Down to the last four outs of Sunday’s game, and perhaps not just the career of manager Bobby Cox but retiring closer Billy Wagner, nobody wanted the ball more.
For the first time all season, Wagner came in with more than three outs to get. He made it interesting – giving up three runs on back-to-back RBI hits in the eighth -- but he made it last.
Wagner struck out the last four hitters he faced, including the side in order in the ninth, looking for his 37th save of the season in the 8-7 win. Afterward, he handed the ball to Cox. They both could have another day.
“Don’t think that didn’t run through my head out there,” Wagner said when asked about the possibility of throwing the last pitches of his career. “You screw this up and go home and always be a goat. I was happy to go out there and compete and make some pitches and have another day to go out there and sweat.”
He struggled to command his fastball at first. “The ball wanted to cut and run,” he said. But by the ninth, he figured out how to use the late afternoon shadows to his advantage. Wagner got ahead of each of the three hitters and struck them all out looking at his slider.
“They could see the fastball but they couldn’t see spin of the breaking ball,” Wagner said. “The only thing I had to do was execute throwing it for a strike.”
Wagner threw 21 pitches in the eighth. That was only 11 shy of his season-high. But there was no doubt he was going back out for the ninth, especially considering he’d had three days’ rest.
“You would have been getting a new manager,” Cox said. “I would have been dead if I had told him he wasn’t going back out there.”
Wagner laughed when told about Cox’s estimation.
“I probably didn’t do a good job,” Wagner said. “I probably won’t ever get back in there now.”
He’d inherited only seven runners all season, but he had two on the corners waiting for him in the eighth. But Wagner relished the chance to go “long.”
“That’s the closer’s job,” Wagner said. “That’s my situation.”
Conrad comfortable with move to second
After Brooks Conrad made key errors in back-to-back losses to the Phillies, Bobby Cox moved him to second base for the final do-or-die game of the Phillies series.
Cox moved Omar Infante to third base and put Conrad back at his natural position.
Conrad had started 22 games at third this season and only one at second, but second base was his primary position all through the minors.
The change put him back in his comfort zone, and that was clear from the first inning. Jimmy Rollins hit the first pitch of the game to him for a line out. Two batters later, Chase Utley grounded out to him.
“It felt great just to get some action early, get my confidence back under me,” said Conrad after the game, all smiles and holding his 1-year-old daughter Reese. “I obviously felt a lot more comfortable there on the other side of second. I felt great. Big relief today.”
Conrad looked more like himself at the plate, with two key RBI hits including one to tie the game 2-2 in the fourth.
He committed his fourth error in four games, misplaying a grounder in the fifth, but it proved harmless as Tim Hudson pitched around it.
That was a big change from the first two games of the series.
Conrad’s throwing error to second Friday night on a ball he should have thrown to first base opened the door to a five-run meltdown. On Saturday, Conrad made another errant throw to second, this time prolonging the decisive four-run seventh inning in a 7-0 loss.
“I don’t think he’s slept in two days, probably,” Cox said when asked about the move.
On Sunday morning, eyes puffy from a lack of sleep, Conrad acknowledged his manager was right.
“I really hadn’t gotten any sleep, up thinking about it and worrying about it,” Conrad said. “It’s a crazy game, and it’ll get to you. But you can’t let it get the best of you. Sun keeps coming up every day.”
Serious ailments ruled out for O’Flaherty
Reliever Eric O’Flaherty still doesn’t know what’s causing his blurred vision, but he knows a lot more about what it’s not. And that’s cause for, well, relief.
O’Flaherty said he got a series of tests results back Saturday afternoon and doctors have ruled out a brain tumor, diabetes and liver damage.
“All the real dangerous stuff looks like it’s out of the way,” O’Flaherty said. “Now it’s just a matter of getting to the bottom of whatever is causing this. Mentally, I feel a whole lot better.”
O’Flaherty said he’s expected to see a neurologist Monday or Tuesday. O’Flaherty missed six weeks in July and August with mononucleosis, which could be related to the problems he’s having.