It had been a mostly frustrating 10-game road trip through Atlanta, Florida and Milwaukee for the Phillies, especially lately, and they badly needed to beat the Brewers on Sunday to salvage a split in the four-game series. There had been bullpen meltdowns, offensive letdowns and injuries as a 8 1/2-game lead over the Braves in the National League East with 13 games to play fell to five with eight to play entering the series finale.
That lead stands at five with seven play. The Phillies' magic number is three.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel even talked with a few of his players in the visitors' clubhouse about not taking anything for granted following Saturday's 7-5 loss, when the Phils lost in the ninth. Madson was among them.
"There's no on and off switch in this league," Madson said Manuel told them. "You've got to keep it on. Keep pouring it on. Nothing is wrapped up until it's wrapped up. Even after the last game of the World Series, it seemed like we had more to play. That's the kind of feeling we want to have. We don't have anything wrapped up. We have more to prove."
The Phillies took a 6-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth, but the Brewers scored four runs against Phillies right-hander Joe Blanton to make it 6-5. Blanton had thrown 14 consecutive scoreless innings until Mike Cameron hit a solo home run in the second, but the slider and sinker that helped Blanton so much last week in Florida, where he allowed just two hits in seven scoreless innings, was nowhere to be found.
"I left it in Florida," Blanton said. "I forgot to pack it, I guess."
Manuel went to his bullpen, which has been a dicey proposition lately. Clay Condrey entered the game with a runner on first and two outs in the sixth. Corey Hart stole second and scored on Ryan Braun's single to center field to make it a one-run game. Manuel then called for rookie left-hander Sergio Escalona to face Prince Fielder, who is tied for the Major League lead with Ryan Howard with 137 RBIs.
Escalona got Fielder to swing at a first-pitch fastball to ground out to end the inning.
"That was awesome," right-hander Chad Durbin said. "I think that's where the momentum stopped."
Durbin pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings. Madson entered with a runner on first with two outs in the eighth. Hart got thrown out trying to steal to end the inning.
"To a man, we would like to go out there, handle our business and keeping winning. Get on a good stretch, and by doing so we'll have some momentum going into the playoffs. We're doing OK. We do some things good. Some things like, what the heck is going on out there? It looks like a Little League game right now. But let's put a nice homestand together and see where that takes us."
-- Jimmy Rollins
Fielder hit a one-out double in the ninth, but Madson got Felipe Lopez to ground out back to the mound for the second out. Lopez was 5-for-9 in his career against Madson entering that at-bat.
"That's why I'm glad I'm not a numbers guy," Madson said. "I'm glad I didn't know that going in. He was really aggressive and he swings a lot, and I was just running the ball in on his hands. I made a good pitch on him, and when you make a good pitch, good things happen most of the time."
Madson was throwing some serious heat. He had a great sinking fastball, which was clocked as high as 98 mph. Madson threw 14 of 15 sinkers, which is noteworthy because he has one of the best changeups in the game.
"The cute sinkers that we throw? That's not a sinker at 97," Durbin said. "I don't think that should be called a sinker. That's an exploding something or other."
Madson threw four straight sinkers to Mike Cameron. They were clocked at 97, 98, 98 and 96 mph before he struck out looking to end the game.
"I would say as bad as we played, we played .500 [on the road trip] didn't we?" Manuel said. "As bad as we played ... is that accepted? It will have to be, I guess."
The Phillies will not say the NL East is won, but they need to win just three more games to clinch. Even if they finish 2-5, the Braves would need to go 7-0 to force a one-game playoff, which would be played at Turner Field.
A five-game lead with seven to play is almost insurmountable. Consider the following in two of the greatest collapses in baseball history:
The Phillies trailed the Mets by just 1 1/2 games with seven games to play in 2007. They finished 4-3 and the Mets finished 2-6 as the Phillies won their first National League East championship since 1993. The Mets became the first team in baseball history to blow a seven-game lead with 17 games to play.
The Cardinals trailed the Phillies by 1 1/2 games with seven games to play in 1964. The Cards finished 5-2 while the Phillies finished 2-4 as Philadelphia blew a 6 1/2-game lead with 12 games to play, making it the most memorable collapse in baseball history.
"To a man, we would like to go out there, handle our business and keeping winning," said Jimmy Rollins, who hit the 33rd leadoff homer of his career. "Get on a good stretch, and by doing so we'll have some momentum going into the playoffs. We're doing OK. We do some things good. Some things like, what the heck is going on out there? It looks like a Little League game right now. But let's put a nice homestand together and see where that takes us."