Brett Myers can be virtually unhittable when he's on his game. However, he usually seems equally unmissable when he's off his game, and that's what he was for a good portion of his match up against Florida's Ricky Nolasco tonight. The Phillies put up a good fight against Florida's attack, but in the end they couldn't plug the hole in their game created by Myers' uneven pitching performance, and lost the game by an agonizing score of 6-5.
There seemed to be almost as many Phillies fans as Marlins fans in attendance (which is not an uncommon occurrence in Florida, the home of Spring Training and countless transplanted Northern retirees). They had reason to hope for a good performance from Myers, who in his last few starts had begun to look quite convincingly like the intimidating early-rotation starter it has always been said that he could be.
Things didn't start promisingly for him however: he allowed a lead-off home run to Hanley Ramirez. He then proceeded to continue the inning by walking Jeremy Hermida so that he could score on the two-run homer that Jorge Cantu would hit in the next at-bat. This inauspicious start looked unpleasant but not insurmountable. The Phillies, in fact have acquired something of a reputation this season for winning games when down by three in the first. Nolasco, however, was impressive, and the Phillies' offense was significantly held at bay for a number of innings. It was not until the fourth that they hit (an ultimately fruitless Pat Burrell double).
The encouraging sign was that although Nolasco was pitching effectively, Myers seemed to have settled down to match him. In the fifth the lethargy lifted, and it became a game again when Brett Myers reached base on an error and Jimmy Rollins drove him in with a two-run homer.
It was now only a one-run contest, but this state of affairs would last only until the next inning, when Mike Jacobs mirrored Rollins' achievement and took Myers deep for the third time in one game. 5-2 Marlins. The Phillies couldn't make up the difference, despite inching to within a run on two runs scored by Pat Burrell who was driven in by Greg Dobbs after reaching on an error, then hit a solo homer, his sixteenth on the season, in the eighth.
Although Brett Myers can't be said to have had an especially effective start, one encouraging sign that comes out of it is that he seems to have displayed a lot more poise in the face of frustrating circumstances than before. Nobody, can pitch perfectly in every outing, but the conventional wisdom had always held that Myers' greatest weakness was his temper, and if he has conquered that then perhaps we can see today's game as more of a blip than a sign of long term trouble for his performances.
Charlie Manuel's decision to start Greg Dobbs instead of Pedro Feliz paid off with an RBI hit in an important spot. Dobbs is having a great season, but his supernaturally high value as a pinch hitter and Pedro Feliz's superb fielding at third means it isn't a novelty that needs to happen every day. Pat Burrell had another excellent day (two hits with a homer, ten bases, two runs scored) and Ryan Howard an another unimpressive one (0 for 4 with two strike outs), casting doubt on how long Manuel can keep posting his current lineup.
The pieces were in place for a Phillies win last night, with some nice tenacious baseball, good offensive and defensive plays, and improved recoverability on the part of Brett Myers. If only he hadn't allowed those three home runs, it would have worked perfectly.