WHEN YOU get a chance, you've got to take advantage.
So with the Boston Red Sox in town, 23-year-old righthander Vance Worley did exactly that. He sent a request to the opposite clubhouse for a couple signed baseballs. The autograph he wanted most was second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
He didn't get it, Pedroia saying he wanted to first meet Worley. Then Worley flipped Pedroia with an up-and-in pitch in the first inning of last night's 2-1 win at Citizens Bank Park and then struck him out . . .
When you get a chance, you've got to take advantage.
That new car smell still hasn't completely left Worley, although there's a little mud on the tires. He's a veteran of nine whole big-league starts. Which means that he's still at the point of his career where each start is an audition, a pass-fail test.
In a perfect world he'd be honing his skills at Triple A Lehigh Valley. But, as Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee likes to point out, there's no such thing as a perfect world. Joe Blanton is on the disabled list. So is Roy Oswalt.
Opportunity knocks. Sometimes nobody's home. Worley hasn't just answered, he's walked into the living room, sat down on the couch and grabbed the remote.
Last night he went a career-high seven innings, allowing just a run on five hits. He's 3-1 with a 2.57 earned run average.
This is where, in these days of 140-character thoughts and microscopic attention spans, the competition usually begins to see who can stack the most superlatives next to Worley's name. Which is, among other things, premature and unfair and just plain silly.
It's way too early to declare that the Phillies won't skip a beat in Oswalt's absence. In baseball, the general rule of thumb is that a player has to prove himself for a full season and then do it all over again to prove that the first one wasn't a fluke. So let's check back sometime around the end of the 2012 season.
In the meantime, however, what Worley has accomplished has been pretty remarkable. This is a guy who came to spring training with a losing minor league record and a 4.00 ERA.
And it's not hyperbolic to suggest that last night was his biggest challenge yet. His starts last year were relatively low-pressure affairs. The first in September in the first game of a doubleheader in front of thousands of empty seats in Florida. The second on the final weekend when the Phillies were just trying to get their playoff rotation in order.
This season, until Oswalt was sidelined with a bulging disk in his back, Worley was a guy filling a spot. A temp. That took some of the pressure off. Now he's in a position where people are counting on him. And he was facing the Boston Red Sox, a team that even in its diminished state is a dangerous club. Last night's lineup featured four lefthanded hitters, including Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury.
Worley's demeanor suggested that it might as well have been the Triple A Buffalo Bisons. He was aggressive and poised and effective.
There were two situations last night that especially allowed Worley to show his mettle. He had two outs and a runner on first in the top of the fifth with Red Sox pitcher John Lackey at the plate. Lackey slammed an RBI double.
Worley didn't lose it. Boston didn't get another runner past first. Starting the seventh, already at 95 pitches, he was entering uncharted territory. He walked catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia to start the inning. Again, he didn't crack. He got three quick outs to end the inning.
"He's going to go through some trials. He's going to go through some ups and downs. There are going to be days when he gets hit and things like that," manager Charlie Manuel said. "And you see how he comes through it. That's what counts. It's a growing period. You will hit streaks where you'll get hit but that's all part of the game.
"I think games like tonight are games that make him kind of grow up and see how good he can be. It definitely has to be great for his confidence."
Worley can be a little out there. He wears distinctive glasses and sports a Mohawk and gave himself a nickname: The Vanimal. When he was called up from the minors earlier this season, he was ineffective in two starts. It rubbed some people the wrong way when he attributed that to not getting enough work while with the IronPigs because it sounded like an excuse. But maybe he was onto something. Outside of those two starts, when throwing regularly, his major league ERA is 1.20.
He says he isn't getting carried away, and nobody else should, either. He acknowledged that other teams are building a video library of his work and will attempt to use it against him, that he'll have to make adjustments.
But on the temperate late June evening when the Phillies' regular season reached its mathematical midpoint, Worley surely counts as one of the most pleasant surprises of the first half.
Given a chance, he's taken advantage so far.