The sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park was still celebrating John Mayberry Jr.'s tying home run in the seventh inning Saturday when Wilson Valdez swung at a 90-m.p.h. Jonathon Niese fastball.
Twelve days and 26 plate appearances had passed since Valdez had hit a ball out of the infield.
"I knew, I knew," Valdez said. "I kept putting it on my mind."
This swing created a line drive that landed on the outfield grass, just in front of rightfielder Carlos Beltran, for a single. It was the hit that kept Roy Halladay in the game, the baserunner that eventually produced a 2-1 Phillies win over the Mets for the win that capped one of the best Aprils in franchise history.
Good timing can be profitable, and these Phillies have learned that well. Saturday's game perfectly summarized how the first month yielded an 18-8 record, best in the majors and a club record for April. The Phils went 17-5 in April 1993.
There was spectacular pitching - Halladay threw his 60th career complete game and lowered his season ERA to 2.14. There was timely hitting - both runs came in the seventh inning with Placido Polanco driving in the eventual winning score. There was pristine defense - only Milwaukee has made fewer errors than the Phillies' 11.
And it all happened in 2 hours, 25 minutes, lowering the Phillies' average time of game to a brisk 2:41.
"We've been finding ways to win games," Halladay said. "We've done it a little of both ways, at times with the bats and at times with the pitching."
The ace was being generous. Mostly it's been the pitching, as it was Saturday. Halladay has won each of his last seven starts against New York and needed 107 pitches for the complete game. His first 18 pitches were strikes. His control and pitch selection were exceptional, even with reserve catcher Dane Sardinha calling the game.
But there was actually a time when Halladay's chance to finish this game was threatened - not through any fault of his pitching. With the No. 6 hitter, Mayberry, leading off the seventh inning and the Mets ahead, 1-0, manager Charlie Manuel activated the bullpen. Antonio Bastardo started warming up, a sign that Manuel planned to lift Halladay for a pinch-hitter if the chance came. At that point, Halladay had thrown just 79 pitches.
"I was thinking about that," Manuel said.
Mayberry uncomplicated things by belting a home run on a 3-2 curveball from Niese to begin the seventh. It was his first homer of the season.
A ball hit by Valdez finally reached the hallowed ground of the outfield grass. Sardinha, who was hitting .105 at triple A upon his recall, drew his second walk of the game. But Halladay failed to bunt the runners over and struck out.
"I thought it was going to come back to bite me," he said. "I really did."
Shane Victorino singled to load the bases for Polanco, who already had two hits to set a personal record with 41 in a month. He didn't need a hit this time, just a sacrifice fly to right that scored Valdez.
And that was that. Halladay had his lead and hardly flinched. In the eighth, Valdez made a fine diving stop to his left for the first out. A double-play ball ended the inning.
Halladay turned human in the ninth, when his first six pitches were balls. Yet with the tying run on first, Beltran flied out to left, Jason Bay struck out on devastating change-ups, and Ryan Howard stabbed an Ike Davis grounder with plenty of time for a flip to Halladay.
"We all feel good with where we're at right now," Halladay said, "but at the same time we feel there's room for improvement, too."
The rest of baseball would respectfully disagree.
Contact staff writer Matt Gelb
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