretion on how he feels. . .Scott's a great guy, but a situation like that, hopefully he can be a little more lenient in that situation. Ryan is not a guy that's going to get upset. But who's right, who's wrong? I'm not going to say anybody is right or anybody is wrong. Scott made his decision and it is what it is. We've just go to overlook that and find a way to win and unfortunately we didn't."
Put simply, the Phillies know they need to score more than two runs in 16 innings against a last-place team if they hope to end this regular season in the same place they have ended the last three. And they know they can't afford to add the umpires to the already-lengthy list of enemies they must combat.