Thursday, April 3, 2008

Phils Walk to First Win

The Phillies notched their first win of the season, defeating the Nationals 8-7 in 10 innings. It wasn't easy, well at least not until the very end. The Nationals loaded the bases in the 10th inning, intentionally walking both Chase Utley and Ryan Howard with Jimmy Rollins on third base with 1 out. That brought up Jayson Werth with the game on the line. Fortunately for Werth, Jesus Colome threw four straight balls, giving the Phillies their first win of the season on a walk-off walk.

It was a bizarre game to say the least. It looked to be an easy Nationals win at the start, as Jamie Moyer and some sloppy fielding let up five runs in the first inning. Moyer would give up 6 runs, 3 earned, in 3 2/3 innings. It was surprising to see Moyer struggle so much as he had fared well against Washington last sesaon, but the fielding was a big part of the problem. The Phillies committed four errors in the first four innings. If the fielding doesn't improve (but it should) it's going to be a long season for Moyer, who relies on inducing hitters into ground-outs.

By the sixth inning, the Phillies were down 6-1 (the lone run coming off a solo shot from Chris Coste on the first pitch he saw in 2008) and it was looking like they would start the season getting swept by an inferior Nationals team. But in the bottom of the sixth, the offense came alive. With one out, Chase Utley singled to right field, starting a trend. Six consecutive singles would follow, the last of which came courtesy of pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs who drove in two runs to tie the game at 6-6. Jimmy Rollins would break the streak (though really Nats reliever Ray King broke it for him) as he was hit by a pitch. Then Shane Victorino singled for his first hit of the season, driving in Coste and giving the Phillies their first lead of the game.

Leading 7-6 after six innings, it was up to the Phillies bullpen. Ryan Madson pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning, and the Phillies looked to tack on some insurance runs in the bottom of the inning. A Howard single and a Pat Burrell double put runners on second and third with no outs. Then Manuel made an unwise (but classic Charlie Manuel) decision and brought in Adam Eaton to pinch run for the slow-footed Burrell. Jayson Werth would later take over in left feld. Removing Burrell had no real impact in the 7th, as the Phillies recorded three straight outs and stranded Howard and Eaton, but it would come back to haunt the Phillies later.

Madson came back to pitch the top of the 8th and ran into a little trouble, putting two on with one out. Manuel turned to J.C. Romero to get out of the jam, but Christian Guzman's hit bounced off Rollins glove and tied the game at 7-7. In the bottom of the inning, the Phillies looked to retaliate and reclaim the lead. Eric Bruntlett led off with a pinch hit single and then advanced to second base off a Rollins ground-out. After Victorino recorded the second out, Nats manager Manny Acta made the unorthodox decision to intentionally walk both Utley and Howard to get to, guess who, Jayson Werth. Werth hit into a bases loaded inning-ending fielder's choice.*

In the 9th, Tom Gordon did everything but give up the lead, loading the bases with a hit and two walks, but finally inducing a Willie Harris ground-out to keep it a tie game. Jenkins doubled for the Phillies to lead off the bottom of the ninth, but after a Pedro Feliz pop-out and a Coste walk, pinch hitter Carlos Ruiz grounded into an inning-ending double play.*

After Clay Condrey pitched a 1-2-3 top of the 10th, Jimmy Rollins led off the bottom of the inning with an infield single that bounced off of Ronnie Belliard's glove. Next up was Victorino, who laid down a sacrifice bunt in front of home plate. Randy Flores scooped it up and fired to first, just in time to nail Victorino, but by then Rollins had rounded second and was in a race with Christian Guzman to third base, as Ryan Zimmerman had charged the bunt. Nick Johnson turned and fired to third, but not in time as Rollins took two bases off one well-placed bunt. That led Acta to call for the double intentional walks once again, this time with only one out. To the plate came Werth with the game on the line (again).* This time Werth had it easy. Colome threw four balls and the Phillies had a semi-dramatic walk-off walk.

A win's a win, but once again Charlie Manuel's strategy has to be brought into question. The * indicates a situation where the decision to remove Burrell proved costly. Had Burrell been in the lineup, it is unlikely that the Nationals intentionally walk both Utley and Howard in either the 7th or the 10th, and if they do, they bring up Burrell, who is considerably better at the plate than Werth. In addition, keeping Burrell in the game would have saved Werth for later and he could have come in to pinch hit in the 9th in place of Ruiz. This would have given the Phillies a better pinch hitter at that time, while saving their only backup catcher.

Despite their difficulties, what the Phillies proved today is that no lead is safe, especially with the lineup they trotted out this afternoon. The 6-7-8 of Jenkins, Feliz, and Coste is phenomenal and should continue to give opposing pitchers nightmares. The bullpen also showed some positive signs. Durbin, Romero, and Condrey kept their ERAs perfect, though Romero was credited with a blown save, and Rudy Seanez made his debut and pitched a perfect sixth inning. Madson gave up another run and Gordon barely escaped the 9th, but when Brad Lidge gets back, the bullpen could be a real strength, based on what we've seen so far out of Romero, Durbin, and Seanez.

For now, we'll see if the Phillies' extra-inning win can give them some momentum as they head to Cincinnati for a four game series. And, if there's time, Charlie Manuel might want to send Jesus Colome a gift basket before they leave.

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