SAN DIEGO — As Roy Oswalt walked off the field having retired 13 Padres in a row, Carlos Ruiz made a prediction.
“You’re going to finish this game,” his catcher said.
But as soon as Oswalt entered the dugout, Charlie Manuel told the righthander he was done. Oswalt was due to leadoff the ninth inning and Manuel wanted to extend the one-run lead. Plus, Manuel said, he had Brad Lidge to pitch the ninth.
“Oswalt had already done good,” Manuel said.
Lidge, of course, loaded the bases with by hitting Ryan Ludwick on the hand with an 0-2 count. Then, one strike away from winning again, he balked in the tying run.
In the end it was a blunder erased later by Jimmy Rollins’ fantastic slide and Chad Durbin’s fine relief as the Phillies won in 12 innings, 3-2.
But Manuel’s decision to remove Oswalt was a head-scratcher — and this is hardly second-guessing.
Oswalt needed just 11 pitches to finish the eighth. He was at 102 and had cruised past the Padres, his only mistake a solo home run to Yorvit Torrealba in the third inning. He had retired 13 San Diego hitters in a row.
If that’s the other Roy — Halladay — does Manuel do the same thing? He’s had a long leash on Halladay all season. Oswalt, apparently, has yet to merit the same trust.
“I wanted to go back out,” Oswalt said. “I feel like I probably could have finished the game.”
Oswalt said he lobbied his manager. Twelve times this season, he has thrown more than 102 pitches in a game. Manuel didn’t budge. He wanted a pinch hitter to begin the ninth with the top of the order due up. He sent Domonic Brown up for Oswalt. The rookie popped out in foul territory behind third base on the second pitch he said.
“But I understand,” Oswalt said.
It very nearly cost the Phillies their chance to gain ground on the Braves for the first time since Aug. 14. Incredibly, the Phils stand just two back of Atlanta despite not having scored more than three runs in five straight games.
Oswalt has pitched at least seven innings in each of his last four starts and has a 1.24 ERA.
“My mechanics have come around after the first start,” Oswalt said.
He was robbed of a fourth consecutive victory Friday. Oswalt has played every bit the part of ace the Phillies expected when they acquired him. He struck out six and walked none against the Padres on Friday.
He threw 78 of his 102 pitches (76.5 percent) for strikes. He wants to pound the strike zone with regularity. Consider that done.
“Actually,” Oswalt said, “I looked down there one time and I had like five balls in the fifth inning or something.”
It wasn’t good enough for an Oswalt victory Friday, but the Phillies still won. And Oswalt has played every bit the part of ace so far.
Maybe it's time for Manuel to start treating the Roys equally.