The Phillies' offense seemed to finally come together as the season entered its final month. They scored eight or more runs in three straight games this week. Yes, they were exciting. And they were doing it with a cast of players that spent most of the season in the minor leagues. It was fun, manager Pete Mackanin said.
And then they met an Oakland pitcher on Friday night with a handlebar mustache and a funky delivery who blanked them in a 4-0 defeat. The young Phillies were humbled by Daniel Mengden, who became the A's first pitcher to toss a complete game in 186 games.
Mengden, who entered Friday with a 7.07 ERA, perplexed the Phillies with his old-timey delivery that matched his old-timey facial hair. He looked more fit to pitch at Shibe Park than Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies and A's did not wear throwback uniforms on Friday night to mark Oakland's third visit since departing 21st and Lehigh and moving West. Instead, they opted for a throwback pitcher.
"It's a funky windup and a funky delivery," said Andrew Knapp, who went 0 for 3 in his first game since Aug. 3. "He messes with your timing with the double-pump over the top. But kudos to him. He was hitting his spots and keeping us off balance."
The righthander started his windup by moving his left leg backward before lifting his glove above his head, and then rocking back and forth as he tapped his right foot on the mound. He would finally throw a pitch and the Phillies could not time it. He allowed just two hits, both of which were singles by J.P. Crawford. The Phillies advanced just one runner to second base.
Mengden had the arsenal of a classic hurler, keeping the Phillies off-balance with secondary pitches and a low-90s fastball. He recorded 14 groundouts and his only trouble came in the seventh when Aaron Altherr hit a ball to deep right field. But Chad Pinder caught it with his back up against the wall, and trouble was averted.
"You mix up all your pitches and hitters never know what's coming," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He pitched backwards sometimes and snuck fastballs by us. He would start off with fastballs and get us out soft. Back and forth. It was tough for a hitter to know what was coming. He threw a lot of strikes and missed his spot about eight times, which was huge."
Rhys Hoskins struck out twice and seemed to finally time his leg kick against Mengden's slow delivery in the seventh, but he cracked a sharp grounder up the middle for an out. Mark Leiter Jr. allowed four runs on seven hits in six innings. He walked one and struck out nine, tying a career high. His four runs came on a pair of two-run, two-out homers.
"He pitched well enough to win the game," Mackanin said.
The righthander rallied and was able to limit the damage. He picked up six of his strikeouts with his cutter. He is the first Phillies pitcher with nine or more strikeouts in both a start and a relief appearance in the same season since Gene Conley did it in 1959.
"I thought the two homers put us in a tough hole early on, which is disappointing especially with two outs," Leiter said. "But after that, I tried to keep us in it as long as I could. It was nice to see Knapp back playing and I think he did a good job calling the game."