J.A. Happ left to another ovation. It is becoming a habit, that slow walk from the mound to the dugout, the journey accompanied by waves of applause.
He has started four games now for the Phillies - two in the heat of July, two more in the cauldron of September. He has not wilted. He has not melted. In the end, the Phils have won all four games that Happ has begun, including last night's 6-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves.
He lasted 6 2/3 innings against the Braves, allowing two runs on five hits. Taking out a couple of relief appearances, Happ is 1-0 as a starter with a 2.28 ERA.
"This is what I've been working for,'' he said. "That if the opportunity would come up, I could be a guy who could step in . . . That's what we dream about in the minor leagues.''
Last night, Dallas Green sat in a suite, high behind home plate, and took it all in. The man has seen a few Septembers. There was one back in 1980 that stands out above the rest. That year, a 22-year-old kid named Marty Bystrom went 5-0 with a 1.50 ERA as a late-season call-up. He will forever be a part of the folklore of that championship season.
Happ. Bystrom. You wonder about similarities. Green, now assistant to the general manager, offers caution.
"Marty did one hell of a job,'' he said. "We don't win without him - that's for sure. We'd probably still win without Happ but we wouldn't have won without Marty. He was 5-0, he started two games for us in the playoffs and the World Series. He was a hell of a pitcher, he really was, for a kid. He just got himself all messed up afterward. He got a sore arm.
"He never really got, I mean, that was Marty's shining light, that September,'' Green said. "Hopefully J.A. will get a little more than that.''
Bystrom remains the standard against which all other September kids will be measured. He was that good, and 1980 was that monumental for this franchise. What he shares with Happ is the happenstance of his professional birth. They almost never throw kids into a pennant race because they think it's a swell idea. Their tenures are always born out of necessity.
"The old baseball adage is that the worst two times to make a judgment about anybody are September and spring training,'' Green said. "And the thing is, if you're right in the middle of the dogfight, bringing up a kid is not something you're normally looking to do. In a pennant race,
you're looking to use experience if you can.
"But we couldn't do it in 1980 - I think Nino Espinosa got hurt, and Randy Lerch wasn't pitching well. We couldn't do it then and they couldn't do it here because the guys with the so-called experience, [Adam] Eaton and [Kyle] Kendrick, have failed us. That's why we went with Happ.''
And he has delivered. Happ is not overpowering but he clearly knows what he is doing. The home run he allowed last night was his first in four starts. In none of his outings has he given up more than two runs. In the middle of this pennant race, he has given manager Charlie Manuel a lifeline when, after all of the rotation-juggling that accompanies this kind of a stretch, there were spots that needed to be filled by competence.
That is it: competence.
From a September call-up.
"What he's doing - and Marty did the same thing - is that they don't know J.A. Happ,'' Green said. "They didn't know Marty Bystrom. They don't have the scouting they have on Jamie Moyer or Brett Myers.
"Marty had outstanding stuff. Happ's got good stuff. His breaking stuff is OK against lefthanders but not as good against righthanders. But he has come up here and performed. It's all to his credit.''
This start was different in that the Braves had just seen Happ last week. They did have an idea. And while they did hit some balls hard, as Manuel said, "I thought in the first four innings, he kind of cruised . . . I thought he did a tremendous job of taking us where we had to go.''
This was Happ's last turn as a starter. There will be no need for him the rest of this week. After that remains unknown and unknowable.
"Kids ask, everybody asks, for opportunities,'' Green said. "I think what happens is, a lot of times, you get the opportunity but you don't take advantage of it. But Happ has. He is taking advantage of the chance he has been given.''
And, just for the record, Happ said last night that nobody had ever told him the story of Marty Bystrom. *