Friday, April 18, 2008

If You Didn't Before, Johann it to the Mets Now

There was no ambiguity about what baseball fans expected from this game, which ended in a 6-4 loss for Philadelphia. The Phillies-Mets rivalry has been brewing for quite some time, as it was officially christened (if necessary) by the end of last season. Now, in the first game of a series at Philadelphia, the Philles' homegrown ace Cole Hamels was pitted against the Mets' hired gun Johann Santana. The season's biggest crowd came to Citizen's Bank Park to see a pitchers' duel. Largely, they got one.

Hamels pitched extremely capably for most of the game, allowing a run in the first and another in the third (David Wright was having a good day). It would be enough for most teams on most days, but the Phillies' offense -- still lacking the force of Jimmy Rollins -- was resoundingly shut down by Santana, who showed the poise and precision that makes him almost impossible to hit on his best days.

When Chase Utley put the Phillies on the board by homering against Santana in the seventh it was a ray of hope. Perhaps the New York pitcher was tiring. The one-run game was anybody's. Unfortunately, alas, it was the Phillies who were first to give in the tight game. When Hamels allowed two singles in the eighth, Charlie Manual called for an intentional walk (to get to Carlos Delgado) and brought in the overworked J. C. Romero. The three runs scored for the Mets and were charged to Hamels.

Greg Dobbs' pinch-hit three run home run after Santana left the game was exciting and dramatic, but not quite enough. Tonight's loss was one for which no blame can be squarely cast. The offense was lethargic, but there is only so much one can expect against a pitcher of Santana's caliber. Hamels' performance was much finer than will be reflected in his earned run totals. Even the Phillies-fan's favorite hobby of second-guessing Charlie Manual's pitching decisions amounts only to 20-20 hindsight in a situation such as today's, which could just as easily have turned out well as badly.

The Phillies' 6-4 loss today might be a dispiriting one, as it is always the closest games that it is hardest to let get away, but the Phillies' business now is looking forward to evening the series behind Jamie Moyer tomorrow afternoon.

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