ST. LOUIS - Being a closer in the major leagues means taking regular walks on an angry, crackling fault line. Some nights you survive the trip. Other nights you get swallowed up.
During his first month on the job, Jeanmar Gomez had experienced nothing but happy endings. On Wednesday night, the fault line cracked open and swallowed him and the Phillies in a 5-4 walk-off loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium (see Instant Replay).
So after walking off the field nine times to handshakes and back pats, Gomez walked off with the disappointment of his first blown save.
"My teammates battled the whole game," the soft-spoken reliever said afterward. "To have a blown save, you feel bad because the team battled hard."
No one thought Gomez was going to be Brad Lidge, the perfect 48-for-48 closer for the 2008 World Series champion Phillies. Heck, Gomez wasn't really even a consideration for the role in spring training. He only ascended to the spot after others failed during the first week of the season and manager Pete Mackanin decided to give him a try.
Until now, Mackanin's experiment looked pretty good.
Actually, there was a chance Gomez's success could have continued if it weren't for a couple of ground balls to the hole between third and short in the bottom of the ninth.
The first came off the bat of Stephen Piscotty with the bases loaded and one out. The infield hit scored Kolten Wong with the tying run. He had initially drawn a leadoff walk.
Matt Holliday drove home the winning run with a groundball hit to left.
The Cards' two-run rally against Gomez put the Phils' record at 16-12.
Before Piscotty's hit, Mackanin had Gomez walk Aledmys Diaz intentionally to load the bases. Mackanin then visited the mound and told Gomez a double play ends the game.
"He got us a ground ball, but it found a hole," Mackanin said. "If that ground ball was at third or short, we win the game. I wasn't real happy Gomez walked the leadoff man, but we had a situation where we wanted a ground ball and he got us one."
Freddy Galvis was able to halt Piscotty's game-tying hit in the hole and cut down Carlos Martinez, the potential winning run, as he rounded third. There was some question as to whether the third base coach, Chris Maloney, may have interfered with the runner or even third baseman Andres Blanco on the play. Mackanin asked the umpires about that, but they said there was no interference.
Holliday then drove home the game-winner.
From Matt Adams' almost-game-ending, two-run homer off the top of the wall to the game-tying infield hit, the bottom of the ninth lived up to the cliché that baseball is a game of inches. The game included several lengthy delays as close calls were reviewed on replay.
One of the calls required a five-minute, one-second review and it went against the Phillies in the bottom of the fifth.
The Phils had built a 4-0 lead for Adam Morgan on the strength of a three-run homer by Ryan Howard and a solo shot by Odubel Herrera.
Ruben Tejada opened the bottom of the fifth with a line drive down the left-field line. The umpires initially called it foul, but the Cardinals challenged and after the review won the call. Tejada was awarded a double.
Morgan said the lengthy delay did not take him out of his rhythm even though he allowed four straight base runners and three runs after the delay.
"I got ahead of hitters in that inning, but just couldn't put them away," Morgan said. "It stings."
Morgan gave up four hits in the inning, two, including Tejada's double, on 0-2 counts.
"Morgan kind of came apart in that inning," Mackanin said. "He lost his command."
The bullpen, before Gomez, was exceptional. It delivered four scoreless innings to get the ball to Gomez with a one-run lead in the ninth.
The defense was also good.
The Phillies made two dazzling defensive plays in the bottom of the eighth inning behind Hector Neris. Galvis made a terrific play in the hole at shortstop to prevent a leadoff hit. Rookie leftfielder Tyler Goeddel then went to the wall and reached above it to make a catch for the third out. The play robbed Jedd Gyorko of what would have been a game-tying home run.
"It was going over," Goeddel confirmed. "I didn't realize it would have been a home run until I caught it."
As Goeddel made that catch, it was difficult not to think this was going to be the Phillies' night.
Then the ninth inning came.
"It happens," Mackanin said.