The eighth inning has been a nightmarish frame for the Phillies this season. It's been so bad that if the Phillies' set-up men had held on to half the games they blew in the trouble inning during the first three months, they would be battling the Braves for the top, wild-card slot.
But the worst appears to be over. Free agent disaster Chad Qualls was traded. Aging, broken-down Jose Contreras will never throw another pitch for the Phillies. The enigmatic Antonio Bastardo seems to be finding himself.
And then there is the quartet of IronPigs. Phillippe Aumont, Justin DeFratus and Jake Diekman were each called up in September. Diekman joined the Phillies earlier in the season, but was sent down to Triple-A in August.
It's a small sample set, but Aumont and DeFratus have pitched well under pressure. DeFratus has been spotless during four appearances, while holding opponents to a .111 batting average. Aumont has a 1.08 ERA, while holding the opposition to a .138 batting average.
Diekman is the least refined of the bunch, but the long, lanky southpaw has electric stuff, a funky arm angle and a 97-mph fastball.
"I like them all a lot," Charlie Manuel said. "Diekman is going to be real good someday, you watch. I love Aumont's size and his fastball. He's really powerful and DeFratus is a real good pitcher."
Perhaps DeFratus would have been up earlier this season if he didn't reinjure his right elbow in spring training.
"That could have been the case, but it didn't work out," DeFratus said. "All I know is that I'm here now and I'll do whatever I can to help out. But it's incredibly cool to be up here with my friends. We're all very close. We support and look out for each other."
Aumont was up and down in Lehigh Valley, but has been in a groove since arriving in the big leagues.
"I can't put my finger on it," Aumont said. "I just feel comfortable here. I'm really looking forward to the challenge every night."
Manuel believes his kiddie corps of relievers will benefit from the Phillies' race for a playoff spot.
"It'll give them some confidence and experience," Manuel said. "That's a good thing."