Scott Eyre, still giddy from the Phillies' win over their NLCS opponent Dodgers, announced to a group of reporters: "The postseason makes heroes, man. When you do it in the postseason, everyone knows who you are."
Eyre was coming off a rather unremarkable performance. He'd faced just three batters, one of whom sacrificed and another he intentionally walked. Eyre wasn't talking about himself.
This was 2008. Eyre was the second lefty in a bullpen that relied on one. The spotlight wasn't his. And that was fine. Scott Eyre, all pudge and scruff, wasn't supposed to be the hero. He was barely supposed to be in the majors.
Over 13 years, Eyre had accumulated just 28 wins and four saves with five different major league clubs. Last August, when the playoff-bound Cubs effectively waived him, Eyre's career as a major league pitcher appeared on the rocks. He was, after all, 36 years old with an ERA over 7. In lieu of working out with a professional trainer Eyre soft-tossed with his wife and tried to persuade her to let him play another year. Baseball didn't seem to need Eyre, and Eyre didn't seem to need baseball.
But his career didn't end. The Phillies, who needed another arm to bolster a tired bullpen, picked him up. Soon after, the pitcher arrived in Philly rocking a shirt that read "coño squad" and introducing himself with tales of the minor-league brawls with which he'd been peripherally involved.
And then, to the surprise of almost everyone, Eyre was awesome. He didn't give up a run the first nine times Charlie called his number. His ERA dropped from 7.15 to 4.21 by the end of September. He established himself as the bullpen's second lefty, behind J.C. Romero. So when he announced that he wanted to play in 2009, the Phillies locked him up.
It was a good move. Not long after earning a spot on the roster in the spring, Eyre took on a more prominent role, as Romero battled injury and suspension. He found himself in more high-leverage situations than he's experienced in years — and he excelled. Eyre posted a 1.50 ERA, the lowest of his career. When Brad Lidge faltered, Eyre picked up some slack. In the first round of the playoffs he was called on in three pressure situations; he gave up just one run and came within one out of his first playoff save.
Eyre's haphazard path to postseason eminence may be the thing he has most in common with the rest of the postseason bullpen. Starting pitchers J.A. Happ and Joe Blanton have come on in relief. So has Antonio Bastardo, who saw so little action this year he'll still be considered a major league rookie when the 2010 season starts, and Chan Ho Park,who has transformed himself from failed starter to stud reliever. Even Lidge, onetime star of the pen, has seen his path to success detour dramatically this year, recently rebounding after a dreadful start. Now this group of journeymen and rookies has been thrust into the limelight.
To them, it seems just as odd as it does to us. Last week, after getting several key outs against L.A., Park pantomimed his heart pumping in the dugout, and Eyre admitted to letting the Dodger Stadium stage get to his head. Still, they've held their own: As of press time, the Phillies' pen had a postseason ERA of just 3.54.
This group is likeable. Eyre, the infamous unnamed Phillie who proclaimed last year that he "wouldn't let [Bud Selig] supervise one of my shits" after the debacle that was Game 5a of last year's World Series, keeps everyone loose, but he's hardly alone as a should-be fan favorite. The MLB Network's reality TV Show, The Pen, revealed Park's comedic genius. Lidge has manned up, taken responsibility for his failures and, most importantly, still wants the ball in the clutch. Happ has demonstrated the ability to thrive in any role in which he's placed. They seem to know what they have in each other, too. When the Phils clinched a playoff berth, the entire relief corps grabbed beers, marched out to the bullpen and raised a toast to themselves.
None of this diminishes the fact that this unlikely bunch could be the Phils' undoing. The bullpen, for all its character, is a weakness on a team without many. If everyone finds out their names, it might not be because they've emerged as heroes.
Even with the Phils' MVPs and Cy Youngs, their season could still come down to a 37-year-old guy arguing with his wife over whether he's allowed to play when he's 38.
E. James Beale, to the surprise of almost everyone, is awesome. E-mail him at email@example.com.