Jake Diekman froze. He looked around as home-plate umpire Jim Joyce instructed both Rockies runners to advance on a balk. The Phillies lefty did not say a word. It was a moment of clarity.
"If he was ever going to hit 100," Justin De Fratus said, "it was going to be after that."
Diekman threw two more pitches, each at 99 m.p.h. Nolan Arenado tipped the second one into Carlos Ruiz's mitt for the final out of the eighth inning. The Phillies won, 5-4, and it was because Diekman and De Fratus did not break.
Ruiz leapt from his crouch and pumped his fist after Diekman's last pitch. In a lost season, it was a cherished moment for the worst bullpen in the National League.
Both De Fratus and Diekman have demonstrated improvement as the games lose meaning. They each stranded two runners in Monday's victory. De Fratus has a 2.03 ERA since the all-star break with 13 strikeouts and three walks in 13 1/3 innings. Diekman has not walked a batter in each of his last four outings. He has seven strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings during that span.
"I don't know if we're any more comfortable," De Fratus said. "But we're definitely more confident."
Before, Diekman would have unraveled after the odd balk call. Arenado stepped out of the box to request a timeout. Joyce did not grant it to him. But Diekman stopped mid-delivery when he saw Arenado back away.
Said Diekman: "I was a little [angry], I'd say."
Is that a good thing?
"As long as it's controlled," Diekman said. "I felt pretty good."
De Fratus said he's seen Diekman hit 99 m.p.h. at least 12 times this season. "But on the black like that?" he said. "I don't know." Data from Major League Baseball's PITCHf/x system indicated Diekman's last two pitches — 98.5 and 98.6 m.p.h. — were his hardest thrown of the season. (His previous high was 98.5 m.p.h. on Aug. 2.)
Interim manager Ryne Sandberg said he was surprised.
"I think he was fired up right there," Sandberg said. "It was a big part in the game. He rose to the occasion. I would say, no, I did not know he could throw 99."
For one night, two possible bullpen arms impressed. Can Sandberg learn anything about them from the season's final 38 games?
"Keep putting them in opportunities like tonight and let them learn from that," Sandberg said. "When they go in there and pitch like they did tonight, it's a huge confidence boost for them."
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