Close games between these two division rivals are nothing unusual. Ten of their first 14 meetings were decided by two runs or fewer, and, through Wednesday's first seven innings, it looked as though this one would be no exception.
Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth gave the Phillies the early lead with home runs in the first and second, respectively. Though pitcher Kyle Kendrick allowed Jose Reyes to single and score in the first inning, he settled in to hold the Mets to two runs in five-plus innings of work.
After the Phils' 13-inning, come-from-behind win over the Mets on Tuesday, manager Charlie Manuel was asked about his bullpen. Seven relievers had thrown a combined 10 innings to lift the Phils to that 8-7 win.
"Hopefully [Wednesday's] pitcher gives us about seven or eight innings," Manuel said at first, then backed off, adding, "We should be OK as long as the guy pitching [on Wednesday] gets us through five or six innings."
But Philadelphia's bullpen, which began Wednesday with a league-best 3.05 ERA, showed that it probably could have used that seven- or eight-inning outing from Kendrick. Seanez retired the Mets' first two hitters in the eighth but surrendered Carlos Delgado's second home run of the night to tie the score at 3.
That's when the Phils' missed scoring opportunities of the fifth, sixth and seventh innings began to feel painfully significant. Their leadoff hitter had reached base each time, but each inning ultimately ended with the Phillies stranding two and not scoring.
When Carlos Beltran followed Delgado's homer with a single, Manuel brought in Lidge to try to end the threat.
Manuel knew he was dealing with a depleted bullpen, as he had decided that Clay Condrey, Chad Durbin, Ryan Madson and J.C. Romero would not be available. Bringing in Lidge in the eighth was something Manuel had only done in the closer's first appearance of the season, on April 6.
"I didn't really want to use him," Manuel said, "but I was sitting there and I thought, 'Well, if we get in a tough jam, and I might need him, we'll put him in tonight.' "
Lidge allowed an RBI double by Daniel Murphy and a two-run single by Brian Schneider that cemented the Mets' win. It marked only the second time this season that Lidge allowed more than one earned run in a single outing.
"I'm down there for a reason, and that's to be used whenever Charlie wants me to be used," Lidge said. "I know that I need to be ready. Tonight I just went out there and didn't get it done."
The Phillies held the division lead for 53 consecutive days before the Mets seized it on July 24. Since then the lead has changed hands four times.
The next chapter of the Phillies-Mets rivalry will be written at Shea Stadium in a three-game series that begins on Sept. 5. If this week's two-game set is any indication, the race at that point may not be anywhere near its conclusion.
"I think it's going to go down to the end," Manuel said. "I think it's going to be a good race; it's going to be a good fight."