Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Griffey and Snelling Sit As Phillies Edge Reds

A packed crowd filled Citizen's Bank Park, hoping to see history in the form of a home run. Both Ken Griffey Jr. and Chase Utley stood to make history. Griffey, of course, is still in pursuit of his 600th home run and Utley could have broken a franchise record by hitting a home run in what would have been six consecutive games. Neither player homered (Griffey didn't even start), but the fans got a great game nonetheless, as the Phillies squeaked by the Reds 3-2.

With Adam Eaton and a 2-7 Aaron Harang on the mound, a pitcher's duel seemed unlikely, but that's just what the fans got. Edwin Encarnacion opened up the scoring in the third inning with a solo home run to left, but the Phillies responded in the bottom of the third, as Utley slapped a broken bat single to center that brought in Jimmy Rollins, tying the score at 1-1.

The game remained tied until the sixth inning, when things went badly for the Reds in more ways than one. Cincinnati ended the top of the sixth with center fielder Ryan Freel suffering a strained right hamstring while running out a grounder. He would hobble off the field under his own power, but was replaced by Paul Janish, who played short as Jerry Hairston Jr. shifted to center. (Griffey could have entered here, but the Reds chose to keep him out of the game for the time being.) Things only got worse from there for the Reds. Utley doubled to lead off the bottom of the sixth. Then, after Ryan Howard struck out, Pat Burrell homered to give the Phillies a 3-1 lead.

Eaton stayed in to pitch the seventh inning and started off by allowing Jay Bruce his first hit of the game, an infield single to third. It was beginning to look like another late-inning meltdown for Eaton, with the tying run at the plate and the 4-5-6 of the lineup coming up. However, Brandon Phillips grounded into a double play. Then, with the left-handed Adam Dunn stepping into the batter's box, Charlie Manuel called in J.C. Romero. Considering Eaton's success on the day and relatively low pitch count (87 pitches), it seemed an odd move, but it may have been designed to get Romero some work as much as to get Dunn out. Romero walked Dunn, but struck out Joey Votto to end the inning.

The Phillies looked to build on their lead in the bottom of the seventh. Pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs led off with a single, his Major League-leading 14th pinch hit of the season, and Rollins moved him to third with a double. That ended Harang's night, as the Reds made a surprising move, bringing in Danny Herrera for his Major League debut. Herrera made a bid for more opportunities as the diminutive lefty (only 5-7, 145 lbs.) came up big. Shane Victorino hit a hard ground out to short and Janish held Dobbs at third, then Herrera intentionally walked Utley to set up the double play. Herrera finished his impressive debut by striking out both Howard and Burrell, neutralizing the threat.

With the score still close at 3-1, Manuel was forced to turn to Tom Gordon for the third straight day, and he almost regretted it. Encarnacion started the inning with a triple to deep center and Javier Valentin scored him with a sacrifice fly, bringing the score to 3-2. Then Reds manager Dusty Baker pulled out the big guns, bringing in Griffey to pinch hit. This got the crowd going, as some of them no doubt hoped to see a historic blast, despite the in-game implications. However, Gordon disappointed them, throwing four straight balls to Griffey, who would leave the game immediately for a pinch runner. Gordon settled down after the walk, retiring Hairston and Janish to end the top of eighth.

The Phillies were unable to get anything going in the bottom of the eighth, going down in order and denying Snelling's Salts the chance to cheer on their hero in action. Carlos Ruiz struck out for the final out of the inning, with Snelling in the batter's box.

Brad Lidge came in to pitch the ninth and, like Gordon, was pitching for the third straight day. The extra work seemed to take its toll, as he had one of his shakiest outings of the year. Lidge walked Bruce to start the inning, but Phillips again bailed the Phillies out by hitting into another double play. However, Phillies fans still had to sweat. Dunn walked and Votto singled, putting the tying run on second with Encarnacion coming up. Encarnacion had already hit a triple and home run on the night, so there was cause for concern. However, he did not deliver this time, hitting a fly out to right field to end the game.

It was a quiet day for the Phillies offense, but that's hardly surprising against a pitcher as good as Harang, whose record fell to 2-8. Eaton had his best start of the season, going 6 2/3 innings, allowing one run, striking out five and walking none. In his last three starts, he has really picked up, going 2-1 in 19.2 innings with a 2.29 ERA, 11 Ks, and only 2 BBs. His last two starts have been particularly good, as he's only allowed one earned run in each, something he had not managed at any point earlier in the season. Even more impressive, both starts were at home, meaning that perhaps he is finally figuring out how to pitch at CBP. His ERA is now down to 4.63, which is not exactly eye-catching, but is a major improvement from last year's 6.29 ERA.

Tomorrow's game will be interesting to watch, as Brett Myers takes on the other prominent Reds youngster, Edinson Volquez. Myers is coming off an impressive eight-inning start in which the Phillies throttled the Marlins 12-3. He has not surrendered a home run in any of his last three starts, but he will be hard-pressed to continue that trend against the Reds, especially if Griffey returns to the lineup. Volquez, meanwhile, has been dominant this season, sporting a 7-2 record and a 1.46 ERA in twelve starts. He faced the Phillies earlier in the season and went 5 1/3 innings, with 8 Ks to only 2 BBs, and earned the win as Myers and Clay Condrey struggled. However, the Phillies have the momentum now, so perhaps that can carry them to a series-clinching win tomorrow night.

No comments: