Mesa entered a game that threatened to go awry with two outs in the eighth inning, with Cleveland 90 feet away from tying the score. With Ryan Garko on third and a hot Casey Blake -- whose 26-game hitting streak ended a night earlier -- at the plate, Mesa's introduction met with lusty boos from 17,371 fans.
Indians Nation still hasn't forgotten the unfortunate events of Oct. 26, 1997, when Mesa blew a save in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. He allowed the tying run to score on a sacrifice fly, and Cleveland eventually lost to Florida in the 11th.
Though he was traded during the 1998 season, and has since been to San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Colorado, Detroit and Philadelphia again, Mesa can't escape.
"I'm used to it," he said. "Every time I come back, they boo me. They've been doing that to Barry Bonds."
For different reasons, of course. This time, Cleveland fans rooted for Mesa to blow the lead, and he angered them again by getting Blake to ground to second. Motivated by the unwelcoming committee, Mesa quickly got ahead 0-2, then induced a humpback liner to Chase Utley at second. That turned into an adventure when it took an unexpectedly wicked bounce.
Utley speared it in front of his face, and recovered to throw to first for the out.
"It hopped up on me big time," Utley said. "A lot more than I thought it would. I put my hands up to try to catch it and I didn't think I caught it. I didn't feel it go in my glove, so I started looking around and then I felt my glove was a little heavier than normal. I was a little surprised I caught it."
The play allowed the Phillies to maintain a one-run lead heading into the ninth, and they added three more off Roberto Hernandez, and Antonio Alfonseca tossed the ninth to close it out. Coupled with a Mets loss, the Phillies moved within two games of first place in the National League East.
While Mesa isn't popular with the Tribe fans, he's working his way into favor with manager Charlie Manuel, who also remembers that 1997 night in Florida, when he was Cleveland's hitting coach.
"His popularity with me is high, so he shouldn't be worried about the fans," Manuel said. "He did a [heck of a] job."
Ditto for rookie Kyle Kendrick, who isn't trying to be Freddy Garcia, So far, he isn't. He's been better. With Garcia perhaps out for the season, his potential long-term replacement shut down one of the American League's better offenses.
The righty logged six innings in each of his two starts since being promoted from Double-A Reading, something Garcia did only twice in his 11 outings. He also recorded his first Major League win, matching Garcia's 2007 total, and the Phillies have won both of his starts.
"That's always nice to get my first one out of the way," Kendrick said. "Now, let's keep going. I'm just trying to keep our team in the game and pitch my game."
His game is getting ground balls, something he also did against the White Sox in his debut. That represented a special challenge against a Cleveland squad who entered the game in a three-way tie for the league's home run lead. Ryan Garko added to that total of 83 with a solo shot in the second, and Kendrick surrendered two more runs in the fourth.
After allowing a single to Mike Rouse with two outs in the fourth, Kendrick retired the next seven batters.
The 22-year-old benefited from an early lead generated with three first-inning runs. Jimmy Rollins stole a page from Grady Sizemore's Monday playbook and bunted his way on -- on the game's first pitch.
"Grady definitely inspired me," Rollins said, adding that he warned Wednesday's Cleveland starter, C.C. Sabathia, that he might try such a tactic again. "Whatever works."
Pitcher Jason Stanford fielded Rollins' roller on the third-base side of the mound and short-hopped a throw to first. The play was ruled a single. Stanford then hit Utley and surrendered a single to Ryan Howard, scoring the first run. Pat Burrell, refocused after a two-day benching, delivered a two-run double, giving the Phillies an early three-run cushion.
"That was huge," said Utley. "[Burrell] fought it off and drove it the opposite way, which is a good sign."
Howard added a mammoth, second-deck home run in the third, and Philadelphia plated two insurance runs in the seventh with a bases-loaded two-run single by Utley off former teammate Aaron Fultz.
The Phillies needed Howard again in the ninth. Clinging to a one-run lead, the big guy provided more breathing room with a two-run double, and pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs laced a double to score Howard. Utley and Howard delivered six of Philadelphia's runs, all coming in key spots in the game.
"I don't think people realize how much offense they provide for us," Manuel said. "They're big parts of our offense. We need them."