NEW YORK -- Phillies manager Charlie Manuel didn't have to go with Tyler Cloyd in this game. He didn't have to give the rookie his fifth big league start with the Phils still in a pennant race.
A Tuesday rainout meant that Manuel could have gone straight to Kyle Kendrick for Thursday night's game at Citi Field, and held off Cloyd for several more days. Philadelphia has another off-day on Monday, so it's possible that the Phillies wouldn't have needed Cloyd to pitch again until Sept. 29 -- by which time they could very well be out of the pennant race, and the kid could have pitched in a pressure-free environment.
The skipper never wavered, and his faith was rewarded. Cloyd turned in eight strong innings to help keep the Phillies in the race, as they hammered the Mets, 16-1. The offense put on a show, but Cloyd quietly made it so the Mets never had any real hope to come back.
"He did exactly what you do with a lead like that," Manuel said. "You go out there and hold them."
In a rotation filled with some of the game's biggest stars, Cloyd is an anomaly. He was an 18th-round Draft pick who methodically made his way up the farm system ladder, pitching for six teams at six levels of Minor League ball. He's never been identified as a top prospect, and in fact doesn't rank among the Phillies' top 20 prospects according to MLB.com.
But he kept throwing strikes and kept moving up, and he's seized on an opportunity this season. With the trade of Joe Blanton and an injury to Vance Worley, Cloyd has filled in admirably.
On Thursday he allowed a run on three hits, striking out six against two walks. In five big league starts, he's struck out 26 against five walks, though he's been reached for a homer in every start.
"That's just me," he said. "I throw a lot of strikes and get ahead of a lot of hitters and attack them. ... You've got to be careful with some guys, but most of the time, I'm going to go right at their hitters."
Cloyd's mates gave him a huge lead, but it was a bit of a mixed blessing. He had eight runs of support before he threw his first pitch. He also had to wait more than half an hour for the assault to come to an end.
It didn't seem to affect him, though, as a leadoff walk was immediately erased by a double play. Cloyd issued a walk in the first, a walk in the second, and no more. He finished with a tidy 88 pitches over eight innings, more than 70 percent of them for strikes.
"It was tough when I was sitting there, but I found away to stay loose and stay warm," he said. "It was great to go out there with eight runs already. Gives you a little cushion. You've still got to go out there and make good pitches, but you can throw balls more on the heart of the plate, over the plate more. It makes it a little easier."
It's unclear how many more starts Cloyd will receive. Thanks to the aforementioned off-day on Monday, the Phils wouldn't need to use him again for more than a week if they didn't want to. They haven't been skipping him so far, but it remains to be seen how the final two weeks go.
For one thing, the upcoming weekend series in Atlanta could be a factor. If the Phillies gain ground on the Cardinals, it would create a different situation than if the now four-game gap gets bigger.
Their hopes are just that day to day and series to series at this point. A couple of days of gaining ground, and they'd be in a tight race. A couple of bad days and you could just about turn out the lights. For now, though, they're in it. And that's thanks in part to Cloyd.
"It's up to us to keep playing," Manuel said. "That's all we can do. Play each game every day, try to win, see what happens."
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.