Sunday, May 25, 2008

Phillies Lift Off Against Astros Bullpen

Coming off two straight losses, the Phillies were in dire need of a strong pitching performance from ace Cole Hamels. They didn't get it, but they got something even better: an offensive explosion in the late innings. Huge innings off the Houston bullpen allowed the Phillies to not only come back, but blow out the Astros in a 15-6 win.

Hamels, the only Phillies starter who could be deemed "reliable," snapped his streak of nineteen consecutive scoreless innings in the first, when Carlos Lee hit a three-run home run. (So much for a run at Orel Hershiser) However, the Phillies bounced back in the second off Houston starter Chris Sampson, as the suddenly-hot Geoff Jenkins hit a two-run shot to bring the Phillies within one run.

Hamels helped his own cause in the top of the third, starting off the inning with a single and eventually scoring on a Chase Utley sacrifice fly. While that tied the game, it was the only run the Phillies would score that inning, despite putting runners on second and third with no outs and eventually loading the bases with two outs. But then it was Hamels on the mound, so even four runs should be enough, right?

Wrong. Hamels gave up two more runs in the bottom of the third, then another in the fourth, though he did help himself again by driving in Carlos Ruiz on a single in the top of the fourth. That said, the score was 6-4 in the Astros favor and Hamels had been more effective at the plate than on the rubber. He would leave the game after four innings, his shortest outing of the season.

Not exactly lights-out himself, Sampson departed after the fifth, and that's when the fun began. Fernando Nieve replaced Sampson and Pat Burrell welcomed him with his thirteenth home run of the season. Jenkins and Pedro Feliz followed with a single and double, respectively, and then Ruiz scored Jenkins with a single. After giving up four straight hits, and the lead, without recording an out, Nieve was pulled in favor of Wesley Wright. Wright wasn't much better, walking the first batter he faced, pinch-hitter Eric Bruntlett. Next up was Jimmy Rollins, who hit an RBI ground-out to second to give the Phillies a 7-6 lead. Then Shane Victorino doubled to left, bringing two more runs home. Wright managed to get Utley and Ryan Howard out, but left the inning trailing 9-6. It was a five-run inning, four of which were charge to Nieve, who allowed a grand total of five runs on one out in this series.

With the lead now in the hands of the Phillies bullpen, the game was all-but-over for Houston. J.C. Romero proved this point by pitching a scoreless sixth inning. Of course, after suffering close losses the last two days, the Phillies weren't playing around in this one. Dave Borkowski entered in the seventh, hoping to at least keep it close. The Phillies had other ideas as Burrell doubled, Jenkins singled, and Feliz singled in pinch-runner So "long Pat" Taguchi. After Ruiz bunted out, pinch-hitter extraordinaire Greg Dobbs hit a triple, plating two more runs. Victorino drove in Dobbs with a single and Utley followed up with a two-run homer. Howard struck out to end the inning, but the score was now 15-6 (and Borkowski's ERA had jumped more than two runs).

That would be all the scoring, as Ryan Madson and the Garbageman, Clay Condrey, combined for the last three innings, while Oscar Villarreal became the only Astros pitcher not to give up a run in the game. It was a very impressive game for the Phillies offense, as pinch-hitter T.J. Bohn was the only Phillies who failed to reach base. Hamels had his worst outing of the year, but it seemed like an off-night and not much else. These nights will happen to even the best pitchers and, while frustrating, they are easily forgettable when the offense steps up like it did tonight.

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