Sunday, June 15, 2008

Phillies Commit a Cardinal Error

The short story is that the Phillies lost yesterday afternoon, 7-6 to St. Louis. The long story involves a bizarre and unlikely combination of baseball events leading to a Philadelphia loss that has to be considered far more attributable to chance -- or to fate -- than anything else.

The Phillies started the inconsistent but sometimes brilliant Brett Myers, who had generally good of late but had been hurt by home runs in his previous start; the Cardinals, rookie Mitchell Boggs. With these two not-entirely-known quantities on the mound, the first inning made it look as if this game might turn into another high-scoring contest. The Phillies began the game with Jimmy Rollins scoring on a Ryan Howard double, and the Cardinals countered with two runs on the three doubles in the bottom of the frame.

After this, the starting pitchers seemed to settle down somewhat and scoring abated for a while, but when two home runs in the bottom of the third put St. Louis ahead by 4-1, it seemed to wind might have been knocked out of the Phillies' game. Not so. They stayed true to their come-from-behind reputation, and in the fifth, after Brett Myers let off with a single and Jayson Werth walked, Howard and Pat Burrell joined forces to clear the bases with RBI singles and make it a game again, with the Phillies trailing only 5-4.

As usual, Charlie Manuel allowed Ryan Madson to bat for himself in the top of the sixth even though he would only pitch for another inning -- an inning in which he allowed Rick Ankiel to lead off with a triple. He would then score an unearned run, coming home when Chris Duncan's ground ball couldn't be fielded.

The outlook, then, wasn't especially promising for the Phillies, who ended up down two runs in the bottom of the eighth. When Chris Coste struck out and Shane Victorino, entering the game as a pinch hitter, popped up, they Phillies had only four outs remaining. However, this turned over the order, and Jimmy Rollins restored some hope with one of the speedy shortstop's characteristic triples. When Jayson Werth drew a walk, the Cardinals took out pitcher Chris Perez and replaced him with Randy Flores. This would prove to be a mistake on their part, as Flores then proceeded to walk Chase Utley and load the bases. However, with that he was just warming up. For his next trick he went on the achieve the nigh-impossible task of walking Ryan Howard, allowing Rollins to score. Tony La Russa must not have been entirely impressed with this difficult feat, so he took Flores out for Russ Springer. Springer fell into the common trap of walking Pat Burrell, which of course allowed Jayson Werth to score. The game was now tied 6-6.

Charlie Manuel then took the dubious step of removing Pat Burrell from the game so that So Taguchi could run for him at first base. Of course, it wasn't as if it was there were runners at second and third blocking Pat's path to home plate. Or as if games tied in late innings ever go into extra innings and managers need to have bench players. Or as if when the Phillies are tied late in the game they would want a hot hitter like, say, Pat Burrell in the game in order to help them score some. Certainly not.

In any case, Geoff Jenkins broke the string of four walks with the strikeout, and J. C. Romero shut the Cardinals down in the bottom of the inning. In the ninth, Greg Dobbs singled and Manuel asked catcher Chris Coste to bunt him over to second. This is a smart move in a close game when a player with a horrible batting average -- such as Coste's abysmal .311, I suppose, -- comes to the plate. In any case, Coste did as he was ordered, even when there were two strikes.

Manuel's shocking next move was to remove Greg Dobbs from the game so that Eric Bruntlett could pinch run for him. Of course, it isn't as if games tied in late innings ever go into extra innings and managers need to have bench players. Or as if when the Phillies are tied late in the game they would want... Oh, forget it.

However, Brunlett's relative speed did come to play a part in the rest of the game. Shane Victorino singled to move him to third base. Next Jimmy Rollins came to the plate and hit a grounder towards first base. Bruntless came flying home, and so did the ball. Desperate to help score a run, he charged into the plate and barrelled through Cardinal catcher Yadier Molina without even sliding; he just tried to run through him like a bull. Unsurprisingly there was a collision at the plate. Bruntlett was called out. The call was a doubtful one, since although the ball had clearly reached the plate before him , it was uncertain whether he had actually been tagged. Charlie Manuel rightly emerged from the dugout to argue the call.

However, nobody could direct their attention there. The Cardinals had all gathered in a rough circle around home plate. Yadier Molina was lying on the ground completely prone and motionless. There was sense that his injury could be extremely serious, and the stadium was enveloped in complete silence, broken only by solemn applause when Molina was moved onto a stretcher, and when that was wheeled off of the field. Instant replays showed that he had been thrown by the force of Brunlett's body and his head had banged powerfully into the dirt. As Jason La Rue entered to play for him there and everyone had to shake into their heads that there was in fact a baseball game going on, it felt almost as if the fates would want St. Louis to win this game for sentimental reasons.

The next batter was Jayson Werth. He was hit by one of Ryan Franklin's pitches. Nobody knew if this was intentional, but, if it was, nobody was going to call him on it.

Chase Utley made an out with the bases loaded and the inning ended; we went into extra innings. The tie held, and in the bottom of the tenth Manuel brought in usual set-up man Tom Gordon to try to keep back the Cardinals. After he retired two, Rick Ankiel hit an easy ground ball to Chase Utley. Utley, however, made a bad throw to Gordon, covering the bag, and allowed Ankiel to reach first safely. Gordon, though forty years old and a seasoned veteran, seemed rattled. He went to 3-0 against Troy Glaus, who took advantage of the hitter's count by singling and putting Ankiel in scoring position.

When Chris Duncan came to the plate Gordon bore down and induced a grounder. Again he left the mound and went to cover first. Again Utley tossed to him. This time Gordon missed it. In a fury, he slammed his glove into the ground. Rick Ankiel ran home, and the Cardinals won 7-6. Maybe it was fate.

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