09/25/09 1:09 AM ET
Phillies return to celebratory form
Happ bolsters his case for rookie honors, playoff start
By Todd Zolecki / MLB.com
So soon, guys?
"Let me put it this way," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said before Thursday's 9-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. "We didn't order it."
The Phillies had no chance to clinch their third consecutive National League East championship Thursday, but Brewers clubhouse attendants want to be prepared if it happens this weekend. They put up the plastic so they can cover the lockers for a champagne bath should the Phillies whittle their magic number from four after Thursday's victory to zero.
With 10 games to play, any combination of four Phillies victories or Braves losses will clinch the title.
If the Phillies keep playing like they played Thursday, it should happen. Maybe not this weekend, but then certainly next week in Philadelphia.
Phillies left-hander J.A. Happ allowed six hits, two runs and two walks in 5 2/3 innings to improve to 11-4 with a 2.79 ERA. Happ is tied for the NL lead among rookies in wins. He also has the lowest ERA. Happ has allowed two or fewer runs in 10 of his 12 road starts this season, including nine of his last 10. He is 6-2 with a 2.13 ERA in 13 starts on the road.
Those are just a few reasons some consider Happ the front-runner for NL Rookie of the Year.
"He hides the ball real well," Brewers manager Ken Macha said. "If you look at his pure velocity, it's not real high. But he kind of closes up a little bit and brings the ball from over his head so it jumps up on the hitter. So when he's throwing 89 or 90 [mph], because you don't pick the ball up, it's like 93. I thought he had a very good changeup tonight, and for one of Ryan [Braun's] strikeouts, he threw a little cutter. That was very effective. That ball jumps up on you."
But as good as Happ has been, where will he be in the postseason? He certainly has earned a spot in the rotation, but with health concerns to left-handers J.C. Romero and Scott Eyre and right-handers Brett Myers and Chan Ho Park, the Phillies might be shorthanded in the bullpen.
"Happ really has improved as the season has gone on," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "I like Happ as a starter. I always have. But at the same time, I also see the way our pitching looks. There would be a chance that he could wind up in the back end of our bullpen if we don't get some things straightened out. I'm not going to say we're going to do that, but we're going to talk about it if we don't have any lefty."
Asked if he could see Happ as a ninth-inning pitcher, Manuel said, "Yeah, probably."
"I'm not looking that far ahead," Happ said. "I have two starts left, and I feel I can help us that way. But I want to help us, period. Whatever way that is, that's what it is."
The Phillies helped Happ with some run support. Ryan Howard knocked in a couple of runs to pull into a tie with Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder for the Major League lead with 132 RBIs. Ben Francisco, Pedro Feliz and Paul Bako went a combined 7-for-15 with two doubles and four RBIs.
Happ hit a one-out single to center in the fifth to pick up his first career RBI.
Jimmy Rollins followed with a three-run home run to chase from the game Brewers right-hander Jeff Suppan, who the Phillies beat last year in Game 4 of the NL Division Series to clinch.
Bako not only went 2-for-5, but he also saved a run in the sixth when Fielder hit a ball to the wall. Shane Victorino threw to Chase Utley, who threw to Bako at home. The ball arrived as Corey Hart crushed Bako.
Bako held onto the ball.
"Sometimes you have a chance to get ready," Bako said. "That was one of those quick ones. It was just a good baseball play, all the way around. I thought it was a good, clean, hard baseball play, and I'm glad it worked out in our favor."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.