Saturday, June 7, 2008

Victorino is Sweet for Phillies

Tonight's 6-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves didn't begin especially auspiciously. After the Phillies didn't score in the first, first-baseman Ryan Howard bungled a simple toss to the pitcher and allowed the first Atlanta batter to reach base. It looked like it could turn into just the kind of festival of missed opportunities that the previous game almost was, but a perfect throw from Carlos Ruiz caught him stealing only a few pitches later.

Kyle Kendrick, who has been successful lately, in part due to the excellent run support he has received from his teammates, looked fine but not unstoppable early on -- likewise his opponent Jo-Jo Reyes. Both men allowed baserunners a number of times while still managing to pull themselves out of trouble before a number of innings came to a close. In the fifth, however, the pattern on zeros on the scoreboard could finally be disrupted as one of those occasional home runs that will come off the bat of the Phillies' wildly free-swinging catcher Carlos Ruiz took place with nobody on.

The lead was augmented during the Phillies' next inning when Pat Burrell delivered with a solo home run of his own (his fifteenth in what is turning out to be a very impressive season), but the Braves equalized when Kendrick allowed a two-run homer to (guess who) Chipper Jones shortly before being pulled from the game to make way for Ryan Madson, who escaped the inning without further damage.

In a dubious move, Charlie Manuel allowed Ryan Madson to bat for himself in the top of the seventh, only to ask him to pitch to a single batter -- Yunel Escobar -- in the bottom of the inning before J. C. Romero came into the game. Needless to say, it is important to take opportunities to score runs in a tie game, and letting Greg Dobbs hit is far more likely to do that. However skillfully Madson induced Escobar to ground out to the mound, it is doubtful whether it would match the sacrifice of the offensive chance on the Phillies' part.

In the next inning the Phillies managed to take the lead rather spectacularly anyway, as Shane Victorino walked, then amply demonstrated the advantages of his famous speed (and his number two spot in the order), scoring from first on a Chase Utley hit that turned into a triple when the fielders' attention turned to Victorino. Ryan Howard, getting his first clutch hit in what seems like months, drove Utley in with a single, and the Phillies took a 4-2 lead.

Although Romero had been performing well (assisted by an astounding play on the part of Chase Utley, who dove for a ball that looked surely bound for right field), Manuel saw no need to abandon loyalty to his famous formula. Romero came out of the game so that Tom Gordon, The Set Up Man, could come in. Gordon ran into some trouble with men on first and second, but worked out of it. In the ninth the Phillies drove the nail into the coffin when Jimmy Rollins scored Ruiz on a two-run home run, and Brad Lidge was asked to close, despite the relatively comfortable four runs by which the Phillies now lead. He struck out the side.

Tonight's was a satisfying win, with meaningful contributions from the whole top of the lineup (Rollins, Victorino, Utley, Howard, and Burrell were all instrumental). Jayson Werth, in his first game back from the DL, got two hits, and Kyle Kendrick had another good outing. If the Phillies can keep up this level of play, which has given them a comfortable lead in the division, they have little to worry about.

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