Friday, December 12, 2008

So Long Pat

When Pat Burrell stepped to the plate in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the 2008 World Series, with the game tied 3-3, he had yet to register a single hit in the series. In fact, he was on the verge of setting a record for World Series futility, and at 0 for 14 would have had the most World Series at-bats without a hit.

But when the Phillies needed him most, Pat the Bat was there. Burrell crushed a pitch from J.P. Howell to deep center field and it came oh-so-close to leaving the ballpark. Burrell thought it was out and lackadaisically ran the bases, but instead it hit high off the wall and evaded center fielder B.J. Upton. Burrell strolled into second for a double.

Any Phillies fan could tell you what happened next. Eric Bruntlett came in to pinch run and, one out later, Pedro Feliz singled up the middle, driving in the decisive run in the game that clinched the second World Championship in Phillies history.

One would think Burrell's late-inning heroics would have been touted as soon as the dust settled and he stood on second base. But no, instead the talk was of what Burrell's hit wasn't. Had Burrell run hard out of the batter's box, it could've been a triple. Or if it was hit just a little further, it could've been a home run. That double pretty much sums up Burrell's career with the Phillies. It was never about what he did. It was about what he didn't do, or what he could've done.

After Burrell burst onto the scene in 2002 with 37 home runs and 116 RBI, Phillies fans expected him to become the next great power hitter. He was supposed to hit 40-50 home runs a year and drive in 120 RBI. That never happened, in fact, Burrell's 2002 season would be the best of his career (to date).

While Burrell never became an MVP-caliber player, he was in many ways the backbone of this Phillies team. Or better yet, the foundation. Burrell was the longest-tenured Phillie, having come up in the 2000 season. (That distinction now belongs to Jimmy Rollins.) While he was never a superstar, or even an All-Star, he consistently got on base and hit for power.

In 2000, Burrell's rookie year, the Phillies finished dead last in the NL East. But things got better from there. The team finished 2nd in 2001 and placed no worse than 3rd every year from 2001 on. Was Burrell fully responsible for turning the team's fortunes around? No, but he was certainly a big part of it.

He never made the flashy plays; in fact what he was most known for involved little to no movement: drawing walks and called third strikes. But that was what made Burrell so valuable. He took pitch after pitch and, just when you thought he was asleep standing up in the batter's box, he would lash a double down the line, or a home run to deep left.

And that's why that Game 5 double epitomizes him. Burrell didn't drive in the winning run, or even score it. Instead he set it up; he laid the foundation for the game-winning hit, just as he helped lay the foundation for the success of the Phillies franchise.

Now, with the signing of Raul Ibanez, Burrell's Phillies days are over. Hopefully the Phillies can replace his offensive production, but it won't be easy. So long Pat, you will be missed.

Phils Add Ibanez; Kiss Burrell Goodbye

If anyone out there thought that Pat Burrell's postseason heroics would earn him a contract extension, they were wrong. The Phillies ended any pursuit of Pat the Bat today, as it's been announced that they will sign Raul Ibanez.

On the surface, this seems like a reasonable deal. Ibanez was not terribly expensive (3 years/$30 million) and has been one of the most consistent outfielders in baseball over the last few seasons. As ESPN's article mentions, he is one of only five outfielders who has had 100+ RBI in each of the last three seasons. He's also stayed healthy for the bulk of his career. He has had just one stint on the DL, which came in 2004. Ibanez should be expected to improve on last year's .293/23/110 by virtue of playing in a better hiter's park with better hitters around him.

The thing is...Ibanez will be 37 in June. He hasn't shown any signs of slowing down in the last few years (if anything he's improved), but then again, did Geoff Jenkins? Perhaps it's unfair to compare Ibanez to Jenkins before he even steps into the batter's box at CBP, but his age has to be a concern. Even if he doesn't struggle this year, how long can he be expected to produce at a high level? He'll be 40 in the last year of his contract.

One also has to wonder how Ibanez fits into the Phillies lineup. They were already overloaded from the left side of the plate and now, instead of adding a right-handed bat to make up for the loss of Burrell, they bring in the left-handed Ibanez, who has fared considerably worse against left-handed pitching. Maybe that won't matter that much (after all, the two closers the Mets just added are both right-handed), but the Phillies will have to hope that Ibanez and Jayson Werth can make up for Burrell's lost production.

(I'll have more to say on Burrell later. He's had a long tenure with the franchise and one that deserves more than a closing paragraph in an article about his replacement.)

Recently, the Phillies also added a backup catcher in Ronny Paulino. All they gave up for him was Jason Jaramillo, so it's hard to find too much fault with the deal, but one has to wonder just what the point was. Paulino was an atrocious hitter last year, with a .212 batting average and a .277 OBP, but that may have been due, in part, to a lack of playing time. He only appeared in 40 games in 2008. In 2006 and 2007, he hit .310 and .263 respectively and showed a little bit of pop, hitting a combined 17 home runs.

Paulino will compete for playing time with the now-fortified Carlos Ruiz. (Ironic that while Burrell's postseason performance earned him a one-way ticket out of town, Ruiz and his .219 batting average of 2008 now has the catcher position locked down. Then again, he was AMAZING in the World Series. Well, amazing for Carlos Ruiz anyway.) Ruiz has the clear edge thanks to his game-calling ability and his surprising display of offense in the World Series, and he and Paulino will likely split time behind the plate.

There are two problems with this. First, isn't this the exact same situation in which Paulino struggled last year? It would seem that he needs to play regularly to be effective. Then again, 2 1/2 years isn't much of a sample size. Second, what happens to Lou Marson? He seemed ready and willing to take over the catcher position after an outstanding season in AA, capped off by his first major league home run in the regular season finale. I guess one more year in the minors can't hurt him, but it can hurt the Phillies chances at a repeat.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Meet Your 2008 World Champions! (Live)

When we last saw our heroes they had just fallen victim to the elements and allowed the Rays to tie Game 5 of the World Series at 2-2. Now the Phillies resume the first suspended game in World Series history, starting in the bottom of the sixth. Hamels is due to bat first, but will almost certainly be replaced by a pinch hitter. Could that mean he's available for Game 7? Well, it shouldn't have to come to that. Whether or not it does depends on the two teams' bullpens. That seems to favor the Phillies, but who knows any more. We'll find out shortly.

8:38: As we start the bottom of the sixth (finally!), it's Grant Balfour against Geoff Jenkins. Good move by Manuel. Jenkins is expendable should the Rays counter with a lefty.
8:42: And Jenkins delivers! He hammers a double to the gap in right center. The ball looked playable for Baldelli, but he couldn't quite track it. Rollins follows with a sac bunt and the Phillies have a runner on third with one out.
8:46: And Werth comes up big! He lofts a pop-up into shallow center, which would have been a routine out, but the infield was in and Iwanura can't hang on. Remember when he was part of that stellar Rays defense? Neither does he. Phillies lead 3-2 and Joe Maddon turns to the bullpen after just one out from Balfour. J.P. Howell comes in to face Utley.
8:54: Utley goes down swinging on three pitches and now Howard comes up, trying to extend the lead. Joe Buck mentions Howard's prior Game 5 stats as if that part of the game wasn't played 48 hours ago. Howell has Werth picked off before throwing a single pitch to Howard, but Carlos Pena's throw is off the mark and Werth slides safely into second. However, it won't matter as Howard pops out to Evan Longoria to end it.
8:59: The Phillies turn to Madson an inning earlier than usual and it pays off...for the first out. Baldelli takes Madson deep to tie the game. one ever said this would be easy.
9:03: Bartlett singles and Maddon leaves Howell in to bunt, which is fine by me. If they want to give up an out to keep a mediocre reliever in the game than so be it. Especially now that the Phillies best lefties have already batted. Howell lays down the sacrifice and Manuel calls Romero in to face Iwanura.
9:07: Iwanura hits an almost perfectly placed grounder up the middle, but Utley tracks it down. Realizing he has no play at first, he fires home in time to nail Bartlett. Wow. Potential game-saving play right there.
9:09: I'm still in awe of that Utley play. How many second basemen in the league make that play? I'm not talking about athletic ability, but having the baseball IQ and instincts to make a play like that is just phenomenal. You also have to love the pump fake to first. Maybe I should be praising his football IQ instead.
9:11: Burrell starts off the bottom of the seventh with a bang. He comes oh-so-close to a home run, but instead the ball bounces high off the wall and Burrell trots into second with a double. Eric Bruntlett comes in to pinch run and, if all goes well, that would be Burrell's only hit of the series. That man just knows how to pick his spots. I guarantee no one will remember his previous 0 for everything if the Phillies win tonight.
9:15: Tim McCarver criticizes Burrell for not getting a triple. I'm sorry but I'm changing Tim's last name from McCarver to McFly. Hello?? Is anyone in there? Come on McFly, Burrell wasn't getting to third unless there was a contract extension waiting for him. And even then...
9:18: Victorino tries to lay down a bunt but instead gets two strikes. So he does it the old fashioned way, chopping a grounder to first and advancing the runner. Now it's up to Feliz to bring in Bruntlett. Gulp.
9:20: And Feliz comes through, lacing a single up the middle and scoring Bruntlett. What is it with these Phillies? All the regular season goats have become post-season heroes. Speaking of which, here's Carlos Ruiz.
9:22: Ruiz smokes one up the middle, but Iwanura makes an outstanding diving stop and gets the force at second. Romero bats for himself, as the Phillies need someone to pitch the eighth (someone not named Chad Durbin). To his credit, he makes contact, grounding out to second to end the inning. Once again the Phillies have a one-run lead. Can they hold it this time?
9:29: Well so much for that letting Romero bat strategy. Carl Crawford works a full count, then singles into center. And just as I say that, B.J. Upton hits into a tailor-made 6-4-3 double play. We're one out away from Lidge, folks.
9:32: Romero falls behind Pena, missing the first three pitches badly, but he recovers and Pena lines the 3-1 pitch out to left.
9:38: David Price comes in to pitch for the Rays. Price has shown that he has filthy stuff, but also that he's very wild. Rollins belts the 2-0 pitch to deep left, but the wind knocks it down and it settles into Crawford's glove for the first out. FOX shows us the last titles won by Philadelphia teams, painfully omitting the team that broke the curse. The Philadelphia Soul! Come on Joe Buck, throw Bon Jovi a bone!
9:39: Werth goes down looking and FOX reminds us of the curse of William Penn, despite the fact that THE SOUL BROKE THE CURSE! Somewhere in the night Bon Jovi softly weeps.
9:43: Utley walks and then steals second, which is all well and good, but likely useless because Howard would need a hit to score him. I'm feeling a strikeout or a walk here. Then again, if he walks, Bruntlett looms on deck. He homered off Price last time they met. But it won't matter as Howard strikes out. (P.S. I never thought I'd use the words "Bruntlett" and "looms" in the same sentence, except to say "Pat Burrell looms over Charlie Manuel menacingly as he prepares to insert the pinch runner, Eric Bruntlett.") On to the ninth we go.
9:47: Brad Lidge, it's time to choose your fate. Will you be Tug McGraw or another Phillies closer who will remain nameless?
9:50: Longoria pops out to Utley. One down.
9:52: Navarro goes down 0-2, but gets a broken bat single to right field. Maddon inserts Fernando Perez to pinch run. I somehow doubt Lidge is overly concerned about the baserunner. That's fine. Get them at the plate.
9:54: Perez steals second, to no one's surprise.
9:55: Lidge flirts with disaster, as Ben Zobrist hits a liner to right that is snared by Werth. Now Eric Hinske comes up, pinch hitting for Bartlett. One out away.
9:58: Hinske strikes out! Ballgame! Go crazy Phillies fans! It's all over! Lidge strikes out Hinske to end the game and the Philadelphia Phillies win the 2008 World Series! Time to get that champagne flowing!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Suspended Disbelief (Live)

Tonight Cole Hamels takes on Scott Kazmir as the Phillies look to win the second World Series in franchise history. Joe Buck tells us that the Rays will win because it looks like they won't. Great analysis.

8:32: FOX's profile on Cole Hamels says he "may never have this chance again." Does Hamels have a terminal illness and no one told us? So far he's put his imaginary disease behind him and set the Rays down in order in the 1st.
8:41: Jayson Werth walks and Chase Utley follows by not leaning away from an inside fastball. Two on and one out for Howard, who is on a tear of late.
8:44: Not this time, as Howard strikes out on a fastball. Now it's up to Pat Burrell to get the offense going. Great...
8:46: And Burrell does what he does best. Draws a walk on two borderline balls. Shane Victorino comes up with the bases loaded. We've seen that before. Will history repeat itself?
8:49: You can't spell victory with Victorino. Well....okay, you can. But why would you want to? Shane drives in a pair. Feliz singles doing his best Vlad Guerrero impression, but Burrell is too slow to score. Bases loaded for Carlos Ruiz and his .417 World Series batting average.
8:51: That average drops a bit with a fly out to left, but the Phillies have a 2-0 lead after one inning. Not too shabby.
8:55: Carlos Pena tries to bunt for a base hit and fails. The Rays are officially desperate. Evan Longoria hits a lazy fly to center on the next pitch. Hamels has recorded 5 outs in 9 pitches.
8:58: Navarro walks, but it's all for naught as Baldelli flies out to end the inning.
9:09: After Hamels and Rollins go down, Werth singles to the left side, but Utley flies out to end the inning.
9:16: Another easy inning for Hamels, despite allowing his first hit of the night. He's on cruise control at the moment.
9:22: Kazmir mows down the Phillies. He's gotten into a groove since giving up the lead in the first. The 2-0 lead seems pretty safe with Hamels on the mound, but I'd feel a little better if we could tack on a few more.
9:28: Pena doubles and Longoria singles him in for their first hits of the series. Phillies still lead 2-1, but we could really use that insurance now. Hamels pitches to Navarro, trying to get out of trouble.
9:31: Navarro works a 3-1 count, then grounds into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. Hamels hit a bit of a rough patch there, but, hey, no one's perfect.
9:36: Ruiz continues to be randomly good at hitting, slapping a single to left. Hamels tries to sacrifice him over, but Kazmir fires to second for the force. Hamels appeared to get hit on the index finger of his left hand on one of his bunt attempts. That better not affect his pitching.
9:41: Rollins draws a walk after working a full count and now Werth is up with a chance to give Hamels a little breathing room.
9:46: Werth draws a walk after about a gazillion pitches and David Price gets going in the bullpen. Utley now up with the bases loaded.
9:49: After getting ahead 3-1 and taking a very borderline strike two, Utley grounds out to second to end the inning. So I guess we're back to that not hitting with runners on business.
9:56: Rollins loses a Baldelli pop-up in the wind and it drops for a base hit. A bit ominous, but really it just brings reminds us how awful this weather is. Of course, it doesn't matter as Utley turns a fantastic double play, tagging Baldelli out and firing to first. Kazmir then strikes out to end the top of the fifth.
10:06: And Kazmir's done for the night after walking Howard and Burrell, giving him 6 walks on the night. Now we get to the once-vaunted Rays bullpen...which has gotten worse as the series has gone on. Grant Balfour comes in to replace him. Last time we saw Balfour, he was losing Game 3. Let's see if Victorino can give him a good old Phillies greeting.
10:12: As Balfour warms up, FOX cuts to a shot of the Make a Wish foundation. Where's Cole Hamels? Isn't he dying too? Maybe starting in Game 5 WAS his wish. That's the only reason he's out there. The fact that he's the ace is merely coincidence.
10:18: Victorino and Feliz pop out and now it's up to Ruiz. Normally that would be a bad thing, but Balfour should be terrified right now. Or not. Ruiz follows suit and pops out for the third out.
10:24: FOX delivers a montage of horrible officiating, which is surprisingly satisfying. Yes, they have been awful.
10:37: Well it looks like the Phillies are actually going to have to hit a little. Pena singles in Upton and it's a tie game.
10:39: Longoria lines out to center to end the inning, but the damage was done. 2-2 game. Some offense would be nice.
10:42: Now we get a long overdue rain delay, which is good because the conditions are abysmal, but bad because...well it's just lame. I want baseball now!

Well so much for that. The game's been suspended. We'll resume coverage...whenever.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Blanton Shows Poise and Power; Phils Up 3-1

Remember when the Phillies acquired Joe Blanton? The news wasn't exactly met with excitement and glee. The general consensus was that Blanton would be an upgrade over Adam Eaton (which isn't saying much), but it would not push the Phillies over the top.

Well Blanton aimed to prove otherwise last night and, well, I'm sold. Blanton stifled the Rays offense, allowing two runs over six innings and striking out seven. And as if that wasn't enough, he did some damage with the bat as well.

By the bottom of the fifth, Blanton had given up a pair of solo home runs, including a pinch hit homer to Eric Hinske in the top of the fifth. When Blanton stepped to the plate, there were two outs and the Phillies were just thinking about turning the batting order over for the sixth inning.

Blanton thought otherwise, crushing a fastball over the left field wall and in the process giving Rays' pitcher Edwin Jackson the most embarassing moment of his young career. It's not a stretch to say this was the biggest hit of Blanton's life, considering he hadn't hit a home run since high school.

Of course, Blanton wasn't the only one to deliver for the Phillies. Ryan Howard emerged onto the scene in a big way, blasting two home runs for 5 RBI. His first home run, a three-run shot in the fourth inning, gave the Phillies a commanding 5-1 lead. His second, a two-run bomb in the eighth, well, that was just for fun.

After struggling to capitalize with runners in scoring position, the Phillies finally put questions about their offense to rest, racking up 10 runs on four home runs. Meanwhile, the highly-touted Rays defense began to show cracks, as Akinori Iwanura committed two costly errors.

By winning the first two home games of the series, the Phillies have put themselves in great position to win the franchise's second title and the city's first since 1983. Cole Hamels takes the hill tomorrow against Scott Kazmir in a Game 1 rematch. That game went in the Phillies' favor and with the offense finally clicking, no one would be surprised to see Philadelphia close out the series in five games.

It should just be a matter of the Phillies keeping their composure, and no one has looked more composed this October than Cole Hamels.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ruiz Leads Phillies to Wild Win; Phils Take 2-1 Lead

They say that timing is everything. No one knows that better right now than Carlos Ruiz.

Ruiz was the hero of tonight's epic Phillies victory, with a long home run and a very short single. After a sub-par regular season in which he hit just .219 with 4 home runs, Carlos Ruiz has been a man possessed in the World Series. Even before tonight's game, he had been one of the few Phillies having consistently good at-bats, having gone 2 for 2 with two doubles and two walks in Game 2. And yet, it seemed as if the Rays hadn't noticed.

Now I think they've noticed. Ruiz got everyone's attention in the second inning when he hit a solo home run, giving the Phillies a 2-1 lead. And he came up big in the end as well, delivering a game-winning RBI single...on a ball that couldn't have traveled more than 45 feet.

Of course, the Phillies never would have been in position to win it were it not for a very strong outing from Jamie Moyer, making his World Series debut at the tender age of 45. There were question marks surrounding Moyer due to his incoming 0-2 record in the 2008 postseason, including an abysmal performance in the NLCS in which he lasted just 1 1/3 innings.

But if anyone could shake off such a poor outing, it's the elder statesman of the team. Moyer limited the Rays to one run through the first six innings and entered the seventh with a 4-1 lead, thanks in part to solo home runs from Ruiz, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard (whose home run was his first since September 26th).

Carl Crawford led off the seventh for the Rays and decided to make Moyer earn his keep, attempting to bunt for a base hit down the first base line. Moyer took off, scooped the ball up in his glove, and dove as he flipped it straight from the glove to Howard. Howard caught it barehanded, just in time to beat Crawford. It was the greatest fielding play of the 2008 postseason, but there was just one problem. First base umpire Tom Hallion ruled Crawford safe. Replays would show that Moyer's throw did indeed beat Crawford, though not by much, but nonetheless Crawford remained on first when the dust settled.

He wouldn't stay there for long, however. The next batter, Dioner Navarro, ripped a double to left field, advancing Crawford to third. Moyer then got Gabe Gross to ground out, but allowed a run to score in the process. Charlie Manuel had seen enough and brought in Chad Durbin, who allowed another RBI groundout, then walked Willy Aybar. Scott Eyre then entered the game and struck out Akinori Iwanura to end the inning. Instead of a comfortable three-run lead, Hallion's blown call allowed the Rays to climb with one.

The precarious lead would not hold as B.J. Upton used his raw speed and baserunning instincts to terrorize the Phillies in the eighth. Upton led off the inning with an infield single, then stole second. He then stole third and made his way home on a wild throw by Ruiz, tying the game.

It would have been a heartbreaking loss for the Phillies and one that has been all too typical of this franchise and this city. At this point it became a showdown between the two bullpens, and the Rays blinked first.

In the ninth, defensive replacement Eric Bruntlett, who had a pinch hit home run in Game 2, was hit by J.P. Howell's pitch to lead off the inning. Grant Balfour replaced Howell and threw a wild pitch. Bruntlett advanced to second, then took third as well as Navarro's throw to second was off-target. With the winning run 90 feet away and no outs, Joe Maddon opted for the unorthodox. Maddon called for intentional walks of Shane Victorino and pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs, setting up a force out at home. He then called Ben Zobrist in from right field to form a five-man infield.

One has to admire Maddon's creativity, but in this case it didn't pay off. Ruiz stepped to the plate looking to be the hero. This would have terrified Phillies fans as recently as a week ago, but ever since his home run, fans realized this was not the same Carlos Ruiz who entered the All-Star break with a .202 batting average.

All he needed to do was make solid contact, and he managed that, chopping a grounder down the third base line. Evan Longoria charged and went for the force at home; the Rays' only chance. He attempted to loft the ball over Bruntlett's head, into the glove of Navarro, but instead the throw sailed well over Navarro's head and Bruntlett scored, sending the Philadelphia crowd into pandemonium.

The Phillies were supposed to crumble after Moyer was robbed of that crucial out in the seventh inning. When Upton tied the game with his baserunning prowess, the Rays were supposed to steal the momentum and steal the series. But Carlos Ruiz stood in the way, delivering perhaps the biggest little hit in franchise history.

Two more wins to go.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Shields Defends Home Turft; Series Tied

It took 17 1/3 innings, but the Phillies finally delivered with a runner in scoring position. Well, sort of. Trailing 4-1 in the ninth inning, Jayson Werth hit a hard grounder to Rays third baseman Evan Longoria. It proved too hot to handle and skipped off his glove and into the outfield, allowing Carlos Ruiz to score from second base. It wasn't that elusive RBI hit with runners in scoring position, but at that point in the game, the Phillies and their fans weren't about to be picky.

Of course, it was too little too late. Rookie phenom David Price struck out Chase Utley in the next at-bat, then Ryan Howard grounded out to second, ending the game in a 4-2 Phillies loss.

On paper, it will look as if James Shields dominated the game and Brett Myers was, well, Brett Myers. But that doesn't tell the whole story. Myers was, in fact, arguably the better of the two starters. He surrendered 4 runs, 3 of them earned, over seven innings. He gave up seven hits, but not one extra base hit. Sheilds, meanwhile, held the Phillies scoreless through 5 2/3 innings, but allowed seven hits, including two doubles and was forced to get out of numerous jams.

The second inning pretty much summed up the Phillies' offense. Howard led off with a double, Pat Burrell walked, and after Shane Victorino popped out, both runners advanced on a wild pitch to Greg Dobbs. A well-hit out would have likely scored Howard, but instead Dobbs struck out looking and Pedro Feliz lined out to center. The third inning started with a Carlos Ruiz double...and ended with him stranded on third. And so it went. The Phillies put runners in scoring position in every inning from the second to the seventh. Yet the first run of the night came off an Eric Bruntlett solo home run in the eighth. The Rays had scored four runs by then and the Phillies were unable to rally in the ninth.

It didn't help that the Phillies fell victim to some poor umpiring. Two particularly heinous calls (or non-calls) stood out. In the bottom of the second inning, Rocco Baldelli checked his swing on a 3-2 pitch. The pitch itself was very close; Myers thought it was a strike. Either way, home plate umpire Kerwin Danley didn't seem to think Baldelli held up on the swing and appeared to signal him out. However, the first base umpire said there was no swing and Baldelli sauntered down to first.

That's all well and good, except that the home plate umpire has the ultimate authority and he called Baldelli out. Perhaps this was some kind of umpire coup d'etat. More likely, it was a bad call and one that resulted in a Rays run. Charlie Manuel was so befuddled by the whole thing (Charlie often seems confused, but this time who could blame him) that he did not even come out to properly plead his case.

Another missed call came in the ninth. After Ruiz doubled, Rollins took a pitch inside that clearly nicked his jersey. It wasn't the most obvious hit-by-pitch, but the replay made it pretty clear that contact was made between the ball and Rollins' jersey, but the umpire did not award Rollins first base. With no outs, a runner on second, and lefty-killer Jayson Werth due up, this could have changed the complexion of the game. Joe Maddon would have had a very difficult decision with Werth at the plate, representing the tying run, then with Utley and Howard to follow. Instead, the pitch was ruled a ball and Rollins would eventually pop out to shallow center.

Both these calls were extremely frustrating to any Phillies fan, but it's worth noting that the Phillies had plenty of opportunities beforehand and had they executed then, the Rollins HBP no-call might not have mattered. No, it's not worth blaming the umpires for this loss.

At the same time, I'm not prepared to label the Phillies as a bunch of choke artists who can't get the big hit. They had plenty of hits, but just could not string them together when they needed to. Generally that amounts to little more than dumb luck.

Hopefully that luck subsides, as the series heads to Philadelphia. The Phillies will need to get the bats going, as the next two pitching matchups clearly favor the Rays. Based on the regular season, Game 3's Jamie Moyer-Matt Garza matchup is a toss-up, but Garza was excellent in the ALCS and Moyer has been hammered in two postseason starts. However, it should be noted that both of Moyer's starts were on the road, where he struggled in the regular season as well. Also, it's not unreasonable to think that a young, somewhat undisciplined hitting team like the Rays could succumb to the wily veteran.

Whatever happens on the mound, the Phillies' luck at the plate is bound to turn at some point. Let's just hope it's not too late.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hamels Cools Rays Bats in Game One

I guess no one told the Phillies they were supposed to be rusty after their week off.

Instead, the NL Champs looked just fine from the start. Chase Utley started his first World Series with a bang, hitting a two-run shot off Scott Kazmir in the first inning. With Cole Hamels on the mound, the Phillies knew it wouldn't take much more than that (though it would've been nice).

Hamels took care of business yet again this October, improving his record to 4-0, in guiding the Phillies to a 3-2 win. He went 7 strong innings, giving up just two runs to an offense that terrorized the Red Sox in the ALCS.

The Phillies offense, despite scoring only three runs, had a solid performance. The Phillies reached base fourteen times yesterday (compared to just seven for the Rays), but were never able to bust the game open, going hitless with runners in scoring position and failing on several occasions to bring home a runner from third with less than two outs. Carlos Ruiz managed to bring a runner in from third in the fourth inning, scoring Shane Victorino to extend the Phillies' lead to 3-0.

The Rays had their share of missed opportunities as well, with B.J. Upton being the main culprit. Upton hit into two double plays in the game, including one with the bases loaded in the third that bailed Hamels out of a jam. Tampa finally got on the board in the fourth due to a Carl Crawford solo shot and then Akinori Iwamura made it a one-run game in the fifth with an RBI double, but that would be all the Rays could muster. Hamels handled them in the sixth and seventh with little difficulty.

Both bullpens looked dominant, but while the Rays 'pen looked formidable, the Phillies' Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge were untouchable. The pair combined for two perfect innings and three strikeouts to secure the win.

The Rays bullpen was good, but not great. In three innings, it kept the Phillies scoreless, but allowed two hits and two walks. But what really made the difference was the starting pitching. Hamels was the same dominant pitcher that he was in the National League (no doubt shocking some AL elitists who believe they're playing a AAA team). Kazmir was, well, the same pitcher the Red Sox saw in the ALCS. He delivered a quality start, but against an ace of Hamels' caliber, that's not good enough.

Hamels is the older of the two young starters (if only by a month. Well then maybe in a month Kazmir will understand) and it showed, as he was as composed as any pitcher we've seen this October.

No doubt many will argue that the Phillies squeaked by in this one and, had the Rays been a bit better with situational hitting, they would have taken the game. Maybe so, but the Phillies, Utley aside, were in fact far worse with their clutch hitting, stranding eleven runners. Not to mention, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, and Pat Burrell combined to go 0 for 12 with 2 walks. That's unlikely to last.

As impressive as this win was, the real test comes tomorrow, when Brett Myers faces James Shields. Shields has been the better of the two pitchers this year, but Myers had an excellent second half and has been solid in the postseason. The only real blemish on Myers' October comes from a Manny Ramirez three-run shot that ended up being meaningless. With Manny being Manny a safe distance away, Myers could well return to the form that got him through seven innings against the Brewers.

Of course, there are few players more unpredictable than Myers, so who knows, but whatever happens tomorrow, tonight's win was one hell of a start.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Stairs Way to Heaven; Phils Go Up 3-1 (Live)

Joe Torre has taken the unusual decision of starting Derek Lowe on only three days' rest for the fourth game of the 2008 NLCS. Because he is Joe Torre, his decision has been universally praised. Charlie Manuel starts Joe Blanton, clearly missing a golden opportunity to tire Cole Hamels by starting him on short rest.

8:29 - We begin as Chase Utley drives Jimmy Rollins in to give the Phillies a first-inning 1-0 lead with no outs. Lowe is looking great on 3 days rest.

8:31 - Jayson Werth scores from third on a Howard groundout. It's his first RBI of the series. There goes that slump. 2-0 Phillies.

8:33 - Lowe and his manager can't believe he walked Pat Burrell. Clearly they have not been watching Burrell play. Baseballs are magnetically repelled from his body.

8:35 - Victorino grounds into a double play. Perhaps he is actually not God.

8:43 - Blanton gives Manny an intentional walk with one out and a man on second. The announcers criticize him. He would clearly be an easier out if Tim McCarver were pitching.

8:46 - Blanton misses and lets Loney double to centre, making it 2-1. Viewers prepare for a batters' duel.

8:51 - Dobbs leads the inning off with a double to right. His five defensive errors not having happened yet, we are still glad he is starting this game.

8:53 - Clips of Joe Torre arguing with the umpire between innings. This rivalry will be played up at all costs.

8:55 - Joe Blanton strikes out after taking the first two pitches, having taken only the first half of his walk-drawing lessons from Pat Burrell.

9:02 - Casey Blake tries to bunt then strikes out looking. Apparently the word is out that Dobbs is playing.

9:02 - Larry Bowa has to be moved back into the coach's box so he can't steal signs. Now even when the Phillies are winning regularly we are not spared seeing him blow up at every opportunity.

9:06 - After Pierre is caught stealing (you don't steal bases on Joe Blanton, Juan. Didn't you get the memo?), Lowe hits a blooper into shallow center. Rollins tries to go make the over the shoulder basket catch, Willie Mays style, but it catches the heel of his glove and he can't hang on. However, it won't matter as Furcal hits a routine fly ball to center, ending the inning.

9:12 - Utley grounds a one-out single to right before Howard flies out to center. They seem to be collaborating to get him the record for most times stranded.

9:21 - Blanton makes like he wants to pitch-around Manny, then fakes him out with two right down the middle, the puts one just off the plate. An unintentional-intentional-unintentional walk?

9:23 - Martin outruns being caught in a double play, then goes first to third on a Loney single. Can we try putting catchers' gear on Victorino some time?

9:32 - Furcal bobbles a routine grounder from Ruiz, and doesn't get hit with the error. Can't remember - do hits like this account for most of his batting average?

9:39 - Rich Dubee tells us Blanton has been taking good care of himself. Yes coach, we know he has been eating well.

9:50 - Lowe gets a one-two-three inning. The game has transformed into a pitchers' duel, but he's already over seventy pitches on short rest, so he must tire soon. Right?

9:55 - Dissection of Utley politely questioning the bad call on his strikeout earlier. FOX is plainly rooting for a brawl.

9:57 - Manny up with two on and nobody out. For reference, THIS is when it's a bad idea to walk him.

9:58 - Furcal runs through the stop sign to score and tie the game. Good to know Larry Bowa is still helping us out.

10:01 - 3-2 Dodgers on a Manny hit, and Ethier scoring on a ground out. Loney gets an intentional walk, just because it feels right.

10:04 - Blanton gets out of it with a double-play. How many can we intentionally walk now?

10:09 - Kershaw relieves Lowe and deals Ryan Howard a lead-off walk. They DID say this young rookie could do incredible things...

10:12 - Burrell hits one past Furcal. Either he's being clutch again, or Rafael Furcal is just awful.

10:13 - Victorino bunts the runners over. Good move. Pedro Feliz bats for Dobbs. Huh? Memo to Manuel: batting and fielding are different actions.

10:18 - Chan Ho Park comes in and Howard for some reason does not tag, but all is forgiven when he comes in on a wild pitch. Sadly now Ruiz is up.

10:22 - Jenkins hits for Blanton so Torre goes to Joe Beimel. Manuel's strategy is to make Torre run out of pitchers.

10:24 - Taguchi comes into hit for Jenkins. Or... do something for him. A spectacular catch by Andre Ethier ends the inning.

10:29 - Durbin comes in and gives up a lead-off homer. Perhaps Blanton should have bat for himself.

10:37 - Durbin is pulled for a failure to record any outs and Eyre comes in. At least the Phillies know that the Dodgers pretty much only have Greg Maddux left in their dugout.

10:37 - Howard throws the ball into the outfield on a routine play, allowing the runners to reach second and third and a run to score. 5-3 Dodgers. Well, his astounding hitting this postseason comes at a price.

10:44 - After Ethier lines out, Manny is given an intentional walk. The fans boo as if this is some kind of surprise.

10:50 - Madson comes in, and Utley makes a great play, spearing a liner and jumping to the bag to eke out a double play. Just you wait. He will win this thing singlehandedly.

11:02 - Up and in on Loney gets booed. It's not as if LA fans have nothing to get excited about.

11:06 - Howard slips before making the play at first on a sacrifice bunt. We have still yet to get an explanation for why it is Burrell who is taken out for defensive replacements.

11:19 - After Howard singles Torre goes to Cory Wade from the bullpen. Victorino saves the day yet again by hitting a two-run homer and tying the game. Who knew Shane would be the big power hitter of the NLCS? After another hit Torre goes to Broxton. Hindsight is 20/20.

11:26 - Matt Stairs hits a home run off Broxton in his first time facing him and it is HUGE. The Stairmaster gets to jog, and the Phillies take a 7-5 lead in the top of the eighth. It's his first postseason homer after playing in the majors since 1992. In two playoff appearances with the 1995 Red Sox and 2000 A's he had never been past the division series, either.

11:38 - A lead-off walk then a double-play keep J. C. Romero in the game and means the Phillies can pitch to Manny. But Manuel feels he needs Lidge for an extra out for the first time even with nobody on. Let's see if this works out.

11:44 - Manny doubles. It's a good thing Lidge was there.

11:46 - Martin reaches on a strikeout and a wild pitch. Loney is up. I have nothing to say.

11:51 - He flies out to Bruntlett. That was harder than it should have been.

11:57 - Ryan Howard beats out a double play. This is a night of many wonders.

12:02 - Bruntlett beats out a double play then is out on a picthout, stealing for no reason. For some reason both teams thought it would make sense for the Phillies to steak with two outs in the ninth, up by two. It is a night of many wonders.

12:05 - Kent flies out to Victorino. 
You think Nomar evers turns to Kent and says, "Hey, remember when we were starters...on the All-Star team?" and then they both cry on each other's shoulders?

12:09 - Now they have one more thing to cry about. Lidge gets the save and the Phillies get the come-from-behind 7-5 win. One more win wins them the series and a trip to the World Series. It was a bizarre game and frustrating at times, but ultimately satisfying. On to Game 5, and Cole Hamels' start!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Utley, Burrell Power Phillies in Game One (Live)

After taking out the Brewers in four games, the Phillies move on to the NLCS where they face the Dodgers. That's the good news. The bad news is the games will be on FOX. Of course, for a championship-starved Philadelphia fan, it's a small price to pay. I can put up with Jeanne Zolasko and Tim McCarver for a shot at a ring...if I have to.

The Dodgers have been dubbed the NL's team to beat, despite winning only 84 games in the regular season. Yes, they knocked off the 97-win Cubs, but is this baseball or boxing? Just because the Dodgers KO'ed the NL's best regular season team does not mean they automatically assume its place. Besides, I can't quite bring myself to give the Dodgers all the credit for beating the Cubs. I mean, come on, it's the Cubs. Baseball's lovable losers. Is anyone really that surprised they collapsed in October? Didn't think so. So let's put that Dodgers love-fest on hold for now.

Of course, all of that "team to beat" talk can be thrown out the window as we get prepared for Game 1. Cole Hamels takes on Derek Lowe, which sounds unbalanced, but Lowe has had his best season as a starter since 2002. That included a ridiculous September, in which he allowed just two earned runs in 30+ innings. In his one playoff start, he allowed two runs in six innings. For whatever it's worth, Lowe's road ERA is 4.42, compared to 2.30 at home, so the Phillies should be grateful the Dodgers didn't save him for Game 3.

8:25: And we're underway. Larry Bowa introduced the Dodgers lineup, which is a little upsetting. The least Bowa could have done is mentioned that he's a former Phillie. Oh well. Hamels gets Rafael Furcal to ground out, but Andre Etheir slaps the ball into the gap in left center for a double. Now Manny Ramirez steps in with a runner in scoring position. Gulp.
8:26: Manny comes oh-so-close to taking Hamels deep, but it hits the highest part of the highest wall in the park and Manny has an RBI double, despite taking time to admire his shot out of the batter's box.
8:28: Hamels bounces back by striking out Russell Martin on three pitches. All the more reason to pitch around Manny. The Dodgers don't have anyone else worth worrying about.
8:34: James Loney works a walk and he and Manny advanced on a passed ball, but the Phillies escaped further harm as Matt Kemp flies out to right. Not the best start, but it's only a 1-0 game.
8:37: Harry Kalas delivers the Phillies starting lineup. Hooray! Best thing FOX has ever done.
8:40: Two quick outs for Rollins and Victorino, but Utley gets the Phillies going with a base hit up to center field. Now Howard comes up with the tying run on first.
8:43: Howard slaps the 3-2 pitch to the right side of the infield, but it's snared and he's thrown out to end the inning. Would've been nice to tie the game, but it looks like the Phillies are seeing Lowe well enough.
8:50: That was fast. Hamels plows through the bottom of the Dodgers lineup for a perfect inning, striking out Casey Blake and Lowe in the process. Good to see him bounce back.
8:57: Burrell smashes a line drive into left for a single, and now Werth steps in. If you take away the speed difference and Werth's facial hair, aren't Burrell and Werth the exact same player? Well now they have one more thing in common. They both got out on Werth's ground to second. 4-3 double play.
9:00: Feliz draws a walk as Phillies fans everywhere question why he is starting. Granted, Dobbs is a lousy fielder, but wouldn't it be better to have his bat in the lineup? Apparently Charlie Manuel doesn't think so. The walk doesn't do much good, however, as Ruiz makes the third out on a routine grounder. Two questions about that: 1) Why is Ruiz starting over Coste? Neither is a great hitter, but Coste is clearly better. 2) If you MUST start Ruiz, why not bat Hamels 8th? He's hit better than Ruiz this year.
9:05: Hamels gets a first, quick out, but Ethier strikes again, as he hits a hard grounder that ricochets off Howard's glove for a single. Now Manny is up again with a runner on. Let's hope Hamels has learned his lesson.
9:07: Hamels not only learned his lesson, he may have taught Manny one. Manny whiffed on two straight pitches, then popped the next one up to short.
9:12: The last out wasn't so easy to come by, despite Manny not being involved. Martin walked and Loney took the first two pitches out of the strike zone, before Hamels recovers and strikes him out with the next three.
9:17: Quick inning for the Phillies, going down in order. Victorino at least makes things interesting as he gets tangled up with Lowe after Lowe just barely beats him to the bag for the third out. Maybe that will mess up his pitching rhythm. Probably not, but on the off-chance it does, you heard it here first.
9:21: Kemp hits one barely fair down the right field line that bounces into the seats for a ground-rule double. Tim McCarver points out that Red Sox fans may remember that play because it's about where Jason Bay hit his double in the ALDS. Yes Tim, exactly the same. Different teams, different ballpark, different league, but other than that, yeah, same play.
9:25: Blake advances Kemp with a grounder to short and DeWitt brings him home with a sacrifice fly. Lowe grounds out to end it, but the Phillies now trail 2-0. There's still plenty of time left, but the frustration is beginning to mount.
9:31: As Lowe pitches to Utley, McCarver speculates that Lowe might have hurt his throwing hand during his at-bat last inning. It wouldn't be the first time Hamels injured a pitcher. Remember Bartolo Colon during the Red Sox series? He swung so hard at Hamels' changeups that he injured his back. Suffice it to say, it was hilarious. So far Lowe looks fine, as Utley goes down on strikes.
9:35: Howard and Burrell go down. This is looking like all those Hamels regular season starts where the offense decides its presence is optional because the ace is on the mound. Let's hope it arrives before it's too late.
9:44: Hamels has an easy top of the fifth, retiring Furcal, Ethier, and Martin. Manny gets a single off him, but that's the only blemish of the inning. No harm done.
9:50: The Phillies get their third hit, as Ruiz slaps a single to right with two outs. It probably won't amount to a run with Hamels batting now, but at least it turns the lineup over for the next inning.
9:51: Then again, maybe it will do some good. Hamels laced a single into right and the Phillies have two on for Rollins. Huge at-bat here.
9:55: So much for that. It looked like the Phillies finally had Lowe on the ropes, but Rollins lofts the 3-2 pitch into Manny's glove and the Dodgers keep the score at 2-0.
10:00: Another quick inning for Hamels, aided by an impressive diving stop by Rollins that starts a 6-4-3 double play. Despite his early inning struggles, he's thrown only 92 pitches through six, meaning he should be good to go through seven, perhaps even eight innings. Even if they lose, the Phillies bullpen shouldn't be overly taxed for Game 2.
10:05: The Phillies catch a big break as Victorino grounds to short and Furcal's throw is too high for Loney. Victorino rounds first and is into second to start the inning.
10:07: Tie game! Utley makes Furcal's error count, blasting a two-run shot over the left field wall! That's just the third fly ball of the game, and one Lowe would like to have back.
10:11: Pat the Bat is...clutch???? Bizarro Pat Burrell strikes again, destroying Lowe's last pitch of the night and giving the Phillies a 3-2 lead! Wow.
10:16: Chan Ho Park into the game for the Dodgers to face Werth, who I am now calling Pat Burrell 2.0 ("We can rebuild him. Make him stronger, faster than he was before.") Werth skies a fly ball to center for the second out of the inning. Feliz then grounds out to end it, but what an inning! Phillies lead 3-2 after six!
10:24: Hamels takes care of business in the top of the seventh. He's now thrown 105 pitches and is due to bat next inning, so he is likely done for the night. That means we could be in for a scary eighth inning, with most likely Ryan Madson facing Manny. We can't squeeze one more inning out of Hamels? Please?
10:30: Greg Maddux comes in to pitch the bottom of the seventh. Yes, future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux. I don't get it either. Ruiz greets him with a grounder to the left side of the infield. Furcal gets to it and fires, but is off target again. Loney stretches and reels it in, but Ruiz beats it out. Ah, so that's why he's in instead of Coste. That extra iota of speed.
10:33: The Phillies opt to bunt with Ruiz on first and none out, so instead of keeping the pitcher in or using a legitimate pinch hitter, they bring in So Taguchi to act as a bunt specialist of sorts. Taguchi fails mightily in this capacity, popping out to Loney, who makes an impressive sliding catch. Rollins then ends the inning, hitting into a 4-3 double play. DeWitt made a phenomenal tag and throw to get Rollins. And now we move on to what will surely be a tense eighth inning. Fingers crossed.
10:38: Good start for Madson, as he strikes out Ethier with a changeup for the first out. Now Manuel comes out to discuss their strategy on dealing with Manny. My advice? Don't throw him a strike. Why play with fire?
10:40: And that's why I'm here watching and not in the dugout. Manny rips it but right to Feliz, who snares it for out number two. Martin then hits a hard grounder to Feliz, but it nicks his foot and eludes the glove, earning Martin a single.
10:42: Madson gets the job done, as Loney chops a grounder to second for the third out. With Lidge set to pitch the ninth and the Dodgers' 6-7-8 hitters due to bat, it's looking pretty good for the Phillies. Let's just hope it's Lights-Out-Lidge and not Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn that comes into the game.
10:49: Victorino, Utley, and Howard go down in order. Who needs insurance when you have the best closer in baseball? Um...let's hope the Phillies don't. Lidge has been, well, perfect so far this year, but a little extra wiggle room would have been nice.
10:53: Relief left fielder Eric Bruntlett replaces Burrell and here we go. Lidge on to pitch the ninth. He gets Kemp on a deep fly ball to right-center for the first out.
10:56: Two outs. Blake is retired on another deep fly ball, this one to dead center. One out away and Blake DeWitt is the batter.
10:58: DeWitt flails at and misses strike three. Ruiz scoops it up and fires to first and that's the ballgame! The Phillies take Game 1 of the NLCS 3-2!

Tonight's game was just great, all-around. Hamels wasn't as dominant tonight as he was against the Brewers, but he allowed just two runs over seven innings. You can't ask for much more from your ace. Once again, the Phillies score all their runs in one inning, striking for three in the sixth. Derek Lowe was thoroughly dominant to that point, but Furcal's error was the break the Phillies needed, and Utley made him pay. Maybe Utley's home run rattled Lowe, or maybe Burrell is just a clutch hitting machine all of the sudden. Either way, Burrell came through yet again with his monster home run. The one-run cushion was all the team needed, as the bullpen got the job done once again.

The Phillies couldn't ask for a better way to start the series. Now on to Game 2: Myers vs Billingsley. You never know what to expect from Myers, but he had a strong outing against the Brewers. The two faced off on August 25th and the advantage went decidedly to Myers, who pitched seven scoreless innings in a 5-0 Phillies win. Let's hope history repeats itself tomorrow afternoon.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Phillies Close Out the Brewers (Live)

After a somewhat disheartening loss yesterday, when the Phillies bats arrived in Milwaukee too late, the Phillies try to close out the Brewers today, as Joe Blanton takes on Jeff Suppan. Not exactly a star-studded matchup, but the Phillies better hope Blanton comes up big for them today, to avoid Hamels-Sabathia in Game 5.

The Phillies and Brewers are just underway and Rollins crushes a 3-2 pitch over the right field wall. Corey Hart didn't even chase it, and who can blame him. So much for Suppan's postseason success. Phillies lead 1-0.
1:16: Utley works a walk but it's all for naught as Howard hits into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. Still, can't complain about a 1-0 lead. The Phillies seem to be seeing Suppan pretty well.
1:24: Blanton works through Cameron and Durham without much difficulty, but Braun lines a single into left. Now Blanton's got his work cut out for him, as Fielder steps in with one on and two out.
1:29: Fielder battles Blanton in Brett Myers-esque fashion, but Joe gets the last laugh as Fielder flies out to Burrell and the Phillies come to bat again, still leading 1-0.
1:40: After Burrell singles down the right field line, Werth strikes out on 9 pitches. Kind of a shame for it to end like that, but at least he made Suppan work. Dobbs, in his first postseason strat, singles into the gap in right center. Burrell lumbers from first to third. The Phillies are threatening again, but rally-killer Ruiz is up, followed by Blanton.
1:42: The Phillies catch a break, as Jason Kendall can't handle Suppan's pitch and Dobbs heads to second. A ground ball might be enough here...but Ruiz won't get it. He takes strike three looking. Now Blanton comes up with two outs and runners on second and third.
1:44: Blanton whiffs on three straight and the Phillies strand two runners. A frustrating inning, but on the bright side, Suppan has thrown 41 pitches through two innings. Looks like we'll be seeing more of that Brewers bullpen. Surprisingly it's been pretty good so far in the series, but their luck has to run out at some point.
1:49: Blanton couldn't come through at the plate, but he's looking pretty good on the mound right now. He retires the Brewers in order on seven pitches.
1:54: Rollins leads off the third and gets a good piece of the 1-2 pitch, but he's under it and it's an easy fly out to right. Victorino follows with a blooper to left. J.J. Hardy makes a diving effort, but it's out of his reach. Victorino takes second and the Phillies have a runner in scoring position for Utley.
1:58: Utley grounds out to the right side and Victorino takes third, which is nice but inconsequential, as he would have scored from second on a base hit anyway and there are now two outs. Howard will be intentionally walked and Suppan will go after Burrell. Definitely the right decision, but Burrell is 1 for 1 today. Just saying.
2:02: Can you say extension? Burrell may have just earned himself one as he crushes the 2-2 pitch for a three-run shot! The Phillies take a 4-0 lead.
2:04: Jayson Werth says "Not so fast, I'm the future of this outfield!" as he sends one deep over the center field wall. 5-0 Phillies. Dobbs flies out to end the third, but the Phillies now hold a commanding lead. Gotta love that clutch hitting. (I never thought I'd say that about Burrell.)
2:11: That'll be all for Suppan as Sabathia steps in to pinch hit. I think the Brewers have officially thrown in the towel. Sabathia can hit for a pitcher, but he's still a pitcher. He proves my point by striking out on three pitches. Cameron flies out to center and Blanton has retired seven straight.
2:14: Gallardo heads to the mound, as the Brewers attempt to use their entire rotation in a single game. I wonder if Dave Bush can play the field.
2:26: Blanton strikes out Durham and Braun, then gets Fielder to line out to right. He has now set down ten straight batters. He's pretty much on cruise control at this point.
2:32: So far so good for Gallardo, as he sets the Phillies down in order. At this point it may not matter, but the Brewers aren't completely out of it yet.
2:39: Blanton gives up his second hit of the game, as Hardy singles, but he retires the next two batters, including Craig Counsell who couldn't catch up to Blanton's fastball. When Joe Blanton is mowing you down with his hard stuff, it might be time to call it a career.
2:48: Werth hits what looks to be an easy fly out to left, but it ricochets off a cable and ends up in Counsell's glove, as he makes a diving catch to get the out. Fine, Craig, you can still field.
2:53: Charlie Manuel made his first defensive replacement of the game, going to relief third baseman Pedro Feliz. Yet somehow the Brewers get a lead-off single to right field. Apparently no one told the Brewers that the Phillies defense just got better.
2:59: Every time Carlos Ruiz snap throws to an occupied base, an angel gets its wing. I don't believe that, but Ruiz must as he makes a pointless throw to first. Braun strikes out on the next pitch and the Phillies still hold a 5-0 lead through six innings.
3:03: Blanton steps to the plate for his third at-bat, which, for a Charlie Manuel team, usually means that he'll face one batter next inning before a reliever gets called in. That said, Blanton's only thrown 99 pitches and has been dominant. Might as well see if he can get through one more inning.
3:06: Impressive glovework by the Brewers, as they turn a 6-4-3 double play with Rollins and Victorino running. The Phillies offense seems to have gotten bored, now that they have a decent lead.
3:12: Blanton challenges Fielder with the 3-1 pitch and gets away with it. But not on 3-2. Fielder goes yard and the Brewers are finally on the board. Hardy follows with a first-pitch single and Blanton is probably done for the night.
3:18: Ryan Madson comes on for Blanton and gets the first out of the inning, as Hart chops out to second. Looked like Utley could have gotten the force at second there, but instead he went for the safer play at first. With a four-run lead, it's hard to blame him.
3:20: Impressive play by Howard, who makes a diving stop of Counsell's grounder, then tosses to Madson for the out at first. Kendall flies out to shallow right for the final out of the inning.
3:32: Burrell does it again! This time it's only a solo shot (not his fault) and the Phillies are back to a five-run lead. That's what the Brewers get for sending Guillermo Mota into the game. Somewhere, Ned Yost must be smiling.
3:37: Madson stays in the game, and why not, he's been great so far. He gets the first batter, but gives up his first hit of the series, courtesy of Mike Cameron. Meanwhile, it's pouring in Chicago, threatening to delay the inevitable Rays win. How dare the White Sox not play in a dome!
3:41: Braun singles to left, scoring Cameron with two outs and the Brewers cut into the lead yet again. All of the sudden, the Brewers have a shot to make things interesting, with Fielder up with a runner on. Of course, he'd have to homer and the Brewers would still probably have to rally off Brad Lidge. Not too likely. All the same, it'd be nice if Madson could just get Fielder out here.
3:44: Fielder hits it hard...but right at Utley, who snares the line drive for the third out. The Phillies are just three outs away from a trip to the NLCS!
3:49: Matt Stairs comes in to pinch hit for Madson. I know Stairs is the better choice, but couldn't they have used Geoff Jenkins here? It just seems fitting for him to have a chance against his old team. Stairs hits into an inning-ending double play. Whatever. Let's just get those last three outs.
3:53: Lidge comes on to close out the game, though it's not a save situation. Let's hope it's the Game 2 version, rather than Game 1.
3:54: Hardy grounds to third for an easy out. Two outs to go.
3:57: Hart helps keep the Brewers alive, hitting one by Feliz and into left for a single. Feliz probably should have had that one, but it was hit too hard to give him the error. Hart takes second on the first pitch to Brad Nelson, as the Phillies ignore him.
4:00: Nelson whiffs on the breaking ball and the Brewers are down to their last out. Jason Kendall steps in.
4:01: Kendall grounds to Rollins who fires to Howard, and that's the ballgame! The Phillies are heading to the NLCS for the first time since 1993!

Bring on the Dodgers! The Phillies head to the NLCS with a series-clinching 6-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. Thanks to the Dodgers upset of the Cubs (did anyone but Cubs fans see that happening?) the Phillies get homefield advantage. Last time the Phillies saw the Dodgers, they swept them in four games. Of course, the Dodgers swept the Phillies in four in the series before that, so who knows. We'll have analysis and coverage of that series in the next few days (Game 1 is scheduled for Thursday) but for now, we'll just savor the win.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Phillies-Brewers: Game 1

The Phillies, fresh off their second straight division title, will play host to the Brewers this afternoon for the Game 1 of the NLDS. Thanks to the Mets' (and Nationals') ineptitude, Philadelphia was able to line up the rotation to its liking and send out Cole Hamels for Game 1. And thanks again to the Mets, who made it close enough that the Brewers had to deploy their ace, C.C. Sabathia, in the second to last game of the year, assuring that he could not start Game 1. There aren't many pitchers better than Hamels, but C.C. is one of them.

The Brewers late scramble for the wildcard and the subsequent handling of the rotation should pay huge dividends for the Phillies. As it stands, Hamels will dodge Sabathia in Game 1 and instead face Yovani Gallardo. Gallardo is one of the most talented pitching prospects in baseball, but he has barely pitched this year, having suffered an injury in May that kept him out until, well, last Thursday.

Gallardo threw 67 pitches last week against the Pirates. Considering the short leash he was on, he performed admirably. He pitched four innings and allowed one run (a solo homer) while striking out seven. Of course this forced the Brewers to go to their bullpen early and they would use seven relievers that night (though two of them came in the 10th inning).

Starting Gallardo in Game 1 brings up the question of his endurance. Obviously the 67 pitches was a precautionary measure, but how carefully will he be handled in the playoffs? What is more important to the Brewers, this game or Gallardo's arm? My guess would be that Gallardo will be on a short pitch count again, though he may go up to 85-90 pitches, rather than staying south of 70 again.

The Phillies can only hope this is the case, as Gallardo has the stuff to give them fits if he is truly healthy. Furthermore, the bullpen is not exactly Milwaukee's strong point and if Gallardo has another short outing today, the Phillies hitters will be licking their chops.

One notable stat to point out about Gallardo: He has pitched his worst in day games. In ten games (8 starts) he has a 4.73 ERA. This could be a fluke, or it could well mean that he's easier to hit in the light of day, when hitters can see his pitches better. Of course Hamels' numbers are a little worse in day games as well, but the Phillies can at least expect him to give them 6-7 innings. The same can't be said for Gallardo.

Ultimately, the Brewers' difficulty in simply making the playoffs, plus the resulting pitching decisions, should give the Phillies a decided advantage in this series.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Breaking Down the Final Week

Through 150+ games, the Phillies and Mets have been very difficult to predict. Just when it seemed as if one team had fallen out of the race for the NL East (or wildcard, for that matter), corresponding winning/losing streaks would tighten up the standings again. Now, with 7-8 games remaining for each team, the Phillies sit atop the division by a hair. Each team has the rubber game of their current series today, followed by two more series. But who has the advantage?

On paper, it's got to be the Phillies. They have their final two series against the Braves, who they have dominated this year, and the Nationals, who everyone has dominated this year. Meanwhile, the Mets face the Cubs, the team to beat in the NL, and those pesky Marlins.

That looks pretty good for the Phillies, but one major question looms: Which Cubs team will the Mets face? The one that leads the NL in wins by a wide margin? Or will it be the Chicago Scrubs? The Cubs have all but locked up homefield advantage and have no real need to play their star players in the final week.

This brings up the age-old argument of momentum vs security. No team wants to back into the playoffs, but is it really worth sending out your A-squad for meaningless games? Odds are the Cubs won't fall victim to any major injuries in their last eight games, but you never know.

In all likelihood, the Cubs' top hitters will start most, if not all, of the games against the Mets. And why not? Hitting is not a particularly risky business. Lou Piniella might do well to tell his players to take it easy in the field and on the basepaths, but the odds are that the Cubs' bats can stay healthy for one more week. The pitching, however, is a different story. Pitching injuries are far more common and the Cubs' rotation doesn't exactly have the best track record in this department.

Of course, Rich Harden is the first name that comes to mind in this discussion. Harden's 142 innings pitched this year are his second most ever and his most since 2004. He can probably handle one more start, but should the Cubs really press their luck? (The Brewers' luck finally caught up to them with Ben Sheets and it may well cost them a playoff spot.) Ryan Dempster hasn't exactly been a workhorse either, over the years. He'll likely pitch over 200 innings this year in his first season as a starter since 2002.

Whether or not the Cubs should play their starters is irrelevant to this blog. All we care about is will they play them. Since there is no established "right" answer to the momentum-security question, the best way to guess is to look at Piniella's history. The best example comes in the last season that a Lou Piniella team has the option of coasting into the playoffs: the 2001 Seattle Mariners.

Seattle won 116 games that year and finished the season with a 14 game lead over the Oakland A's (talk about hard luck, the A's won 102 games that year and only got the wildcard). With the division locked up in the final week, how did Piniella handle the team? The Mariners made no major adjustments to their lineup and rotation, but Piniella did take it relatively easy on his starters. While Freddy Garcia, Jamie Moyer (then only 38!), and Aaron Sele (he won 16 games that year) all made starts in the last five games, Piniella did not overwork them. They all started, but left after about 90 pitches. As for the hitters, all the key Mariners (Ichiro, Edgar Martinez, John Olerud, Bret Boone) started the final games of the year.

One thing to note is Piniella's handlng of the bullpen. He did not change the way he used his relievers, even in meaningless games. Kazuhiro Sasaki notched his 45th save on the second-to-last day of the regular season. Sasaki also pitched the final inning of a 6-2 game the night before. The fact that Piniella would use his All-Star closer, not only to finish off a 4-run game (granted it was a 3-run game after 8 innings), but also on consecutive nights with everything already locked up, gives us a pretty good idea of how he is likely to handle the end of this season.

The Mets should expect to see the Cubs starting lineup pretty much intact, but they should only have to deal with Chicago's starting pitching for five innings or so. However, Piniella will do what he can to win the games with his bullpen. Does that mean Kerry Wood will tempt fate and pitch late in the season? Probably. Cubs fans should be concerned.

But not as concerned as Mets fans, who will likely see their team fall short of the NL East crown once again. However, the wildcard should be easy pickings. The Brewers are falling apart at the seams and guess who the Cubs play right after the Mets? Sorry Milwaukee.

Of course, if we've learned one thing from the last two seasons, it's that there's no predicting the Phillies and Mets. Reason tells us the Phillies will take the division, but last year the Mets appeared to have things pretty well locked up in late September, and we all know how that went.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Stairs' Way to Heaven

The Phillies have reportedly acquired Matt Stairs from the Toronto Blue Jays, hoping to add another left-handed bat and give the offense a spark. Stairs is basically there to be the new Geoff Jenkins and this move suggests that we may have seen the last of Jenkins in 2008.

Like Jenkins, Stairs has had a down year. He is currently batting .250 with 11 HRs and 44 RBIs in 105 games. Not bad for a 40 year-old, but more was expected after his 2007 campaign, when he hit .289 with 21 homers. He is getting on base at a similar rate this year, with a .342 OBP (.368 OBP in 2007) but his slugging percentage has taken a huge hit. After slugging .549 last year, he's down to .394 this season. In fact, if the season ended today, he would have posted the worst slugging percentage of his career. Is age catching up to Stairs? Maybe. More likely, last season was a fluke.

But that's not to say there isn't a silver lining. For whatever reason, Stairs has put up ridiculous numbers at Citizen's Bank Park. In eight career games at CBP, he has hit 6 home runs and has posted a .444 batting average. Three of those home runs came in 2004, when he was with the Royals and the other three came last year with Toronto. Interestingly, three of these home runs came off Geoff Geary (two on June 18th, 2004 and one on May 20, 2007). It's a shame Geary doesn't play for the Mets.

Is this another fluke (after all, Stairs has only played eight games in CBP) or is the Phillies home field truly Heaven for the aging slugger? It's hard to judge. Stairs has fared quite well in the best home run hitter's parks, which could imply that he is a good fly ball hitter and therefore can take advantage of homer havens like CBP, Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, and Coors Field in Colorado. Of course it could also mean that he hits well in these parks for the same reasons everyone else does.

It's also worth considering (no pun intended) who Stairs will be replacing. In all likelihood he will be platooning with Jayson Werth. This could prove problematic in the field, as Stairs is not exactly known for his range. With Pat Burrell in left field and Stairs in right, Shane Victorino will have to cover a ton of ground in center. Then again, Stairs is probably comparable to Jenkins in the outfield and the Phillies survived that well enough.

The greater impact will be at the plate, where using Stairs against right-handers instead of Werth should prove advantageous. Werth's career OPS against right-handed pitching is only .762, while Stairs' OPS is .860. Of course, it should be noted that Stairs' 2008 OPS vs RHP is only .744. However, if nothing else, the extra rest should keep Werth healthy and whichever of the two outfielders is not starting will be a valuable pinch hitter.

Stairs' greatest asset, as far as the Phillies are concerned may be his approach to hitting. The Phillies' hitters, on the whole, tend to be very patient at the plate. Werth is a prime example of the Phillies' somewhat passive approach to hitting, as he swings at fewer first pitches than anyone in the majors. Stairs is the opposite. He has swung at first pitches more than any pitch except for 2-2 counts and full counts. That aggressive mentality could serve very well on the Phillies, who have often struggled with runners in scoring position. Stairs will likely hit sixth, behind Victorino, or possibly behind Burrell, if Charlie Manuel reverts to the old lineup. Either way, with the heart of the order in front of him, Stairs should get plenty of chances with runners on base and therefore should see his share of first-pitch fastballs.

Considering that the Phillies won't give up much for Stairs, this is a productive move. Mark Kotsay would have been more valuable, as he is a great fielder, but Stairs should provide the offense with a little more punch and improve the bench. Worst case scenario? See Jenkins, Geoff.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Phillies Bullpen Falters Against Mets (Live)

After playing for over five hours last night, the Phillies and Mets return to the field to play the second game of a two game series. Mets ace Johan Santana faces off against Kyle Kendrick, who nearly had to pitch last night.

TOP 1st
7:09 - Jose Reyes starts off the night with a single over Chase Utley's head. With a young starting pitcher and a bad fielding catcher, Reyes will probably get to second base pretty quickly.
7:12 - Reyes runs as Luis Castillo hits a high fly ball to shallow left field. Pat Burrell barely holds onto the ball, getting Castillo out and throws the ball back to field. It looked like Howard had Reyes out except that Reyes slid right into Howard's glove, not only knocking the ball out but knocking Howard's glove off his hand. Luckily the ball doesn't get far, and Reyes has to stay at first.
7:14 - Reyes takes off again and Wright grounds the ball to Feliz. Reyes gets second base this time, but Wright is out at first.
7:16 - The Mets get on the board as Carlos Delgado grounds the ball into right field, driving in Reyes. 1-0 Mets. Hopefully that's all the damage they'll do, unlike last night.
7:17 - Carlos Beltran hits a ball up the middle and Rollins just barely throws him out at first. Looks like Beltran is in non-clutch mode.

7:20 - Jimmy Rollins continues his hot streak as he gets his first career hit off Johan Santana. He hits the ball to shallow left field, where none of Reyes, Beltran, or Daniel Murphy can get it.
7:24 - Utley flies out to Ryan Church and Pat Burrell foul tips strike three into Brian Schneider's glove. Rollins' single may not matter as Ryan Howard's odds against Santana are not good as he's hitting .186 against lefties. He is, however 3 for 10 against Santana.
7:27 - Rollins is picked off at first, but goes ahead and gets his 35th stolen base of the year.
7:30 - Ryan Howard hits his 35th home run of the year. Did not see that coming. That gives him 9 home runs against left handers this year and his first home run off Santana. 2-1 Phillies. Looks like this game could have a seesaw feel to it.
7:32 - Shane Victorino strikes out to end the inning. No matter, the damage is done for now.

TOP 2nd
7:36 - With a 3-2 count Ryan Church hits the ball the other way. Victorino is too far back to get to it in time, and Burrell slides, but is only able to stop the ball from going any further, keeping Church to a single. Burrell gets hustle points. Now up comes a struggling rookie in Daniel Murphy.
7:38 - Church steals a base as Coste makes a poor throw to second. Luckily Rollins is able to get to the ball and keep Church at second. Kendrick is up to a 3-2 count against Murphy.
7:40 - After a few foul balls, Kendrick strikes Murphy out looking on the inside corner. In this case, the veteran gets advantage of the newbee. That's right, Kendrick is the veteran in this situation despite being the same age as Murphy.
7:45 - Schneider and Santana ground out to first to end the inning. Kendrick is now up to 42 pitches in the game, 27 of which were in this inning.

7:48 - Jayson Werth hits the second home run of the game off Johan Santana. This is the fifth time all year that Santana has given up multiple home runs in a game, the most he's given up being three. That's Werth's 18th home run of the year. Amazing that he has this many considering he's more or less a platoon player.
7:51 - Feliz, Coste, and Kendrick go down in order, but that may not be such a bad thing considering it means Rollins will lead off the next inning. If the Phillies scored three runs off Santana on the first time around, who knows what they can do the second time.

TOP 3rd
7:55 - Reyes is now 2-2 on the night as he singles on a grounder right past Chase Utley.
8:00 - Reyes and Castillo attempt the hit and run again. This time, Victorino catches the ball and is able to throw Reyes out at first for the double play. It's always a sigh of relief when you can get Jose Reyes off the basepaths.
8:03 - And David Wright ends the inning by popping out to Howard. Kendrick is up to 59 pitches, so he could conceivably get through five. Good thing they called up prospect Drew Carpenter to help in the bullpen.

8:10 - Santana finally has an easy inning, getting Rollins, Utley, and Burrell out. None of them struck out, however.

TOP 4th
8:13 - Carlos Part I (Delgado) lines out to Howard, but Carlos Part II (Beltran) gets a single.
8:16 - Kendrick gives up his first walk of the night to Ryan Church.
8:18 - Daniel Murphy hits the ball right to Victorino. The rookie's struggles continue.
8:21 - Schneider grounds out to Howard and the inning is over. Kendrick manages to continue holding off the Mets, but he ends the inning having thrown 79 pitches. They'll probably only get one more inning out of him, but at least that's more than Jamie Moyer gave them last night.

8:26 - Santana walks Howard, but Victorino hits into a double play on the second pitch. It was extremely close at first base, as it usually is with Victorino. Perhaps Werth can avenge his teammates. Howard's walks are way down this year. He had over 100 the last two years, but has only 66 so far this year.
8:29 - Werth flies out to Murphy to end the inning. That's the second straight 1-2-3 inning for Santana and the ninth straight Phillie he's retired. Only one of those outs, however was a strikeout: pitcher Kyle Kendrick.

TOP 5th
8:33 - Kendrick quickly retires Santana and Reyes. Hopefully Castillo goes down quickly and the Phillies can squeeze another inning out of Kendrick.
8:34 - Castillo singles to right, but Wright pops out to Utley. Kendrick manages to get a quick inning, but Charlie Manuel may take him out anyway since he is due up next inning. He's already up to 91 pitches. With a depleted staff, they may try to keep him in.

8:38 - Feliz leads off the inning with a single. If Coste can get on as well, Manuel may leave Kendrick in to bunt Feliz and possibly Coste to the next base. Kendrick is in the on deck circle.
8:40 - Coste flies out to left, but Kendrick is still in to bat and to bunt. But he decides to swing at the first pitch anyway and fouls it it. Kendrick seems to be alternating between swinging and bunting. Finally, he strikes out on a bunt attempt. Not exactly sure what was going through Kendrick's mind through that at-bat.
8:44 - Santana walks Rollins. That might be a good thing for Santana since it gives him the lefty-lefty matchup against Utley.
8:47 - Castillo apparently has a little good fielding left in him as he snags a hard hit ball by Utley and throws him out at first to end the inning.

TOP 6th
8:51 - Carlos Delgado crushes a pitch to right field and cuts the Phillies' lead in half. 3-2 Phillies. Meanwhile, Scott Eyre is warming up in the bullpen in case Kendrick can't get through the inning.
8:54 - Carlos Part II hits a squibber toward third base and Kendrick dives in front of it to block it, but can't get Beltran out at first. This prompts Charlie Manuel to take Kendrick out in favor of Scott Eyre, who pitched 1 2/3 innings last night. Makes a lot of sense considering the next three batters are all left-handed.
8:59 - Eyre ends the inning in five pitches by striking out Church and getting Murphy to ground into a double play.

9:03 - Burrell gets his first hit of the series (granted, it's two games, but Burrell had a ton of chances last night) as he hits a double over the head of Murphy. Howard follows with his second walk of the night.
9:17 - Brian Stokes is starting to warm up for the Mets as Victorino strikes out, Jayson Werth pops out, and Feliz strikes out to end the inning, stranding Burrell and Howard. Most likely, Santana's night is over, finishing with three runs in six innings and seven strikeouts.

TOP 7th
9:24 - Eyre logs a second inning by striking out Brian Schneider and pinch hitter Nick Evans. Then, Howard just barely had enough room at the foul wall to catch a Jose Reyes pop-up.

9:29 - Brian Stokes is in to pitch. Coste gets his first hit of the night and Eyre's night is over as Greg Dobbs comes in to pinch hit and Rudy Seanez starts to warm up in the bullpen. But... Dobbs hits into a double play. Rollins keeps the inning alive with his second walk of the night.
9:35 - As soon as Rollins got on base, it seemed evident that he would try for the steal. He does, and gets it. Apparently he's trying to catch up with rival Jose Reyes. With a 3-0 count to Utley, the Mets give him the last ball to put him on first and get Burrell at the plate.
9:38 - The Mets' plan works as Burrell grounds out to third to end the inning.

TOP 8th
9:44 - Rudy Seanez gets Castillo to ground out and strikes David Wright out on a great pitch. Now it's Carlos time. Lights Out Lidge is warming up in the bullpen.
9:46 - Carlos Part I hits a solo home run to tie the game. Could there be another extra inning game. In all fairness to Seanez, Delgado has been red hot lately. He's apparently determined to win this game single-handedly. On to Carlos Part II.
9:48 - Carlos Part II gets another squibber which Feliz can't quite barehand to first. Manuel decides to end Seanez' night and brings in Brad Lidge. Strange that he didn't bring him in when Delgado came to bat, but Seanez started off the inning so well, Manuel must have figured he'd get one of the two Carloses out and save Lidge. No pun intended.
9:52 - Coste doesn't even attempt a throw as Beltran steals second base. With first base open, they decide to walk Ryan Church and pitch to Daniel Murphy. Church has gotten on base twice tonight while Murphy hasn't had a hit in his last 16 at-bats.
9:54 - But, Murphy comes through in the clutch and rips a pitch down the right field line to score Beltran and give the Mets a 4-3 lead. The Phillies better be ready to hit next inning.
9:56 - Schneider hits a ball right behind Feliz as the Mets get two more runs to lead 6-3. Utley stops the bleeding by diving on a Damion Easley hit up the middle and tossing it to Rollins to get the out at second. Either way, Charlie Manuel looks pretty foolish right now for taking a chance in letting Seanez pitch to Delgado. The Phillies will have two more chances to redeem themselves.

10:00 - Pedro Feliciano is in to pitch and Endy Chavez comes in to play left field. Meanwhile, Drew Carpenter is warming up in the Phillies bullpen. Carpenter was brought up today, most likely in reaction to using every pitcher last night, and Andy Tracy was designated for assignment to make room for him.
10:02 - Chavez sprints in to get a high Ryan Howard pop up. David Wright follows that up by making a long throw to get Victorino out at first. The Phillies now bring in Joe Smith to pitch to Jayson Werth.
10:07 - Werth hits the first pitch directly to Reyes, who throws him out to end the inning. Jerry Manuel is being extra careful to make sure he gets this win. Maybe this is why Werth doesn't usually swing at the first pitch.

TOP 9th
10:10 - Drew Carpenter is brought in for his major league debut. He is greeted by giving up a single to Jose Reyes. Castillo bunts him over to second.
10:16 - Reyes moves over to third on a wild third strike to Wright. Coste does, however get Wright out at first. They don't even want to think about pitching to Delgado and intentionally walk him to face Beltran.
10:19 - Beltran flies out to end the inning. Carpenter has a shaky debut, but no damage is done. Last chance for the offense coming up.

10:21 - Luis Ayala, the Mets closer in Billy Wagner's absence, comes in to the save situation. He'll face Feliz, Coste, and Taguchi. Wouldn't be surprised if Bruntlett comes up for Taguchi. It takes only one pitch for him to get the first out as Feliz grounds out to short. Coste does likewise.
10:26 - And So Taguchi does exactly the same thing as he grounds out to short to end the game.

Coming into this two game series, it seemed unlikely that the Phillies would take both of the games with Santana pitching tonight. They were extremely lucky to get the win last night, which takes a little pain out of the loss tonight, but they had no excuse losing in the way they did. If Santana had a stellar game, that would have been one thing; he's Johan Santana, the Mets signed him to win big games like this. But the Phillies were able to get to Santana just enough and Kyle Kendrick, who had been struggling of late, kept the Mets offense in check and gave a solid outing. Scott Eyre even came in and pitched two innings. Well, really one inning as that first inning he pitched was one he took over from Kendrick and needed only five pitches to get out of. With a one run lead, Charlie Manuel should have been playing this game just as closely as Jerry Manuel did even after he had a three run lead. Rudy Seanez looked good against Castillo and Wright, but he's never had success against Delgado, and Delgado has been red hot lately. Brad Lidge could have handled a four out save and Charlie Manuel should not have taken that chance given the situation. Winning this game would have been huge for the Phillies, especially since it was against Johan Santana. Luckily, splitting the two game series puts the two teams right back where they started: neck and neck with each other. If the Phillies win tomorrow while the Mets have a day off, they would be tied for the division lead. The problem is that the Phillies are heading out to Chicago to face the best team in the National League if not all of baseball in the Cubs, while the Mets have to deal with the pesky Marlins. The momentum from winning this game could have helped the Phillies tremendously in the coming series. This was an extremely unfortunate loss for the Phillies which could have been prevented fairly easily.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Phils Rally, Beat Mets in 13 (Live)

The Phillies take on the Mets tonight in just a few minutes, fighting for control of the NL East. The Mets have had the upper hand thus far but the Phillies come into the series hot, having swept the Dodgers in four games. Jamie Moyer (11-7, 3.54) takes on Pedro Martinez (4-3, 4.97) in a battle of aging pitchers. The difference? Moyer has aged like fine wine while Martinez has aged like cheap beer. Of course when the Phillies play the Mets, all bets are off. We'll see what's in store.

7:10: Not a good start for Moyer, as Reyes hits a long fly ball over Victorino's head for a lead-off triple. Damion Easley follows with a single, giving the Mets a 1-0 lead.
7:20: Moyer goes inside and Delgado is awarded first on a phantom HBP. That loads the bases for Fernando Tatis. Tatis hits a liner to shallow center that Victorino can't quite reach and another run scores. 2-0 Mets.
7:22: The inning is finally over as Ryan Church and Ramon Castro go down easily. Not an impressive start, but the Phillies ought to be able to scratch a few runs together against Pedro.
7:26: Rollins starts the Phillies offense off with a double down the right field line. He's now reached base in six consecutive plate appearances.
7:30: Pedro's curveball runs in and hits Utley on the foot. Yes, it actually made physical contact, unlike the Delgado pitch which may have grazed his ego.
7:34: After Burrell flies out to right, Howard strikes out swinging on three pitches. However, it's not a total loss as Rollins and Utley execute a double steal. Victorino comes up with the tying run in scoring position.
7:37: But Victorino whiffs on a 3-2 pitch. It could be a long night.
7:41: Easley gives the Mets a bigger cushion with a solo home run. Three runs against Pedro isn't too much to ask, but the Phillies can't let them pile on.
7:53: The Phillies go down in order. Werth and Feliz each work a full count, making Martinez work, at least, then Ruiz chops a grounder to second on the first pitch he sees.
7:58: Moyer is in trouble again as Beltran and Delgado single. Fortunately the Phillies are past the good part of the Mets' order.
8:02: Tatis breaks his bat and chops a ball down the third base line that hits Beltran, who had stolen third a few pitches earlier. It hits Beltran in fair territory and he by all rights should be out, but the Mets catch a huge break.
8:06: Tatis hits a three-run homer to left which is all well and good, but his at-bat should have ended on the grounder that hit Beltran. Mets 3, Umpires 3, Phillies 0.
8:15: Well you gotta start somewhere. Rollins hits a one-out single in the bottom of the third, and has now reached base seven straight times. He takes second on the first pitch to Utley.
8:21: Burrell is down on strikes looking, as no one but Rollins can seem to hit Pedro today.
8:25: Clay Condrey into the game now, as Moyer lasted only three innings. Easley greets him with his first triple of the season.
8:42: The Phillies are making Pedro work a bit at least. Feliz finally gets the Phillies on the board with a sacrifice fly. Phillies trail 7-1. It's a start...sort of.
8:57: Clay Condrey in for a rare at-bat, his third of the year...and he gets a hit! Condrey breaks his bat and grounds it past a diving Wright and gets a double. It's his third career hit and his first career extra base hit.
8:59: Rollins extends the streak to eight plate appearances with a home run to right. Did Condrey just start a rally?? Well, the Phillies still trail 7-3, so let's not get too excited.
Utley follows the Rollins homer with a walk, as the Phillies try to cut into the lead even further. Incidentally, Condrey's hit was also his first as a Phillie. His last hit came on April 19th, 2003, when he singled off Nelson Cruz as a member of the Padres.
9:06: Burrell is down looking and Pedro gets the first out of the bottom of the fifth inning. Continuing with the Condrey-hit trivia, guess who hit before Condrey on the day he got his first hit (April 4th, 2003)? Shane Victorino, as a rookie.
9:08: And Howard takes Pedro deep, crushing it over the left field wall. 7-5! All of the sudden we've got a ballgame!
9:12: Victorino strikes out swinging, but Werth singles, extending the inning even further. Pedro is over 100 pitches now and Jerry Manuel comes out, thinking about pulling Pedro, but Pedro's having none of it, especially when he's one out from qualifying for the win. So Pedro will face Pedro (Feliz). We'll see if this comes back to haunt the Mets.
9:14: The other Pedro goes down swinging and the Mets finally get out of the inning, leaving time for one more bit of Condrey-related trivia. Condrey's past and current teammate, Victorino, got his first career hit on April 20th, the day after Condrey's second career hit. But Condrey has one up on Victorino. It took Shane 14 games to get that elusive first hit of his career, whereas Condrey did it in his 11th career game. Seriously though, it's a two-run game now. We can get back to business.
9:19: Reyes singles and here comes the suddenly torrid Damion Easley, who is now a double short of the cycle.
9:20: Easley drops down a bunt. Feliz barehands it and fires to first, but he got to it too late and Easley is on with a bunt single. After igniting a rally at the plate, Condrey is threatening to let the Mets put it out of reach again. To be fair, both runners reached on infield singles.
9:26: Condrey gets Wright to fly out to right after a lengthy at-bat and that will be his last out of the game, as Charlie Manuel turns to Scott Eyre to face the switch-hitting Beltran and left-handed Delgado. Condrey went 2 1/3 innings and threw 46 pitches. That ties for his highest pitch count of the season, the other one coming on June 27th, against the Rangers.
9:29: Greg Dobbs is in at third now, as the Phillies implement the double switch. Reyes steals third without a throw. Ruiz turned and prepared to fire to the base, but apparently forgot the ball, as he lost the handle on it. Eyre then hits Beltran on the foot with a pitch and the bases are now loaded for Delgado. But that's why we traded for Eyre...right??
9:32: Delgado grounds the 0-2 pitch into a 6-4-3 double play. Guess that answers that question. The Phillies escape the inning and still trail by just two runs.
9:37: Brian Stokes into the game now for the Mets, pitching in his sixth game of the season. He gets Ruiz and Dobbs with relative ease, but now faces Rollins with two outs.
9:38: He can't be stopped! Rollins lashes a single up the middle. He now has four hits and is a triple short of the cycle. Utley steps in representing the tying run.
9:40: Utley lines one to center. Beltran reaches for it, making a half-hearted effort to make a tough catch, but instead it skips in front of him. Utley has a single and Rollins heads to third. That brings up Burrell, who has been a rally-killer of late, but has been a Met-killer in the past. Which will it be, Pat?
9:43: Rally-killer. Burrell goes down swinging for his third strikeout of the day. Still, the Phillies have shown serious signs of life and the struggles of the Mets bullpen are well-documented.
9:52: Eyre stays in for the top of the seventh and puts the Mets down in order, striking out Brian Schneider to end the inning. Schneider had entered the game for Castro, who came up a little gimpy earlier after running out a ground ball. Eyre gave the Phillies 1 2/3 innings, which is his longest outing of the year and the first time he recorded five outs since September of last year.
9:59: Someone should remind the Phillies that they're facing Brian Stokes. Apparently that didn't register with Howard, Victorino, or Werth, all of whom get out, as the Phillies go down in order.
10:01: Eyre comes out for another inning, but wait, he'll take a seat as soon as the Mets announce right-handed Nick Evans to pinch hit. Great move if the Mets counter by bringing in a lefty bat, essentially wasting a pinch hitter, but if not, the Phillies have just brought in Chad Durbin, their best long reliever, with the pitcher's spot due up first in the next inning. They'd better hope this game doesn't go into extra innings.
10:05: The Mets do waste Evans, pulling him for the left-handed Daniel Murphy, who grounds out to Rollins for the first out. If I'm Jerry Manuel there, why not pinch hit with Murphy to start? You've got Scott Eyre, a 36 year-old who hasn't pitched two innings all year, on the mound. Do the Phillies really want him out there for another batter? Why not just call their bluff? If you have to go lefty-lefty for one at-bat, then so be it. Not that I'm complaining.
10:12: Reyes walks and Durbin faces Easley, who's putting on a Rollins-esque performance. However, there isn't much pitching going on, as Durbin seems determined to pick off Reyes. All that effort goes to waste, however, as Reyes steals second on the 1-0 pitch.
10:13: Easley draws a walk, bringing up Wright with runners on first and second and one out. Durbin needs to find his control in a hurry. This inning is his and his alone and he's running out of open bases.
10:15: Durbin gets help from an unlikely source, as Wright grounds to the left side of the infield where Dobbs (yes, Greg Dobbs) is there to scoop it up and fire to second, starting the inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.
10:20: Andy Tracy steps in to pinch hit. He delivered (sort of) in his first Phillies appearance the other night, walking to set up Feliz's game-tying single. However, he's all out of (sort of) clutch, as he flies out. Ruiz then steps in and singles. With Dobbs coming up, the Mets go to Pedro Feliciano.
10:23: Coste comes in to pinch hit for Dobbs, which is all well and good, but it uses the Phillies' backup catcher and leaves them with the question of who will play third next inning. Could it be Tracy, who has played 46 games at third in his career? They can worry about that later, as Coste singles through the left side.
10:25: Rollins does it AGAIN! He gets his fifth hit of the game, slapping a single to right that scores Ruiz and moves Coste to third. That brings up Utley with the tying run 90 feet away.
10:29: Well, no clutch hit for Utley today. He goes down swinging in what could well be the decisive at-bat of the game. Burrell comes up and the Mets turn to Joe Smith. Pat the Bat is certainly due.
10:33: Rollins takes off on the first pitch to Burrell. That would have been nicer with one out, but better late than never. Burrell just needs a single to give the Phillies the lead.
10:35: Burrell hits one a mile, but a mile high. Too high. Tatis catches it and the best chance the Phillies had, ending the inning. It's far from over, but that they really needed to tie it in this inning.
10:41: With Dobbs out of the game, Charlie Manuel turns to Carlos Ruiz to play third. Ruiz has never played third in the Major Leagues, nor has he done so in the minors. He played first for two games in Triple-A and outfield for two games in Double-A. So far he hasn't been tested, as Brad Lidge got Beltran to ground to short and then struck out Delgado. I almost want Tatis to bunt to Ruiz here, just out of morbid curiosity.
10:42: Ruiz survives his innings at third without consequence when Lidge strikes out Tatis to retire the side. In comes Billy Wag-- I mean Luis Ayala to attempt to close out the Phillies. Here's a question, if Wagner's entrance music is Enter Sandman, then what does Ayala come in to? Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go? In fairness to Ayala, he hasn't given up a run in his stint with the Mets. All four innings of it.
10:47: Howard hits one to deep, deep center, but it doesn't carry quite enough and Beltran camps under it for the first out.
10:49: The Mets are one out away after Victorino's ground-out to short. Werth steps to the plate, looking to be the hero.
10:50: And Werth hits the first pitch from Ayala up the middle for a single. That will bring up the last Phillies pinch hitter, Eric Bruntlett.
10:52: Unbelievable! Bruntlett hits a double in the right center field gap. Werth makes an ill-advised turn around third but is bailed out as Schneider can't handle the relay. Tie game! Now third baseman Ruiz has a chance to win it.
10:54: Ruiz grounds it up the middle. Reyes dives, gets up, fires and just gets Ruiz, saving the game in the process. Bummer that they couldn't win it there, but the Phillies are headed to extra innings after trailing 7-0. Wow.
10:58: Ryan Madson comes in to pitch the tenth and he gets a first, painful out. Ryan Church hits a hard grounder that bounces off Madson, who then recovers and gets the easy out at first.
11:02: After a brief check-up on Madson, he faces Schneider, who lines the 3-1 pitch into left center.
11:05: Madson starts his match-up with Argenis Reyes by throwing two straight balls. Rich Dubee is less than pleased and comes out to have a word with him. Whatever he said, it worked. Madson throws two strikes, then gets the other Reyes to hit into a 6-3 double play.
11:07: Aaron Heilman in to pitch the bottom of the tenth, which sounds pretty good if you're a Phillies fan. We'll see if Chris Coste agrees with the assessment. Rollins awaits on deck and with the way he's hit, it may not matter what Coste does.
11:09: Coste seems to think it matters. He strokes a double down the left field line that lands just fair. Here comes Rollins with the winning run in scoring position. Let's hear those chants! MVP! MVP!
11:11: Rollins is human after all. He hits a fly ball to the gap, but it hangs a little too long and Tatis gets to it. Coste was halfway to third, so he had no chance to tag up. Now, with Burrell on deck, the Mets intentionally walk Utley. Will this get Burrell riled up enough to deliver the big hit?
11:14: Apparently Burrell thinks he's in a museum. Look but don't touch. He's called out on strikes for the fourth time tonight.
11:15: Howard smashes it down the first base line, but Delgado, playing deep, snares it and runs to the bag, ending the inning.
11:17: Madson comes out for his second inning of work and gets off to a good start, retiring Reyes on one pitch on a grounder to short.
11:23: After an Easley grounder to Rollins (the first time he got out all night), Wright hits it down the first base line and it caroms off the wall in foul territory. Wright makes the suspect decision to go for two and Werth (who got bailed out of a similarly-bad decision earlier tonight) barehands it and fires to second to nail Wright and end the inning. Werth had him by a mile. Ironic that he's the one who makes someone pay for making a poor baserunning decision.
11:27: Now, with the pitcher due to bat fourth, J.C. Romero, who was said to be unavailable tonight, is warming up in the Phillies bullpen. Maybe the Phillies can just win it now so we don't have to find out just how 'unavailable' Romero is. Victorino leads off with a pop out.
11:29: Werth works a five-pitch walk and Bruntlett comes up again, hoping for a replay of the ninth inning. Cole Hamels (yes, you read that right) awaits on deck.
11:34: Bruntlett seems to have taken over where Rollins left off, delivering another hit. He lines a single to left, advancing Werth to second. Now here comes Hamels...not looking to bunt.
11:37: Hamels puts up a good fight, but he is called out on strikes. Bunting might have been the way to go, but Werth ought to score from second anyway. Now it's up to Coste, who is 2 for 2 tonight.
11:39: Coste grounds it to Wright, who goes to his right to grab it, but loses his balance and can't get up to throw to first. He holds onto the ball and keeps it a tie game, to his credit. But now Rollins heads to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. Can we just call this a playoff game?
11:41: Rollins can't come through this time, popping to Wright in foul territory. Maybe he's trying to extend the game so he can get that triple for the cycle.
11:44: Romero comes in to pitch the top of the twelfth, despite the fact that he was supposed to be unavailable. Let's hope that was just a precautionary measure.
11:46: So far Romero looks just fine. He gets Beltran swinging for the first out of the inning. Now he'll face Delgado.
11:50: Delgado hits a routine grounder to Utley for the second out and Dubee comes to the mound, perhaps to explain to Romero what a right-handed batter is, as Tatis steps in.
11:52: Or maybe Dubee told Romero to pitch around Tatis, who has a home run already today. Tatis walks on five pitches, bringing up the left-handed Church.
11:55: Church rips a grounder to first, but Howard snares it and tags first to end the inning. I think he's just showing off for Delgado, who snagged one of Howard's near-hits.
11:59: Heilman is in for his third inning of work. He'll start the inning against Utley. Meanwhile Rudy Seanez warms up for the Phillies. He's their last reliever. Kyle Kendrick might have to get ready soon.
12:02: Utley works a 3-0 count, then swings at the next three pitches. He can't get a piece of the last one and goes down on strikes. Now Burrell steps in after a forgettable (to be kind) night. He promptly pops out.
12:03: The Mets have a discussion on the mound, probably about whether or not to walk Howard intentionally. They opt not to, though it's hard to see why. Howard has a home run today and Victorino, on deck, is 0 for 6.
12:05: The decision pays off as Howard goes down looking on a 3-2 slider. It really feels like the Phillies are running out of chances...and players. Seanez to pitch the next inning.
12:09: Seanez retires Schneider to start the inning while Kendrick gets loose in the bullpen. The pitcher is due to bat fourth, so we'll almost certainly see another pitcher hit. But who will it be? Seanez? Kendrick? Maybe even Myers. The possibilities are...actually fairly limited. The Phillies are almost out of players.
12:12: Endy Chavez, pinch hitting for Heilman, chops a grounder that appeared to skip off first base. It falls into Howard's glove and he outruns Chavez to first.
12:14: Seanez gets Reyes to hit a lazy fly ball to Burrell, giving him a 1-2-3 inning. Not too shabby. Do they try for one more inning out of the veteran, or do they bring in Kendrick? I'd rather not find out. Can we just win this one already?
12:18: Victorino and I are thinking on the same wavelength. He laces a triple down the right field line and the Phillies are 90 feet away from victory with no outs. Scott Schoeneweis intentionally walks Werth AND Bruntlett to get to the pitcher's spot. Myers prepares to pinch hit. What a game.
12:21: So it's Myers with the bases loaded and no outs. Myers appears to have no interest in swinging, looking to avoid a double play. Not a bad strategy. Especially if Schoeneweis can't throw strikes. Also, in case you were wondering Werth and Bruntlett had a combined seven intentional walks coming into this game.
12:23: Myers works a full count by virtue of not swinging, but Schoeneweis finds the strike zone and gets Myers looking.
12:24: Coste rips one to deep center and Beltran won't even chase it! It's over, the Phillies win 8-7! Coste goes 4 for 4 despite not entering the game until the eighth inning.

What an incredible win for the Phillies. They've all got to be besides themselves. Well except for Joe Blanton who's probably pouting. "I didn't get to do ANYTHING!" At least Kendrick got to warm up.

You just aren't supposed to win games like that. It should have been over from the start, when the Phillies trailed 7-0, but the Mets bullpen proved worse than advertised (amazingly). Winning in thirteen innings when your starter only gives you three. Ridiculous.

And let's not forget tonight's hero...Clay Condrey! You might not remember, but Condrey started the Phillies' fifth inning rally with a double, setting up Rollins' two-run shot.

That's all the excitement I can take for tonight. We've still got another game tomorrow. Whatever happens then, it will feel awfully good to go to bed tonight with the Phillies in first place.