The majority of closers, past and present, say there's something different about the ninth inning.
There's also something different about Jeanmar Gomez, the Phillies' unexpected closer, the majors' saves leader, the former middle reliever who genuinely sees no difference between the ninth inning and the sixth.
Complete coverage of the Fightin' Phils and their MLB rivals from NBC Sports Philadelphia.
Few saves could ever involve a degree of difficulty higher than the one Gomez faced Tuesday night. He entered in the eighth inning with a two-run lead, the bases loaded, nobody out and the top of the order coming up for the best team in baseball.
But Gomez, thanks to two remarkable plays by his defense, was able to pick up the final six outs in the Phillies' 3-2 win (see Instant Replay). There have been eight other six-out saves in the majors this season, but none by an actual National League closer.
"The way he pitches, he takes everything so relaxed and it helps him," catcher Carlos Ruiz said. "That's a big situation, intense, coming in with the bases loaded and no outs. That's huge. We're not expecting he was going to be the closer (entering the year), but he's one of the veteran guys. I believe in his stuff."
Hector Neris loaded the bases in the eighth on an error and two singles and that's when manager Pete Mackanin called for Gomez with six outs to go. The way Mackanin saw it, Gomez gives the Phillies the best chance to get a groundball, and he hadn't pitched in three days. Even if six-out saves are a rarity in this day and age, the move made sense.
But it wasn't just Gomez who made the Phillies' lead or Jerad Eickhoff's win stand up. Andres Blanco and Freddy Galvis turned a challenging, rapid-fire double play to end the eighth inning. Tyler Goeddel's walk-off outfield assist aside, it was probably the Phillies' defensive play of the year. Jason Heyward rocketed a ball up the middle and Blanco, who had just entered the game on a double switch, dove to his right to field the ball and flip it to Galvis, who in one motion caught it and fired to first to nab Heyward. Neither Blanco nor Galvis had any room for hesitation on the play because Heyward runs extremely well.
Peter Bourjos provided the other game-saver. With two outs and a man on first base in the ninth, Tommy La Stella hit a sharp single to right-center that Bourjos, because of his speed and instincts, was able to scurry toward and cut off to hold La Stella at first and Ben Zobrist at third. Most outfielders don't get to that ball. In most situations that's a game-tying RBI double and a blown save for Gomez.
"I don't give Gomez the only save," Mackanin said. "I give Freddy and Blanco one for turning that double play in the eighth inning. Wow, that was a special play. Not too many rightfielders would have cut that ball off in right-center like Bourjos did. I give him a save as well. Defense really saved us."
There was energy to spare at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night. Eickhoff pitched perhaps the best game of his career, Ryan Howard homered and nearly went deep a second time, and the Phillies held off two late threats to beat a Cubs team on pace for 115 wins.
"That was just a little loss for the Cubs," Mackanin said, "but it was a huge morale booster for us. That was really nice to win. Eickhoff was really good. That's as good as he's been all year."
Eickhoff limited the Cubs to one run on two hits over seven innings. He struck out eight. Known as a fastball-curveball pitcher, Eickhoff threw a career-high 28 sliders and kept the Cubs off balance all night. He set down 10 in a row at one point and retired eight of the final nine hitters he faced.
Eickhoff has used his slider much more in his last three starts, but Ruiz said the main reason he kept calling for it Tuesday was because of how well Eickhoff was commanding it in the bullpen before the game began. And once Ruiz saw how Eickhoff was spotting the slider to both sides of the plate early in the game, he just kept calling for it.
"There were times when I wouldn't usually throw a slider or changeup that [Ruiz] was like, 'Let's do it,'" Eickhoff said, after pitching to Ruiz for just the fourth time in his career.
"I think the slider played big tonight," Mackanin said. "He needed something like that. The slider is really another pitch Eickhoff can go to against righties and lefties. We saw the results tonight."
Eickhoff got the win to improve to 3-8 with a 3.68 ERA. In 20 career starts, he has a 3.26 ERA, 103 strikeouts, just 26 walks and 15 quality starts. He continues to keep the Phillies in games and look like a No. 3 starter with the potential to be even better. This was a fast, powerful and patient lineup he shut down Tuesday.
The Phillies didn't give Eickhoff a ton of run support, but they provided him enough. Maikel Franco drove in Freddy Galvis for a rare first-inning run, just the Phillies' 11th in 59 games. Howard, starting for the first time in a week, homered to right-center on the first pitch of his second plate appearance. And Odubel Herrera drove in an insurance run in the seventh, scoring Ruiz from third with a two-out RBI single.
The Phils needed every baserunner, steal, hit and groundball to eke out their first win in five tries against the Cubs. The late innings were filled with tight spots, and Mackanin said he even saw some nerves from the typically composed Gomez.
"I love the guy. He looked a little nervous today," Mackanin said. "He was brought into a real tense situation. But he retained his composure. ... He just looked like he was wiping his forehead. I was nervous, too."
Told of his manager's comments, Gomez just smiled, took a second to gather himself and calmly responded, "No way."