Final day: All on the line for Phils, Mets
'Last Afternoon' to feature two lefties fighting for NL East title
Looking around Shea Stadium and Citizens Bank Park in the past couple of days, all you could see was anguish, torment and apprehension. Hands clasped in prayer and faces covered in dread. Stomachs turned inside out like rally caps.The Mets and the Phillies treated their fans to a demonstration of sweet agony, with huge assists from those resolute Marlins and Nationals. To paraphrase Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, following one of the 48 come-from-behind wins by a Philadelphia team now intent on completing its best comeback, "That was unreal." And the emotional whirlpool was merely a warmup for "The Last Afternoon," when nerves and heartbeats will go off the charts in both places. Yet, the calmest spots at Shea and Citizens Bank will be smack in the middle of the diamonds, on the mounds where two left-handed senior citizens of the game will toe the rubber, trying to brighten the dusk of their careers. Tom Glavine and Jamie Moyer have been in similar spots too often, have wound up too many times pressed to a wall beyond which there was no tomorrow to hyperventilate. As for the rest of us ... keep those paper bags handy. This isn't a great pennant race that the Mets and Phillies have brought down to "The Last Afternoon." In truth, there has not been any kind of a pennant race in the National League East all season. Instead, it had been a Mets roundup -- until a few days ago, when it turned into Shakespeare. At stake is not only the NL East title, but perhaps Wild Card implications as well. Should either the Mets or Phils win and the other lose, the winner grabs the NL East title. If both either win or lose, there will be a one-game playoff for the NL East title on Monday at Citizens Bank Park. Should each win and San Diego, which has a one-game lead in the NL Wild Card race, lose, the loser of Monday's playoff game enters into a Wild Card tiebreaker elimination that would include San Diego and possibly Colorado.
So this is a great human drama reaching for resolution. Will the despondent Mets find redemption? Is the Phillies' gallant charge doomed to end in despair? Or may there even be a Monday epilogue following the final act?There are roles waiting to be assigned -- tragedy, glory, hero or scapegoat -- and casting call begins at 1:10 p.m. ET in Flushing, N.Y., and 25 minutes later in Philly. The character actors who will take the lead may not have been born for this role, but they've certainly spent more than two decades each pitching for it. After 21 seasons of a journeyman career that has wound through seven organizations, Moyer, 44, finds himself in the isolating spotlight. Moyer's 229 wins and 3,545 innings pitches are comfortably the most for any active pitcher who has never appeared in a World Series. He has earned the right to be here, beyond the vagaries of a pitching rotation. During the Phillies staff's endangered season, Moyer is the only member of the original rotation to not have spent any time on the disabled list. Consequently, Moyer also leads the staff with 194 innings pitched, the bottom line to the consistency which has seen him go six-plus frames in 22 out of 32 starts. Glavine has experienced more success, including World Series and Hall of Fame door-busting 303 wins, but, at 41, he has a chance to fulfill the mandate that brought him to New York four years ago. Moyer, timeless, has a contract for 2008. Glavine isn't as sure about next season as he seems to be about what could keep him home: another World Series ring. So, in a sense and among other things, Glavine will be pitching on Sunday to push himself closer to retirement. "When it's all over," Glavine said about this September-going-on-October, "I'm sure whatever happens will have an influence on whether or not I play next year." As exceptional as this situation may seem to be -- it isn't. Baseball's dramatic muse isn't averse to delivering these last-day wallops. Why, only last season, two of the division races entered the final day in a dead heat. The Twins grabbed the American League Central title after starting the day in a 95-66 tie with the Tigers -- who also advanced into the postseason via the AL Wild Card. In the NL West, the Padres and Dodgers began in an 87-74 deadlock and ended the same way, as both won -- but, again, both moved on, San Diego as the division champ by virtue of a tiebreaker. The Mets and the Phillies have no such fallback. Not with the NL Wild Card ticket flopping in the back pocket of the same Padres. So the consolation for the NL East loser is not likely to be a side door into the postseason. Better chance that it will be a trap door down into a mournful offseason. It just twists the screws a little tighter for Glavine and Moyer. Epitomizing crafty left-handers who change speeds and sides of the plate, both could exploit lineups of younger studs overanxious to leave their marks on this season. One of the most remarkable trends of this season has been the competitive fires stoked in forty-something pitchers -- Curt Schilling, David Wells, Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Kenny Rogers, John Smoltz, Glavine and Moyer -- matching up with their peers. They've taken turns going up against one another often, usually resulting in terrific duels. This time, Glavine and Moyer will duel 86 miles apart. They won't be able to stare into each other's eyes or hear each other's heartbeats. Yet they will be in each other's heads, because the line has been drawn. Between the buried Yesterday and the uncertain Tomorrow, there is only "The Last Afternoon," and each will try to make it his own.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.