Friday, August 29, 2008

Stairs' Way to Heaven

The Phillies have reportedly acquired Matt Stairs from the Toronto Blue Jays, hoping to add another left-handed bat and give the offense a spark. Stairs is basically there to be the new Geoff Jenkins and this move suggests that we may have seen the last of Jenkins in 2008.

Like Jenkins, Stairs has had a down year. He is currently batting .250 with 11 HRs and 44 RBIs in 105 games. Not bad for a 40 year-old, but more was expected after his 2007 campaign, when he hit .289 with 21 homers. He is getting on base at a similar rate this year, with a .342 OBP (.368 OBP in 2007) but his slugging percentage has taken a huge hit. After slugging .549 last year, he's down to .394 this season. In fact, if the season ended today, he would have posted the worst slugging percentage of his career. Is age catching up to Stairs? Maybe. More likely, last season was a fluke.

But that's not to say there isn't a silver lining. For whatever reason, Stairs has put up ridiculous numbers at Citizen's Bank Park. In eight career games at CBP, he has hit 6 home runs and has posted a .444 batting average. Three of those home runs came in 2004, when he was with the Royals and the other three came last year with Toronto. Interestingly, three of these home runs came off Geoff Geary (two on June 18th, 2004 and one on May 20, 2007). It's a shame Geary doesn't play for the Mets.

Is this another fluke (after all, Stairs has only played eight games in CBP) or is the Phillies home field truly Heaven for the aging slugger? It's hard to judge. Stairs has fared quite well in the best home run hitter's parks, which could imply that he is a good fly ball hitter and therefore can take advantage of homer havens like CBP, Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, and Coors Field in Colorado. Of course it could also mean that he hits well in these parks for the same reasons everyone else does.

It's also worth considering (no pun intended) who Stairs will be replacing. In all likelihood he will be platooning with Jayson Werth. This could prove problematic in the field, as Stairs is not exactly known for his range. With Pat Burrell in left field and Stairs in right, Shane Victorino will have to cover a ton of ground in center. Then again, Stairs is probably comparable to Jenkins in the outfield and the Phillies survived that well enough.

The greater impact will be at the plate, where using Stairs against right-handers instead of Werth should prove advantageous. Werth's career OPS against right-handed pitching is only .762, while Stairs' OPS is .860. Of course, it should be noted that Stairs' 2008 OPS vs RHP is only .744. However, if nothing else, the extra rest should keep Werth healthy and whichever of the two outfielders is not starting will be a valuable pinch hitter.

Stairs' greatest asset, as far as the Phillies are concerned may be his approach to hitting. The Phillies' hitters, on the whole, tend to be very patient at the plate. Werth is a prime example of the Phillies' somewhat passive approach to hitting, as he swings at fewer first pitches than anyone in the majors. Stairs is the opposite. He has swung at first pitches more than any pitch except for 2-2 counts and full counts. That aggressive mentality could serve very well on the Phillies, who have often struggled with runners in scoring position. Stairs will likely hit sixth, behind Victorino, or possibly behind Burrell, if Charlie Manuel reverts to the old lineup. Either way, with the heart of the order in front of him, Stairs should get plenty of chances with runners on base and therefore should see his share of first-pitch fastballs.

Considering that the Phillies won't give up much for Stairs, this is a productive move. Mark Kotsay would have been more valuable, as he is a great fielder, but Stairs should provide the offense with a little more punch and improve the bench. Worst case scenario? See Jenkins, Geoff.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Phillies Bullpen Falters Against Mets (Live)

After playing for over five hours last night, the Phillies and Mets return to the field to play the second game of a two game series. Mets ace Johan Santana faces off against Kyle Kendrick, who nearly had to pitch last night.

TOP 1st
7:09 - Jose Reyes starts off the night with a single over Chase Utley's head. With a young starting pitcher and a bad fielding catcher, Reyes will probably get to second base pretty quickly.
7:12 - Reyes runs as Luis Castillo hits a high fly ball to shallow left field. Pat Burrell barely holds onto the ball, getting Castillo out and throws the ball back to field. It looked like Howard had Reyes out except that Reyes slid right into Howard's glove, not only knocking the ball out but knocking Howard's glove off his hand. Luckily the ball doesn't get far, and Reyes has to stay at first.
7:14 - Reyes takes off again and Wright grounds the ball to Feliz. Reyes gets second base this time, but Wright is out at first.
7:16 - The Mets get on the board as Carlos Delgado grounds the ball into right field, driving in Reyes. 1-0 Mets. Hopefully that's all the damage they'll do, unlike last night.
7:17 - Carlos Beltran hits a ball up the middle and Rollins just barely throws him out at first. Looks like Beltran is in non-clutch mode.

7:20 - Jimmy Rollins continues his hot streak as he gets his first career hit off Johan Santana. He hits the ball to shallow left field, where none of Reyes, Beltran, or Daniel Murphy can get it.
7:24 - Utley flies out to Ryan Church and Pat Burrell foul tips strike three into Brian Schneider's glove. Rollins' single may not matter as Ryan Howard's odds against Santana are not good as he's hitting .186 against lefties. He is, however 3 for 10 against Santana.
7:27 - Rollins is picked off at first, but goes ahead and gets his 35th stolen base of the year.
7:30 - Ryan Howard hits his 35th home run of the year. Did not see that coming. That gives him 9 home runs against left handers this year and his first home run off Santana. 2-1 Phillies. Looks like this game could have a seesaw feel to it.
7:32 - Shane Victorino strikes out to end the inning. No matter, the damage is done for now.

TOP 2nd
7:36 - With a 3-2 count Ryan Church hits the ball the other way. Victorino is too far back to get to it in time, and Burrell slides, but is only able to stop the ball from going any further, keeping Church to a single. Burrell gets hustle points. Now up comes a struggling rookie in Daniel Murphy.
7:38 - Church steals a base as Coste makes a poor throw to second. Luckily Rollins is able to get to the ball and keep Church at second. Kendrick is up to a 3-2 count against Murphy.
7:40 - After a few foul balls, Kendrick strikes Murphy out looking on the inside corner. In this case, the veteran gets advantage of the newbee. That's right, Kendrick is the veteran in this situation despite being the same age as Murphy.
7:45 - Schneider and Santana ground out to first to end the inning. Kendrick is now up to 42 pitches in the game, 27 of which were in this inning.

7:48 - Jayson Werth hits the second home run of the game off Johan Santana. This is the fifth time all year that Santana has given up multiple home runs in a game, the most he's given up being three. That's Werth's 18th home run of the year. Amazing that he has this many considering he's more or less a platoon player.
7:51 - Feliz, Coste, and Kendrick go down in order, but that may not be such a bad thing considering it means Rollins will lead off the next inning. If the Phillies scored three runs off Santana on the first time around, who knows what they can do the second time.

TOP 3rd
7:55 - Reyes is now 2-2 on the night as he singles on a grounder right past Chase Utley.
8:00 - Reyes and Castillo attempt the hit and run again. This time, Victorino catches the ball and is able to throw Reyes out at first for the double play. It's always a sigh of relief when you can get Jose Reyes off the basepaths.
8:03 - And David Wright ends the inning by popping out to Howard. Kendrick is up to 59 pitches, so he could conceivably get through five. Good thing they called up prospect Drew Carpenter to help in the bullpen.

8:10 - Santana finally has an easy inning, getting Rollins, Utley, and Burrell out. None of them struck out, however.

TOP 4th
8:13 - Carlos Part I (Delgado) lines out to Howard, but Carlos Part II (Beltran) gets a single.
8:16 - Kendrick gives up his first walk of the night to Ryan Church.
8:18 - Daniel Murphy hits the ball right to Victorino. The rookie's struggles continue.
8:21 - Schneider grounds out to Howard and the inning is over. Kendrick manages to continue holding off the Mets, but he ends the inning having thrown 79 pitches. They'll probably only get one more inning out of him, but at least that's more than Jamie Moyer gave them last night.

8:26 - Santana walks Howard, but Victorino hits into a double play on the second pitch. It was extremely close at first base, as it usually is with Victorino. Perhaps Werth can avenge his teammates. Howard's walks are way down this year. He had over 100 the last two years, but has only 66 so far this year.
8:29 - Werth flies out to Murphy to end the inning. That's the second straight 1-2-3 inning for Santana and the ninth straight Phillie he's retired. Only one of those outs, however was a strikeout: pitcher Kyle Kendrick.

TOP 5th
8:33 - Kendrick quickly retires Santana and Reyes. Hopefully Castillo goes down quickly and the Phillies can squeeze another inning out of Kendrick.
8:34 - Castillo singles to right, but Wright pops out to Utley. Kendrick manages to get a quick inning, but Charlie Manuel may take him out anyway since he is due up next inning. He's already up to 91 pitches. With a depleted staff, they may try to keep him in.

8:38 - Feliz leads off the inning with a single. If Coste can get on as well, Manuel may leave Kendrick in to bunt Feliz and possibly Coste to the next base. Kendrick is in the on deck circle.
8:40 - Coste flies out to left, but Kendrick is still in to bat and to bunt. But he decides to swing at the first pitch anyway and fouls it it. Kendrick seems to be alternating between swinging and bunting. Finally, he strikes out on a bunt attempt. Not exactly sure what was going through Kendrick's mind through that at-bat.
8:44 - Santana walks Rollins. That might be a good thing for Santana since it gives him the lefty-lefty matchup against Utley.
8:47 - Castillo apparently has a little good fielding left in him as he snags a hard hit ball by Utley and throws him out at first to end the inning.

TOP 6th
8:51 - Carlos Delgado crushes a pitch to right field and cuts the Phillies' lead in half. 3-2 Phillies. Meanwhile, Scott Eyre is warming up in the bullpen in case Kendrick can't get through the inning.
8:54 - Carlos Part II hits a squibber toward third base and Kendrick dives in front of it to block it, but can't get Beltran out at first. This prompts Charlie Manuel to take Kendrick out in favor of Scott Eyre, who pitched 1 2/3 innings last night. Makes a lot of sense considering the next three batters are all left-handed.
8:59 - Eyre ends the inning in five pitches by striking out Church and getting Murphy to ground into a double play.

9:03 - Burrell gets his first hit of the series (granted, it's two games, but Burrell had a ton of chances last night) as he hits a double over the head of Murphy. Howard follows with his second walk of the night.
9:17 - Brian Stokes is starting to warm up for the Mets as Victorino strikes out, Jayson Werth pops out, and Feliz strikes out to end the inning, stranding Burrell and Howard. Most likely, Santana's night is over, finishing with three runs in six innings and seven strikeouts.

TOP 7th
9:24 - Eyre logs a second inning by striking out Brian Schneider and pinch hitter Nick Evans. Then, Howard just barely had enough room at the foul wall to catch a Jose Reyes pop-up.

9:29 - Brian Stokes is in to pitch. Coste gets his first hit of the night and Eyre's night is over as Greg Dobbs comes in to pinch hit and Rudy Seanez starts to warm up in the bullpen. But... Dobbs hits into a double play. Rollins keeps the inning alive with his second walk of the night.
9:35 - As soon as Rollins got on base, it seemed evident that he would try for the steal. He does, and gets it. Apparently he's trying to catch up with rival Jose Reyes. With a 3-0 count to Utley, the Mets give him the last ball to put him on first and get Burrell at the plate.
9:38 - The Mets' plan works as Burrell grounds out to third to end the inning.

TOP 8th
9:44 - Rudy Seanez gets Castillo to ground out and strikes David Wright out on a great pitch. Now it's Carlos time. Lights Out Lidge is warming up in the bullpen.
9:46 - Carlos Part I hits a solo home run to tie the game. Could there be another extra inning game. In all fairness to Seanez, Delgado has been red hot lately. He's apparently determined to win this game single-handedly. On to Carlos Part II.
9:48 - Carlos Part II gets another squibber which Feliz can't quite barehand to first. Manuel decides to end Seanez' night and brings in Brad Lidge. Strange that he didn't bring him in when Delgado came to bat, but Seanez started off the inning so well, Manuel must have figured he'd get one of the two Carloses out and save Lidge. No pun intended.
9:52 - Coste doesn't even attempt a throw as Beltran steals second base. With first base open, they decide to walk Ryan Church and pitch to Daniel Murphy. Church has gotten on base twice tonight while Murphy hasn't had a hit in his last 16 at-bats.
9:54 - But, Murphy comes through in the clutch and rips a pitch down the right field line to score Beltran and give the Mets a 4-3 lead. The Phillies better be ready to hit next inning.
9:56 - Schneider hits a ball right behind Feliz as the Mets get two more runs to lead 6-3. Utley stops the bleeding by diving on a Damion Easley hit up the middle and tossing it to Rollins to get the out at second. Either way, Charlie Manuel looks pretty foolish right now for taking a chance in letting Seanez pitch to Delgado. The Phillies will have two more chances to redeem themselves.

10:00 - Pedro Feliciano is in to pitch and Endy Chavez comes in to play left field. Meanwhile, Drew Carpenter is warming up in the Phillies bullpen. Carpenter was brought up today, most likely in reaction to using every pitcher last night, and Andy Tracy was designated for assignment to make room for him.
10:02 - Chavez sprints in to get a high Ryan Howard pop up. David Wright follows that up by making a long throw to get Victorino out at first. The Phillies now bring in Joe Smith to pitch to Jayson Werth.
10:07 - Werth hits the first pitch directly to Reyes, who throws him out to end the inning. Jerry Manuel is being extra careful to make sure he gets this win. Maybe this is why Werth doesn't usually swing at the first pitch.

TOP 9th
10:10 - Drew Carpenter is brought in for his major league debut. He is greeted by giving up a single to Jose Reyes. Castillo bunts him over to second.
10:16 - Reyes moves over to third on a wild third strike to Wright. Coste does, however get Wright out at first. They don't even want to think about pitching to Delgado and intentionally walk him to face Beltran.
10:19 - Beltran flies out to end the inning. Carpenter has a shaky debut, but no damage is done. Last chance for the offense coming up.

10:21 - Luis Ayala, the Mets closer in Billy Wagner's absence, comes in to the save situation. He'll face Feliz, Coste, and Taguchi. Wouldn't be surprised if Bruntlett comes up for Taguchi. It takes only one pitch for him to get the first out as Feliz grounds out to short. Coste does likewise.
10:26 - And So Taguchi does exactly the same thing as he grounds out to short to end the game.

Coming into this two game series, it seemed unlikely that the Phillies would take both of the games with Santana pitching tonight. They were extremely lucky to get the win last night, which takes a little pain out of the loss tonight, but they had no excuse losing in the way they did. If Santana had a stellar game, that would have been one thing; he's Johan Santana, the Mets signed him to win big games like this. But the Phillies were able to get to Santana just enough and Kyle Kendrick, who had been struggling of late, kept the Mets offense in check and gave a solid outing. Scott Eyre even came in and pitched two innings. Well, really one inning as that first inning he pitched was one he took over from Kendrick and needed only five pitches to get out of. With a one run lead, Charlie Manuel should have been playing this game just as closely as Jerry Manuel did even after he had a three run lead. Rudy Seanez looked good against Castillo and Wright, but he's never had success against Delgado, and Delgado has been red hot lately. Brad Lidge could have handled a four out save and Charlie Manuel should not have taken that chance given the situation. Winning this game would have been huge for the Phillies, especially since it was against Johan Santana. Luckily, splitting the two game series puts the two teams right back where they started: neck and neck with each other. If the Phillies win tomorrow while the Mets have a day off, they would be tied for the division lead. The problem is that the Phillies are heading out to Chicago to face the best team in the National League if not all of baseball in the Cubs, while the Mets have to deal with the pesky Marlins. The momentum from winning this game could have helped the Phillies tremendously in the coming series. This was an extremely unfortunate loss for the Phillies which could have been prevented fairly easily.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Phils Rally, Beat Mets in 13 (Live)

The Phillies take on the Mets tonight in just a few minutes, fighting for control of the NL East. The Mets have had the upper hand thus far but the Phillies come into the series hot, having swept the Dodgers in four games. Jamie Moyer (11-7, 3.54) takes on Pedro Martinez (4-3, 4.97) in a battle of aging pitchers. The difference? Moyer has aged like fine wine while Martinez has aged like cheap beer. Of course when the Phillies play the Mets, all bets are off. We'll see what's in store.

7:10: Not a good start for Moyer, as Reyes hits a long fly ball over Victorino's head for a lead-off triple. Damion Easley follows with a single, giving the Mets a 1-0 lead.
7:20: Moyer goes inside and Delgado is awarded first on a phantom HBP. That loads the bases for Fernando Tatis. Tatis hits a liner to shallow center that Victorino can't quite reach and another run scores. 2-0 Mets.
7:22: The inning is finally over as Ryan Church and Ramon Castro go down easily. Not an impressive start, but the Phillies ought to be able to scratch a few runs together against Pedro.
7:26: Rollins starts the Phillies offense off with a double down the right field line. He's now reached base in six consecutive plate appearances.
7:30: Pedro's curveball runs in and hits Utley on the foot. Yes, it actually made physical contact, unlike the Delgado pitch which may have grazed his ego.
7:34: After Burrell flies out to right, Howard strikes out swinging on three pitches. However, it's not a total loss as Rollins and Utley execute a double steal. Victorino comes up with the tying run in scoring position.
7:37: But Victorino whiffs on a 3-2 pitch. It could be a long night.
7:41: Easley gives the Mets a bigger cushion with a solo home run. Three runs against Pedro isn't too much to ask, but the Phillies can't let them pile on.
7:53: The Phillies go down in order. Werth and Feliz each work a full count, making Martinez work, at least, then Ruiz chops a grounder to second on the first pitch he sees.
7:58: Moyer is in trouble again as Beltran and Delgado single. Fortunately the Phillies are past the good part of the Mets' order.
8:02: Tatis breaks his bat and chops a ball down the third base line that hits Beltran, who had stolen third a few pitches earlier. It hits Beltran in fair territory and he by all rights should be out, but the Mets catch a huge break.
8:06: Tatis hits a three-run homer to left which is all well and good, but his at-bat should have ended on the grounder that hit Beltran. Mets 3, Umpires 3, Phillies 0.
8:15: Well you gotta start somewhere. Rollins hits a one-out single in the bottom of the third, and has now reached base seven straight times. He takes second on the first pitch to Utley.
8:21: Burrell is down on strikes looking, as no one but Rollins can seem to hit Pedro today.
8:25: Clay Condrey into the game now, as Moyer lasted only three innings. Easley greets him with his first triple of the season.
8:42: The Phillies are making Pedro work a bit at least. Feliz finally gets the Phillies on the board with a sacrifice fly. Phillies trail 7-1. It's a start...sort of.
8:57: Clay Condrey in for a rare at-bat, his third of the year...and he gets a hit! Condrey breaks his bat and grounds it past a diving Wright and gets a double. It's his third career hit and his first career extra base hit.
8:59: Rollins extends the streak to eight plate appearances with a home run to right. Did Condrey just start a rally?? Well, the Phillies still trail 7-3, so let's not get too excited.
Utley follows the Rollins homer with a walk, as the Phillies try to cut into the lead even further. Incidentally, Condrey's hit was also his first as a Phillie. His last hit came on April 19th, 2003, when he singled off Nelson Cruz as a member of the Padres.
9:06: Burrell is down looking and Pedro gets the first out of the bottom of the fifth inning. Continuing with the Condrey-hit trivia, guess who hit before Condrey on the day he got his first hit (April 4th, 2003)? Shane Victorino, as a rookie.
9:08: And Howard takes Pedro deep, crushing it over the left field wall. 7-5! All of the sudden we've got a ballgame!
9:12: Victorino strikes out swinging, but Werth singles, extending the inning even further. Pedro is over 100 pitches now and Jerry Manuel comes out, thinking about pulling Pedro, but Pedro's having none of it, especially when he's one out from qualifying for the win. So Pedro will face Pedro (Feliz). We'll see if this comes back to haunt the Mets.
9:14: The other Pedro goes down swinging and the Mets finally get out of the inning, leaving time for one more bit of Condrey-related trivia. Condrey's past and current teammate, Victorino, got his first career hit on April 20th, the day after Condrey's second career hit. But Condrey has one up on Victorino. It took Shane 14 games to get that elusive first hit of his career, whereas Condrey did it in his 11th career game. Seriously though, it's a two-run game now. We can get back to business.
9:19: Reyes singles and here comes the suddenly torrid Damion Easley, who is now a double short of the cycle.
9:20: Easley drops down a bunt. Feliz barehands it and fires to first, but he got to it too late and Easley is on with a bunt single. After igniting a rally at the plate, Condrey is threatening to let the Mets put it out of reach again. To be fair, both runners reached on infield singles.
9:26: Condrey gets Wright to fly out to right after a lengthy at-bat and that will be his last out of the game, as Charlie Manuel turns to Scott Eyre to face the switch-hitting Beltran and left-handed Delgado. Condrey went 2 1/3 innings and threw 46 pitches. That ties for his highest pitch count of the season, the other one coming on June 27th, against the Rangers.
9:29: Greg Dobbs is in at third now, as the Phillies implement the double switch. Reyes steals third without a throw. Ruiz turned and prepared to fire to the base, but apparently forgot the ball, as he lost the handle on it. Eyre then hits Beltran on the foot with a pitch and the bases are now loaded for Delgado. But that's why we traded for Eyre...right??
9:32: Delgado grounds the 0-2 pitch into a 6-4-3 double play. Guess that answers that question. The Phillies escape the inning and still trail by just two runs.
9:37: Brian Stokes into the game now for the Mets, pitching in his sixth game of the season. He gets Ruiz and Dobbs with relative ease, but now faces Rollins with two outs.
9:38: He can't be stopped! Rollins lashes a single up the middle. He now has four hits and is a triple short of the cycle. Utley steps in representing the tying run.
9:40: Utley lines one to center. Beltran reaches for it, making a half-hearted effort to make a tough catch, but instead it skips in front of him. Utley has a single and Rollins heads to third. That brings up Burrell, who has been a rally-killer of late, but has been a Met-killer in the past. Which will it be, Pat?
9:43: Rally-killer. Burrell goes down swinging for his third strikeout of the day. Still, the Phillies have shown serious signs of life and the struggles of the Mets bullpen are well-documented.
9:52: Eyre stays in for the top of the seventh and puts the Mets down in order, striking out Brian Schneider to end the inning. Schneider had entered the game for Castro, who came up a little gimpy earlier after running out a ground ball. Eyre gave the Phillies 1 2/3 innings, which is his longest outing of the year and the first time he recorded five outs since September of last year.
9:59: Someone should remind the Phillies that they're facing Brian Stokes. Apparently that didn't register with Howard, Victorino, or Werth, all of whom get out, as the Phillies go down in order.
10:01: Eyre comes out for another inning, but wait, he'll take a seat as soon as the Mets announce right-handed Nick Evans to pinch hit. Great move if the Mets counter by bringing in a lefty bat, essentially wasting a pinch hitter, but if not, the Phillies have just brought in Chad Durbin, their best long reliever, with the pitcher's spot due up first in the next inning. They'd better hope this game doesn't go into extra innings.
10:05: The Mets do waste Evans, pulling him for the left-handed Daniel Murphy, who grounds out to Rollins for the first out. If I'm Jerry Manuel there, why not pinch hit with Murphy to start? You've got Scott Eyre, a 36 year-old who hasn't pitched two innings all year, on the mound. Do the Phillies really want him out there for another batter? Why not just call their bluff? If you have to go lefty-lefty for one at-bat, then so be it. Not that I'm complaining.
10:12: Reyes walks and Durbin faces Easley, who's putting on a Rollins-esque performance. However, there isn't much pitching going on, as Durbin seems determined to pick off Reyes. All that effort goes to waste, however, as Reyes steals second on the 1-0 pitch.
10:13: Easley draws a walk, bringing up Wright with runners on first and second and one out. Durbin needs to find his control in a hurry. This inning is his and his alone and he's running out of open bases.
10:15: Durbin gets help from an unlikely source, as Wright grounds to the left side of the infield where Dobbs (yes, Greg Dobbs) is there to scoop it up and fire to second, starting the inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.
10:20: Andy Tracy steps in to pinch hit. He delivered (sort of) in his first Phillies appearance the other night, walking to set up Feliz's game-tying single. However, he's all out of (sort of) clutch, as he flies out. Ruiz then steps in and singles. With Dobbs coming up, the Mets go to Pedro Feliciano.
10:23: Coste comes in to pinch hit for Dobbs, which is all well and good, but it uses the Phillies' backup catcher and leaves them with the question of who will play third next inning. Could it be Tracy, who has played 46 games at third in his career? They can worry about that later, as Coste singles through the left side.
10:25: Rollins does it AGAIN! He gets his fifth hit of the game, slapping a single to right that scores Ruiz and moves Coste to third. That brings up Utley with the tying run 90 feet away.
10:29: Well, no clutch hit for Utley today. He goes down swinging in what could well be the decisive at-bat of the game. Burrell comes up and the Mets turn to Joe Smith. Pat the Bat is certainly due.
10:33: Rollins takes off on the first pitch to Burrell. That would have been nicer with one out, but better late than never. Burrell just needs a single to give the Phillies the lead.
10:35: Burrell hits one a mile, but a mile high. Too high. Tatis catches it and the best chance the Phillies had, ending the inning. It's far from over, but that they really needed to tie it in this inning.
10:41: With Dobbs out of the game, Charlie Manuel turns to Carlos Ruiz to play third. Ruiz has never played third in the Major Leagues, nor has he done so in the minors. He played first for two games in Triple-A and outfield for two games in Double-A. So far he hasn't been tested, as Brad Lidge got Beltran to ground to short and then struck out Delgado. I almost want Tatis to bunt to Ruiz here, just out of morbid curiosity.
10:42: Ruiz survives his innings at third without consequence when Lidge strikes out Tatis to retire the side. In comes Billy Wag-- I mean Luis Ayala to attempt to close out the Phillies. Here's a question, if Wagner's entrance music is Enter Sandman, then what does Ayala come in to? Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go? In fairness to Ayala, he hasn't given up a run in his stint with the Mets. All four innings of it.
10:47: Howard hits one to deep, deep center, but it doesn't carry quite enough and Beltran camps under it for the first out.
10:49: The Mets are one out away after Victorino's ground-out to short. Werth steps to the plate, looking to be the hero.
10:50: And Werth hits the first pitch from Ayala up the middle for a single. That will bring up the last Phillies pinch hitter, Eric Bruntlett.
10:52: Unbelievable! Bruntlett hits a double in the right center field gap. Werth makes an ill-advised turn around third but is bailed out as Schneider can't handle the relay. Tie game! Now third baseman Ruiz has a chance to win it.
10:54: Ruiz grounds it up the middle. Reyes dives, gets up, fires and just gets Ruiz, saving the game in the process. Bummer that they couldn't win it there, but the Phillies are headed to extra innings after trailing 7-0. Wow.
10:58: Ryan Madson comes in to pitch the tenth and he gets a first, painful out. Ryan Church hits a hard grounder that bounces off Madson, who then recovers and gets the easy out at first.
11:02: After a brief check-up on Madson, he faces Schneider, who lines the 3-1 pitch into left center.
11:05: Madson starts his match-up with Argenis Reyes by throwing two straight balls. Rich Dubee is less than pleased and comes out to have a word with him. Whatever he said, it worked. Madson throws two strikes, then gets the other Reyes to hit into a 6-3 double play.
11:07: Aaron Heilman in to pitch the bottom of the tenth, which sounds pretty good if you're a Phillies fan. We'll see if Chris Coste agrees with the assessment. Rollins awaits on deck and with the way he's hit, it may not matter what Coste does.
11:09: Coste seems to think it matters. He strokes a double down the left field line that lands just fair. Here comes Rollins with the winning run in scoring position. Let's hear those chants! MVP! MVP!
11:11: Rollins is human after all. He hits a fly ball to the gap, but it hangs a little too long and Tatis gets to it. Coste was halfway to third, so he had no chance to tag up. Now, with Burrell on deck, the Mets intentionally walk Utley. Will this get Burrell riled up enough to deliver the big hit?
11:14: Apparently Burrell thinks he's in a museum. Look but don't touch. He's called out on strikes for the fourth time tonight.
11:15: Howard smashes it down the first base line, but Delgado, playing deep, snares it and runs to the bag, ending the inning.
11:17: Madson comes out for his second inning of work and gets off to a good start, retiring Reyes on one pitch on a grounder to short.
11:23: After an Easley grounder to Rollins (the first time he got out all night), Wright hits it down the first base line and it caroms off the wall in foul territory. Wright makes the suspect decision to go for two and Werth (who got bailed out of a similarly-bad decision earlier tonight) barehands it and fires to second to nail Wright and end the inning. Werth had him by a mile. Ironic that he's the one who makes someone pay for making a poor baserunning decision.
11:27: Now, with the pitcher due to bat fourth, J.C. Romero, who was said to be unavailable tonight, is warming up in the Phillies bullpen. Maybe the Phillies can just win it now so we don't have to find out just how 'unavailable' Romero is. Victorino leads off with a pop out.
11:29: Werth works a five-pitch walk and Bruntlett comes up again, hoping for a replay of the ninth inning. Cole Hamels (yes, you read that right) awaits on deck.
11:34: Bruntlett seems to have taken over where Rollins left off, delivering another hit. He lines a single to left, advancing Werth to second. Now here comes Hamels...not looking to bunt.
11:37: Hamels puts up a good fight, but he is called out on strikes. Bunting might have been the way to go, but Werth ought to score from second anyway. Now it's up to Coste, who is 2 for 2 tonight.
11:39: Coste grounds it to Wright, who goes to his right to grab it, but loses his balance and can't get up to throw to first. He holds onto the ball and keeps it a tie game, to his credit. But now Rollins heads to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. Can we just call this a playoff game?
11:41: Rollins can't come through this time, popping to Wright in foul territory. Maybe he's trying to extend the game so he can get that triple for the cycle.
11:44: Romero comes in to pitch the top of the twelfth, despite the fact that he was supposed to be unavailable. Let's hope that was just a precautionary measure.
11:46: So far Romero looks just fine. He gets Beltran swinging for the first out of the inning. Now he'll face Delgado.
11:50: Delgado hits a routine grounder to Utley for the second out and Dubee comes to the mound, perhaps to explain to Romero what a right-handed batter is, as Tatis steps in.
11:52: Or maybe Dubee told Romero to pitch around Tatis, who has a home run already today. Tatis walks on five pitches, bringing up the left-handed Church.
11:55: Church rips a grounder to first, but Howard snares it and tags first to end the inning. I think he's just showing off for Delgado, who snagged one of Howard's near-hits.
11:59: Heilman is in for his third inning of work. He'll start the inning against Utley. Meanwhile Rudy Seanez warms up for the Phillies. He's their last reliever. Kyle Kendrick might have to get ready soon.
12:02: Utley works a 3-0 count, then swings at the next three pitches. He can't get a piece of the last one and goes down on strikes. Now Burrell steps in after a forgettable (to be kind) night. He promptly pops out.
12:03: The Mets have a discussion on the mound, probably about whether or not to walk Howard intentionally. They opt not to, though it's hard to see why. Howard has a home run today and Victorino, on deck, is 0 for 6.
12:05: The decision pays off as Howard goes down looking on a 3-2 slider. It really feels like the Phillies are running out of chances...and players. Seanez to pitch the next inning.
12:09: Seanez retires Schneider to start the inning while Kendrick gets loose in the bullpen. The pitcher is due to bat fourth, so we'll almost certainly see another pitcher hit. But who will it be? Seanez? Kendrick? Maybe even Myers. The possibilities are...actually fairly limited. The Phillies are almost out of players.
12:12: Endy Chavez, pinch hitting for Heilman, chops a grounder that appeared to skip off first base. It falls into Howard's glove and he outruns Chavez to first.
12:14: Seanez gets Reyes to hit a lazy fly ball to Burrell, giving him a 1-2-3 inning. Not too shabby. Do they try for one more inning out of the veteran, or do they bring in Kendrick? I'd rather not find out. Can we just win this one already?
12:18: Victorino and I are thinking on the same wavelength. He laces a triple down the right field line and the Phillies are 90 feet away from victory with no outs. Scott Schoeneweis intentionally walks Werth AND Bruntlett to get to the pitcher's spot. Myers prepares to pinch hit. What a game.
12:21: So it's Myers with the bases loaded and no outs. Myers appears to have no interest in swinging, looking to avoid a double play. Not a bad strategy. Especially if Schoeneweis can't throw strikes. Also, in case you were wondering Werth and Bruntlett had a combined seven intentional walks coming into this game.
12:23: Myers works a full count by virtue of not swinging, but Schoeneweis finds the strike zone and gets Myers looking.
12:24: Coste rips one to deep center and Beltran won't even chase it! It's over, the Phillies win 8-7! Coste goes 4 for 4 despite not entering the game until the eighth inning.

What an incredible win for the Phillies. They've all got to be besides themselves. Well except for Joe Blanton who's probably pouting. "I didn't get to do ANYTHING!" At least Kendrick got to warm up.

You just aren't supposed to win games like that. It should have been over from the start, when the Phillies trailed 7-0, but the Mets bullpen proved worse than advertised (amazingly). Winning in thirteen innings when your starter only gives you three. Ridiculous.

And let's not forget tonight's hero...Clay Condrey! You might not remember, but Condrey started the Phillies' fifth inning rally with a double, setting up Rollins' two-run shot.

That's all the excitement I can take for tonight. We've still got another game tomorrow. Whatever happens then, it will feel awfully good to go to bed tonight with the Phillies in first place.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Phillies Exact Revenge on Dodgers

Just two weeks ago, the Phillies had lost the first game of what would be a four-game sweep by the Dodgers in Los Angeles. The sweep featured several bullpen meltdowns and knocked the Phillies out of first place. I guess turnabout is fair play.

Tonight, the Phillies finished off their own four-game sweep, shutting out the Dodgers 5-0 behind seven strong innings from Brett Myers and a potential slump-busting game from Jimmy Rollins.

Myers looked shaky at the start and never actually dominated the Dodgers, but he did enough to get the job done. He surrendered a leadoff double to start the game, then walked Manny Ramirez with two outs to put runners at the corners, but struck out James Loney to escape. He ran into similar trouble in the second, putting another two runners on, before striking out Kemp to retire the side.

Myers settled down after that, but that only meant putting himself in less precarious situations. He allowed a hit in all seven innings (a total of nine), but always seemed to come through in the end. The weather no doubt played a role, as a heavy wind prevailed for the entire game, knocking down potential home run balls. Ramirez, in particular, fell victim as he crushed a couple balls that would fall harmlessly into the glove of right fielder Jayson Werth. In normal conditions, Ramirez likely has a pair of extra base hits.

The Phillies, the top home run hitting team in the league, had no need of the long ball tonight, as they were able to manufacture runs and produce the clutch hits that seemed to evade the Dodgers. The Phillies struck first in the second inning. Werth drew a walk and last night's hero, Pedro Feliz, grounded to shortstop Angel Berroa, who showed off his range and made an impressive grab, then displayed his poor decision-making by firing to second where he would be too late to force out Werth. Instead both runners were safe. Chris Coste ripped a line drive in the next at-bat, but it went right to the glove of third baseman Casey Blake. Myers followed with a successful sacrifice bunt and to the plate came Rollins, mired in a dreadful slump. Rollins came through, blooping a single into center field, scoring both runners and putting the Phillies ahead 2-0.

The hit itself was forgettable, but its significance may be well beyond the two runs in drove in. It seemed to ignite Rollins. In his next at-bat, in the fifth inning, Rollins smoked a double down the right field line. He would later score on a Pat Burrell double play ball, bringing the score to 3-0. But Rollins wasn't done yet. He came up again in the sixth and sliced a line drive down the line in left field. Realizing that he had hit the ball into Manny-wood, he ran hard out of the box and, while Manny lackadaisically played the ball, rounded second and slid into third for a triple. Unfortunately, the Phillies were unable to bring him home, as Chase Utley was intentionally walked and Pat Burrell, who went 0 for 5 on the day, flied out to end the inning.

The Phillies tacked on two more runs in the seventh off reliever Chan Ho Park. Ryan Howard led off with a double, then scored off Werth's single. Feliz followed with a single, advancing Werth to second. Chris Coste then hit a seemingly routine grounder to second. A hit and run had been called, so there was no chance for a double play, and Kent made a routine throw to first. This was all well and good, but Werth and third base coach Steve Smith were aware of Kent's inattentiveness. Smith waved Werth around third base and by the time the ball reached Loney, who had noticed Werth's extracurricular activities, it was too late to do anything but watch him score the fifth run of the game.

Once Greg Dobbs grounded out to end the inning, the game was put into the hands of the bullpen. J.C. Romero pitched the eighth and, perhaps inspired by Myers escape artistry, allowed consecutive singles before retired the next three batters.

Rollins led off the bottom of the eighth and all eyes were upon him, as he stood a home run shy of the cycle. Given the pitcher-friendly wind, this outcome seemed unlikely, and indeed it would not come to pass. Rollins worked a full count and then walked. Not quite hitting for the cycle, but with the walk, Rollins had reached base in all five plate appearances on the day. (If that's not a slump-buster, I don't know what is.)

After the Phillies failed to add to the lead in the eighth, Clay Condrey came in for the ninth. Condrey followed the lead of Myers and Romero, putting the first two runners aboard. With Kent up and Ramirez on deck, the game suddenly looked a little closer than the five-run lead would suggest and Charlie Manuel got Brad Lidge up in the bullpen, just in case. However, it would not be necessary. Kent grounded into a fielder's choice at second and Ramirez struck out swinging, fooled by a Condrey fastball. Loney then grounded out, fittingly to Rollins, as the Phillies finished off the shutout and the four-game sweep.

Because the Mets won their game, the Phillies remain a half-game out of first place, but perhaps, in a way, that is for the best. The Phillies and Mets square off tomorrow and Wednesday in a two-game series. The Phillies would have to "sweep" to get ahead of the Mets. Considering the Phillies' struggles against the Mets this season, taking care of business in these two games would be a huge confidence booster and might even rekindle the terror that the Phillies put in the Mets at the end of last season.

With a difficult stretch ahead of them, only one thing is certain: the Phillies need their MVP back. If tonight's game was any indications, they've got him.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Live Blogging Phillies on ESPN...Again

The Phillies have taken the first two games from the Dodgers thanks to great outings from Kyle Kendrick, Cole Hamels, and the offense supporting them with a total of 17 runs. Hopefully the good pitching and offense will continue tonight as Joe Blanton takes the mound against Hiroki Kuroda.

TOP 1st
8:09 - Joe Blanton throws the first pitch of the game to Matt Kemp. Here's hoping that he's still feeling that blinding sun in his eyes.  

8:16 - After a long battle with Andre Ethier resulting in a walk, Jeff Kent hits a single down the third base line to put men on the corners for Manny Ramirez. Sorry Jeff, having Manny behind you clearly does help you out. By the way... it seemed as if Ethier actually walked on ball 5...

8:17 - Blanton hits Manny Ramirez with the second pitch in the at-bat to load the bases. 

8:20 - James Loney hits a single to score Ethier from third. Hopefully the offense will be on again tonight because Blanton looks like he's going to need it. He's already thrown 19 pitches this inning. 

8:21 - Nomar Garciaparra pops out to Jayson Werth, and Kent opts not to challenge him. Actually, old friend Larry Bowa opts not to send him. 

8:24 - After trying to strike Casey Blake out with three sliders, he finally gets him with a fastball to end the inning. Blanton threw about 30 pitches this inning. They'll be lucky if they get four innings out of him. 

8:34 - Andre Ethier did indeed walk on ball 5. Not that it matters now. 

8:37 - Rollins reaches base on an error (which he probably would have beat out anyway), but Utley, Burrell, and Howard go down in order. 

TOP 2nd
8:42 - Pat Burrell botches a catch that would have ended the inning. It wasn't a terribly hard catch to make, he was right there and it went right off his thumb. 

8:43 - Kemp steals third, seeing that Carlos Ruiz would have thrown him out going back to second base. So much for not stealing on Joe Blanton. 

8:45 - Shane Victorino catches a pop-up to end the inning. Burrell was right next to him for the catch, presumably to be reminded how routine plays works. 

8:51 - Jayson Werth is hit by a pitch. Could it be retaliation for hitting Manny in the first? If so, Kuroda decided to wait two batters into the inning before doing so. 

8:54 - Victorino heads to third base on a hit and run as Carlos Ruiz pops out to James Loney. Luckily, Victorino gets back to second in time to avoid the double play. That's the Flyin' Hawaiian's impression of a hummingbird. 

8:56 - Blanton strikes out on four pitches to end the inning. Unlike CC Sabathia, Blanton doesn't look terribly comfortable behind the plate. 

TOP 3rd
9:01 - Manny Ramirez strikes out... and then runs into the clubhouse... either he's going back there to cry, get a protein drink, or go to the bathroom. Either way, it's... well, it's a classic case of Manny being Manny. 

9:03 - Loney hits into a double play to end the inning. Ah, the double play - a staple for the Phillies. 

9:12 - An uneventful half-inning. Rollins and Utley get out, Burrell walks, and Howard ends the inning. 

TOP 4th
9:15 - Rollins proves his worth by diving and throwing out Garciaparra. Whether or not he hits, his glove will always be an asset. 

9:17 - Blanton gets his third strikeout of the night to end the inning. He managed to get through four innings having thrown 60 pitches. Half of those pitches were from that first inning. 

9:24 - Still no life from the offense as Dobbs strikes out to end the inning. With Ruiz, Blanton, and Rollins coming up in the fifth, the Phillies will likely need to wait until the sixth before they see any runs. 

TOP 5th
9:28 - Kuroda gets a single on a ground ball that just gets past a diving Jimmy Rollins. 

9:30 - Phillies almost get their second double play of the night, but Ethier beats out the throw to first. Also, Joe Blanton's night looks to be nearly over as Clay Condrey has begun to warm up in the bullpen. Perhaps they pinch hit for Blanton in the upcoming inning with Feliz and take Dobbs out of the lineup. 

9:33 - But, the Phillies do get a double play to end the inning as Kent hits a grounder and Ethier is out at second and Kent at first. 

9:37 - Carlos Ruiz breaks up Kuroda's no hitter with a single up the middle. They're not taking Blanton out as he attempts to bunt Ruiz over to second.

9:38 - Blanton successfully bunts Ruiz over to second. Maybe this will be an offensive inning after all. 

9:44 - Chase Utley gets a single to score Ruiz. Tie game. 

9:48 - Manny makes another run and catch to end the inning. He's had quite a few of those tonight. 

TOP 6th
9:54 - Victorino makes a fantastic over the shoulder catch at the wall for the second out of the inning. 

10:00 - It's ten 0'clock and there are men on first and second with two outs. Meanwhile, Blanton has reached 100 pitches.

10:01 - Russell Martin hit a ball into right field foul territory. Now, if Chase Utley, Jayson Werth, and Ryan Howard go after a ball, who is the most likely to get it? This time, Howard decided it was his and dove out to make a spectacular catch to end the inning. Joe Blanton is incredibly grateful as his night is most likely over. 6 innings, 1 run, and 4 strikeouts - pretty darn good considering things looked grim in the first inning.

10:05 - Howard brings his fielding energy to the plate. Unfortunately it results in him striking out swinging. 

10:09 - Victorino and Dobbs follow suit by grounding out and flying out respectively. Apparently Blanton's night isn't over as he grabs his glove and heads back out to the mound. He is known for being a workhorse after all. 

TOP 7th
10:11 - Scratch that, Joe Torre decided to pinch hit for Kuroda with the left-handed Juan Pierre. Blanton is done for the night and J.C. Romero is coming in to pitch. Juan Pierre is one of the members of the Dodgers outfield logjam. Nevertheless, he has 38 steals on the year. 

10:16 - Pierre gets an infield single. He'll almost certainly be looking to steal as Matt Kemp comes to bat. 

10:23 - J.C. Romero throws to first after Pierre takes off for second. Howard throws to Rollins at second to get Pierre out. A nice strategic move by Joe Torre, BUT ALL FOR NAUGHT! (Spaceballs anyone?)

10:27 - J.C. Romero's 13 pitch battle with Matt Kemp results in a swinging strikeout. The at-bat was made even longer by Romero's attempts to monitor Pierre. 

10:28 - Romero walks Ethier and is taken out in favor of Ryan Madson. Meanwhile Pedro Feliz enters the game to replace Greg Dobbs. Somehow Romero manages to get out the one right-handed hitter he faces and put the two lefties he faces on base. 

10:34 - Ruiz nearly throws out Ethier, but Utley's tag is behind and Ethier gets the stolen base. Meanwhile, Madson throws a ball into the dirt which Ruiz is able to block. 

10:35 - Kent singles into left field and Ethier is able to score from second. 2-1 Dodgers. 

10:37 - Manny grounds to Rollins who gets the force out at second to end the inning. Manny only has one hit in this series so far. 

10:42 - Chan Ho Park comes in to pitch for the Dodgers and starts by striking out Jayson Werth. Park really should never have left Los Angeles. He currently has a 2.51 ERA in 39 games as a reliever. 

10:46 - Carlos Ruiz and Pedro Feliz ground and fly out to end the inning. If the offense is going to show up tonight, it had better come soon. 

TOP 8th
10:50 - Pat Burrell makes a very narrow catch at the wall on the foul line. Obviously he's learned from his earlier mistakes. Ryan Howard also catches another foul ball and there are quickly two outs in the inning. 

10:54 - Martin grounds out to end the inning. Mark Sweeney was on deck and Hong-Chih Kuo was warming up in the bullpen. 

10:57 - Hong-Chih Kuo has come in to pitch. Apparently Torre decided to go with all Asian pitchers tonight: Kuroda is Japanese, Park is Korean, and Kuo is Taiwanese. Also, Angel Berroa is replacing Garciaparra at shortstop. Garciaparra is the Dodgers' version of Pat Burrell; Torre can't leave him in to field at the end of the game. 

11:02 - Brad Lidge is warming up in the bullpen as Rollins strikes out and Utley flies out. 

11:03 - Burrell gets a single and is replaced by pinch runner So Taguchi. Unfortunately this puts Ryan Howard at the plate with two outs against one of the better left-handed pitchers this season. 

11:04 - Aaaaaand... Howard grounds out to end the inning.

TOP 9th
11:07 - Lidge is in to pitch and Taguchi replaces Burrell in left field. Ryan Howard catches yet another foul ball, though this one is not nearly as impressive as his previous two. 

11:08 - Ethier gets his first hit of the night as he singles to center. 

11:13 - Kent flies out to left to end the inning. Once again, Brad Lidge demonstrates his awesomeness despite allowing a base runner. Lidge did his job, now it's up to the offense to get the win. 

11:15 - Jonathan Broxton is in to close out the game for the Dodgers and Pablo Ozuna replaces Old Man Kent at second base.

11:17 - Victorino leads off the inning with a single into center. Everyone get your rally caps ready as Eric Bruntlett comes in to pinch hit. 

11:18 - Chad Durbin is warming up in case the game goes to the tenth. Eric Bruntlett lays down a bunt as Victorino heads to second. As Jayson Werth heads to the plate, Andy Tracy heads to the on deck circle. Tracy hasn't played in the majors since 2004. Hopefully he can make a good first impression on the Philadelphia fans. 

11:22 - Martin makes a great save to prevent Victorino advancing. Man does Broxton throw hard. 

11:24 - Broxton strikes out Werth on a 99 MPH fastball. Nasty... it's now up to Andy Tracy. 

11:27 - Broxton walks Tracy... there's not really much else to say. For some reason Kyle Kendrick is pinch running for Tracy. 

11:28 - Broxton's first and second pitches to Feliz are way inside. Looks like he's having some control issues. 

11:29 - Feliz hits a single over Ozuna's head and Victorino scores from second base to tie the game. Now Broxton has to face the top of the lineup. And Kyle Kendrick would be the winning run. 

11:32 - Rollins grounds out to first to end the inning. The ball didn't look terribly fair and would definitely have gone foul had Loney not been there to get it before it reached the base. But they tied the game and they're headed to the tenth.

TOP 10th
11:35 - Chad Durbin is in to pitch and Chris Coste is in at catcher. Manny Ramirez gets his first hit of the game. By the way, Charlie Manuel has now used his entire bench, so there may be at-bats from the likes of Cole Hamels.

11:37 - James Loney singles. This is not looking good for Durbin. Mark Sweeney is pinch hitting for Broxton as Joe Beimel warms up in the bullpen.

11:40 - Durbin walks Sweeney. No outs and the bases are loaded. Normally Durbin needs another pitcher to load the bases for him so that Durbin can surrender the unearned runs and then get outs to keep his own numbers spotless.

11:41 - Casey Blake hits the ball right to Feliz who tags third base and throws home to get Manny. Suddenly Durbin has two outs. 

11:44 - Russell Martin flies out to Werth. Durbin magically gets out of an incredibly nerve-wracking inning. Maybe he had to load the bases in order to feel comfortable getting outs, not unlike former Phillies closer Jose Mesa. Current Dodgers third base coach Larry Bowa remembers those Jose Mesa outings well. 

11:47 - Beimel is in to pitch. He threw 27 pitches yesterday, so hopefully one of Utley, Taguchi, or Howard can take advantage of that. 

11:51 - After 11 pitches, Utley flies out to left. Not necessarily what you'd want from the MVP candidate in a clutch situation, but hopefully Taguchi or Howard will benefit from an even more fatigued Beimel. 

11:53 - James Loney follows in Ryan Howard's footsteps by making a great tumbling catch in foul territory. Speaking of Howard, it's up to him now. 

11:57 - Howard is intentionally walked, and then picked off... well, onto the eleventh. 

TOP 11th
12:00 - Durbin is still in to pitch. He seems to be on his way to loading the bases again as Angel Berroa gets a single. 

12:04 - Durbin decides not to stress everyone out like he did last inning by retiring the next three hitters. Now it's up to Shane Victorino to get the offense started... again.

12:08 - And he does. Victorino rips a double into left field and slides head first into second. That will be it for Beimel. 

12:13 - Jason Johnson takes over the mound. The Phillies also saw him yesterday. Meanwhile, Cole Hamels is getting ready to pinch hit and is discussing strategy with Charlie Manuel. I don't know if I've ever seen Charlie Manuel discuss strategy, I assumed no one would be able to understand him if he did. 

12:15 - Chris Coste fouls the ball off the plate, but it looks fair. That was exciting for a moment. Instead Johnson walks him. 

12:18  - Jayson Werth gets out at first and advances the runners. Now it's up to Cole Hamels. But... Hamels pops out to Pablo Ozuna. So it's up to Pedro Feliz.

12:21 - Pedro Feliz hits a three run home run. Game over. Enough said. Good night. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Myers Shuts Down Nats

Brett Myers continued his re-emergence as a key member of the rotation by throwing a complete game shutout against the Nationals. Greg Dobbs supported him with a two run home run and the Phillies beat the Nationals 4-0. 

This has been an interesting year for Brett Myers. To be brief, he was supposed to be a key member of the rotation once the team acquired Brad Lidge, forming a 1-2 punch with Cole Hamels. He didn't, and eventually agreed to go to the minors. They've apparently fixed him up quite well, because since he's been back...

He's had an ERA of 1.94
He's lowered his overall ERA this season from 5.84 to 4.71
He's had progressively more strikeouts in each start - tonight he had 9
He's not allowed more than 2 walks in his last 5 starts 
He's not allowed more than 3 runs in any of his starts
He's only allowed more than 5 hits once: tonight. But throwing a complete game shutout makes up for that. 

When the Phillies walked away from the trade deadline with just Joe Blanton, it was unclear whether or not the Phillies would be able to make it over the hump. Blanton was a good acquisition since the team got a workhorse to stabilize the fifth slot in the rotation, but he wasn't the dominating pitcher the team needed to seriously have a shot if they could get to the playoffs. Getting Myers back in this rejuvenated form is exactly what the team needed. The rotation has been a strength for the team as of late: Cole Hamels is a definite ace, and his off-nights are never a concern given his composure; Myers has been stellar since returning from the minors; Blanton is a solid workhorse who will keep the team in the game while giving a lot of innings; Jamie Moyer has been fantastic of late, not allowing more than 3 runs in a start since June 1st and posting a sub-3.00 ERA in July/August. Kyle Kendrick has been the sore spot in the rotation, particularly in his last two starts in which he was unable to get out of the fourth inning, but Kendrick is a 23 year old prospect in his first full year as a big leaguer. As a fifth starter, he's been just fine, and the team has a couple of options should he continue to struggle. The team could see if Adam Eaton can have a Brett Myers-ish resurgence (unlikely) or call upon J.A. Happ who was great in the rotation earlier in the year. But at this rate, they shouldn't need either. Especially if Myers and Hamels do form that 1-2 punch everyone was hoping for in the beginning of the year. Tonight was proof that Myers could, despite the fact that this was against the Washington Nationals. It's still very exciting. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Phils Keep Pace With Mets Against Nats

As much as things haven't been going the Phillies way lately, at least they're not the Nationals. With both teams struggling coming into the game, the Phillies fresh off a 2-5 road trip and the Nationals riding an eleven-game losing streak, one could argue this game would tell us what happens when a stoppable force meets a movable object. The answer? Not surprisingly, one gets nudged closer to the cellar. Tonight, the Nationals were their usual hapless selves and the Phillies were able to capitalize, edging Washington in a 5-4 win.

The Nationals jumped out to an early lead, off a solo shot from Willie Harris, but the Phillies would respond in the second as Greg Dobbs scored Ryan Howard on a fly ball to left center. This run was in no way guaranteed, as the ball was not hit especially deep. But Harris had to throw off his back foot and Howard made a head-first slide into home, just to be sure. Harris' throw was off the mark anyway, and the Phillies had tied the game.

Joe Blanton, coming off some impressive starts of late, ran into some trouble. He allowed three straight singles in the fourth inning, as the Nationals took a 2-1 lead. Then, in the fifth, Ryan Zimmerman hit an RBI triple and Ronnie Belliard slapped a single up the middle to score Zimmerman, putting Washington on top 4-1.

It was beginning to look like one of those games where the highly-talented Phillies offense inexplicably struggled against a mediocre pitcher (in this case, Jason Bergman). But the offense bounced back, helped in part by the sloppy Nationals defense. Shane Victorino led off the fifth inning with a triple would then score as Greg Dobbs reached on an error by Harris. Dobbs then stole second, then was advanced to third by Chris Coste's single. Geoff Jenkins came in to pinch hit, where he has fared poorly all season, but came through...more or less...with a sacrifice fly. That brought the Phillies within one run and brought up Jimmy Rollins with the tying run on base. Unfortunately, Rollins was unable to produce for the riled up Phillies fans, grounding into an inning-ending double play.

The Phillies offense struck again in the seventh. Pat Burrell singled, but would be out on a fielder's choice hit by Victorino. Victorino then advanced to third on a Dobbs single, spelling the end of the night for Bergman. Coste delivered once more, with a sacrifice fly to right that scored Victorino and tied the game.

That would be all for the seventh, and it appeared as if the game might be headed for extra innings. This was concerning, especially because "inning-eater" Joe Blanton had been pulled after five innings (though to be fair, he had only thrown 91 pitches and was pulled for a pinch hitter). Chad Durbin pitched two scoreless innings after coming in for Blanton and Ryan Madson pitched a perfect top of the eighth inning, in what seems to be his new role in the bullpen.

Rollins led off the bottom of the eighth, smashing a fly ball to deep right field, only to have it knocked down by the wind and into the glove of Austin Kearns. The crowd quieted as Jayson Werth stepped in, as Werth has not antagonized fans of late the way Rollins has. Werth changed that as he gave the fans something to cheer about, hitting a home run to left center and putting the Phillies ahead 5-4.

With a lead (any size lead) going into the ninth inning, the Phillies, their fans, and probably the Nationals, all knew that the game was, in effect, over. Brad Lidge entered and did not disappoint, striking out two of the three hitters he faced and recording his 31st save.

It didn't come easy, but the Phillies got an important win. They still remain 1.5 games behind the Mets, but should have a decent chance to close the gap, as they'll look to extend the Nationals' losing streak to thirteen. Brett Myers and Jamie Moyer will pitch the remaining games. Myers got on track in his last start against Washington, pitching seven innings and allowing no earned runs. Since then, he has pitched three straight quality starts.

After the Nationals, the Phillies take on the Dodgers, hoping to get some revenge after the Dodgers completed a four-game sweep of the Phillies in LA. Manny Ramirez has made the Dodgers a more formidable team and the recent acquisition of Greg Maddux (who Jamie Moyer recently defeated in a game against the Padres) will only help them. That, and the race with the Mets, makes these next two games against the Nationals, which are as close to cupcakes as the Phillies will get, essential.

We learned last season that the Phillies are capable of huge September comebacks, but it would be best for them not to tempt fate and get a head start on the comeback in late August.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Live Blogging Phillies on ESPN

Eight teams have won today by more than four runs, five of those teams scoring over ten runs. Hopefully the Phillies can pull off a similar feat against the Padres.

TOP 1st
8:18 - I'm starting a little late, but it's still the top of the first and the Phillies are up 1-0 on a Jayson Werth sac fly to score Jimmy Rollins. A good start for a struggling offense. Ryan Howard is on first with Pat Burrell at the plate.

8:20 - Pat Burrell does what he probably does best nowadays - walks.

8:23 - But...Victorino grounds out to second base, leaving Burrell and Howard stranded. At least they gave Cole Hamels a tad of breathing room.

8:29 - Cole Hamels gets a 1-2-3 inning. Another good start for Cole Hamels. Hopefully the offense and bullpen will help him out this time.

TOP 2nd
8:34 - The bottom of the Phillies lineup goes down in order. Sadly, Cole Hamels' batting average is down to .276. That's still higher than Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, and Pat Burrell.

8:36 - Adrian Gonzalez gets the first hit for the Padres. Alas, Hamels' no hitter is gone. By the way, Adrian Gonzalez is also batting .276, but has 28 more home runs. Hamels has given up five fewer home runs than Gonzalez has hit.

8:41 - Hamels gets the next three batters out without any trouble. Take that, Adrian.

TOP 3rd
8:50 - Chase Utley is hit by a pitch. Cha Seung Baek hasn't been throwing balls in the strike zone, which will likely come back to hurt him the next time around the lineup. Pat Burrell could be taking quite a few strolls down to first base tonight.

8:52 - Ryan Howard hacks and misses a pitch to end the inning. That's 159 on the season. Only 40 more to break his own record.

8:56 - Luke Carlin is up to bat, hitting a whopping .147. Looks like he could use some tips from King Cole. His battery mate, Cha-Cha Baek has a higher batting average, not that .167 is anything to boast about. He grounds out to shortstop, but his average goes up a point anyway.

8:58 - Just as I say that, Cha-Cha Baek singles to right, raising his own average to .211. Luke Carlin must feel depressed.

9:01 - Neither Scott Hairston nor Brian Giles are able to help out their pitcher. Brian Giles is wondering if he'd have been in this situation if he'd gone to the Red Sox. Actually, he definitely wouldn't since the pitcher wouldn't be hitting.

TOP 4th
9:05 - Pat Burrell has to run to first this time as he singles.

9:12 - No one is able to help Burrell out as Shane Victorino, Greg Dobbs, and Carlos Ruiz all get out.

9:14 - Hamels has needed only 33 pitches thus far. At this rate, he could get a complete game in under 100 pitches.

9:15 - Victorino catches a long fly ball from Kevin Kouzmanoff at the wall. Hamels hits Adrian Gonzalez on the first pitch. He doesn't want to risk Gonzalez raising his batting average - those two have a stiff competition going.

9:17 - Hamels gets his first strikeout of the night by getting Chase Headley looking. Strange that it took him five innings to get it, but he hasn't thrown enough pitches to strike anyone else out.

TOP 5th
9:20 - Hamels grounds out. He looks particularly dejected as he turns away from Adrian Gonzalez: he knows he's falling behind. He can't compete with a camouflaged Adrian Gonzalez. By the way, I missed the explanation behind the camouflage uniforms and am still slightly confused by them.

9:24 - Werth gets a two out single to center. One would think that with Utley, Howard, and Burrell coming up, it would make a difference. Nowadays it's a total crapshoot.

9:26 - Cha-Cha Baek's avoidance of the strike zone results in a passed ball. Jayson Werth only gets to second thanks to a quick reaction by Luke Carlin. Carlin still can't believe he's batting lower than a guy who can barely even find the strike zone when he pitches.

9:29 - Chase Utley strikes out swinging. He's batting .228 in August. Not exactly MVP numbers.

9:36 - Luke Carlin grounds out, but doesn't feel too bad about it as Cha-Cha Baek grounds out to end the inning. By the way, Hamels has thrown fewer total pitches than Baek has thrown balls (54-57 respectively). Hamels has thrown only 11 balls.

TOP 6th
9:42 - Ryan Howard strikes out swinging at, surprise surprise, a low changeup. It's amazing that the Phillies hitters continue to be surprised by Baek throwing outside the strike zone. But Pat Burrell shows why Cha-Cha Baek doesn't throw into the strike zone by hitting his second home run of the series, his 29th on the year. 2-0 Phillies. Pat caught on to Cha-Cha's shenanigans quickly.

9:47 - Greg Dobbs gives Cha-Cha Baek his fifth strikeout of the night by swinging at another low pitch. Everyone else in the lineup is jealous of Pat Burrell's eagle eye or clairvoyance, they're not sure which one he has. By the way, Cole Hamels ended the 6th with 54 pitches thrown. Cha-Cha Baek ended the 6th with 105.

9:51 - It looks like Cha-Cha's night is nearly over as Mike Adams starts to warm up in the bullpen. Didn't Mike Adams use to be good once upon a time? I seem to recall him being good with the Brewers at one point. *Looking up his stats* Yes, Mike Adams had two good years with the Brewers in 2004 and 2005. The Brewers then gave up on him after two poor outings in 2006. He's now resurfaced with the Padres and been quite good.

9:55 - Adrian Gonzalez comes to bat with his .276 average intact and a batter on first. He hits a line drive that is nearly snagged by Utley, but results in moving Kouzmanoff to second and getting himself to first.

9:56 - Chase Headley hits a single over Rollins head while breaking his *cough probably maple cough* bat. Kevin Kouzmanoff scores, cutting the Phillies' lead in half. Still 2-1 Phillies.

9:58 - Hamels gets out of the jam by getting Edgar Gonzalez to ground out to short to end the inning. Beyond Chase Headley, the Padres don't have a very intimidating lineup.

TOP 7th
10:02 - Mike Adams has indeed come into the game to relieve Cha-Cha Baek. Cole Hamels gets a bloop single to left. One can see the gleam is his eye as he approaches Adrian Gonzalez at first, knowing that he's just boosted his average up to .283. Adrian has some catching up to do.

10:05 - Luke Carlin passes another ball and Cole Hamels advances to second. That's his third on the night. Apparently his camouflage is working so well that even the pitchers can't find him.

10:08 - Adams strikes out Jayson Werth looking to end the inning. Werth was probably surprised to see a pitch within the strike zone.

10:14 - Luke Carlin and pinch hitter Jody Gerut get back to back singles. The go-ahead run is now on first with one out and the top of the lineup coming up. Carlin feels particularly good about himself as he just upped his batting average by ten points.

10:16 - The Phillies get out of the jam by fielding a double play. Hamels seemed to know he could count on Rollins and Utley getting that done. Despite the two hits, Hamels needed less than 10 pitches to get through that inning. He now has 81 on the night, 61 of which have been strikes.

TOP 8th
10:19 - Lefty Wilfredo Ledezma comes in to relieve Mike Adams with Utley and Howard coming up, and Scott Hairston is banished to the bench after hitting that double play and is replaced by Jody Gerut. Actually, that has more to do with the fact that Hairston just batted. Ledezma starts off the inning by walking Chase Utley.

10:22 - Howard strikes out for the third time tonight and Brian Falkenborg is brought in to face Pat Burrell. Ledezma exits the game after completing half his job.

10:26 - Falkenborg gets Pat Burrell to ground into a double play to end the inning.

10:29 - The Phillies outfield is realigned with Jayson Werth shifting to left and Geoff Jenkins coming in to play right. Once again, hitting into a double play leads to banishment to the bench. Baseball is a ruthless world, no room for mistakes... Ryan Howard's strikeouts not withstanding.

10:30 - Hamels starts off the inning by striking out Giles. Only his third on the night. Kouzmanoff grounds out and now it's the classic matchup of Hamels vs. Adrian Gonzalez.

10:34 - Adrian Gonzalez flies out to end the inning. The Phillies have J.C. Romero loosening up, but they probably won't use him. More likely Brad Lidge will start warming up or they might even let Hamels finish it. Meanwhile, Trevor Hoffman is warming up for the Padres.

TOP 9th
10:39 - Hamels is done for the night as Lidge has started to warm up in the bullpen. Meanwhile, Falkenborg strikes out Greg Dobbs. Dobbs is now 0-4 on the night with 2 strikeouts. Getting Pedro Feliz back will be a huge sigh of relief for this team.

10:43 - Carlos Ruiz gets his first hit of the night. I'm not sure why I say that as if he was expected to regularly get hits.

10:44 - Pinch hitter Eric Bruntlett ends the inning by hitting a ball which Kevin Kouzmanoff gets with a jump and stretch and throws to second for the force out. Brad Lidge will have to make do with a one run lead.

10:49 - Lidge starts off the ninth nicely by striking out Chase Headley. Meanwhile, Charlie Manuel looks like he's falling asleep.

10:51 - Lidge strikes out Edgar Gonzalez on a close call. According to first base umpire James Hoye, Gonzalez couldn't quite check his bat.

10:53 - Lidge walks Brian Myrow and Sean Kazmar is in to pinch run. No Phillies victory is ever easy...

10:55 - Luke Carlin strikes out to end the inning and the game. He's not going to hear the end of this from Cha-Cha Baek.

So Cole Hamels finally gets a win after another fantastic start and the Phillies are able to keep from falling further behind the Mets as they take two of three from the Padres.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Burrell's Blast is Enough to Snap Phils' Skid

The first six-and-a-half innings of tonight's game featured a pitcher's duel for the ages (well, old ages) between Greg Maddux and Jamie Moyer. The offenses hardly threatened against the starters and headed into the bottom of the seventh tied 0-0, but Maddux would make one mistake. Maddux left a fat pitch over the plate and Pat Burrell capitalized, launching a solo home run out of Petco Park that gave the Phillies a 1-0 lead.

All that remained for the Phillies was getting through the eighth inning, a feat that has been easier said than done in the last few games. The Phillies (well, namely Chad Durbin) blew two leads against the Dodgers before they could get the ball into the hands of still-perfect closer Brad Lidge.

Not surprisingly, Charlie Manuel went to Ryan Madson tonight, in lieu of Durbin, to try to get the ball to Lidge. Madson retired the first two batters but then gave up a single to Scott Hairston. Manuel then turned to J.C. Romero to handle left-handed Brian Giles. Giles hit the ball hard off Romero, but to no effect, as he grounded it right into the glove of Ryan Howard, who quickly stepped on first for the final out.

With Lidge coming in to pitch the ninth, the game might have seemed to be over for all intents and purposes, but Lidge had not pitched since a week ago, when he struggled to get one out in a game against the Pirates. If he was at all rusty, he hid it well. Lidge got Kevin Kouzmanoff to line out to center, then struck out Adrian Gonzalez and Chase Headley to finish off a 1-0 win and snap a four game losing streak.

The Phillies offense was once again, strangely absent, but Moyer, in the midst of his best season since 2003 (when he was a spry 40 year-old) delivered another outstanding start, earning his team-high eleventh win. Madson's performance was also encouraging, as Durbin clearly needed a break.

This is a crucial series for the Phillies, who badly need to get back on track after being swept in a four game series and falling a game out of first place in the process. Tonight's win allowed the Phillies to keep pace with the Mets and perhaps they can gain some ground while facing the lowly Padres. The pitching match-ups in the next two games are in their favor. Let's see if the Phillies can come through.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Phillies Begin Series on Lowe Point

Not long after the trade deadline, the Phillies are, as rumor predicted, playing on the same field as Manny Ramirez. The eccentric left fielder went two for team, but playing for the opposing team -- the Phillies' traditional rival, the Los Angeles Dodgers. A matchup between these two teams has often meant that strange things were bound to happen, but nothing of that kind can really be said to have happened last night -- unless you want to count an uncharacteristically bad outing from starter Kyle Kendrick.

It was a bases-loaded double off Ramirez's bat that started the scoring off of Kendrick, in a disastrous third inning that gave Los Angeles a 6-0 lead -- damage from which the Phillies would never be able to recover. After the inning, capped off by a two-run home run by Jason Loney, finally came to an end, the Phillies were able to recover a single run in the fourth with hits from the hot Shane Victorino and Chase Utley. However, when Kendrick gave up another run to a Jeff Kent single in the bottom of the inning it was clear that he simply did not have his control. Charlie Manuel finally intervened and brough in relatively recent call-up Les Walrond to be the long-man.

Walrond kept the Dodgers from adding on and Derek Lowe held any Phillie retaliation in check until the sixth, when Jimmy Rollins singled and was moved around to score. The scored two more in a seventh-inning rally which culminated with yet another Jimmy Rollins triple. When the Dodgers added another in the eighth it was practically over. Utley singled in the clutch to bring in two runs and make it 8-6, but Ryan Howard grounded out to end the game and prevent a possible two-out rally.

After all the speculation about the fate of Manny Ramirez it is easy to point to his presence on the LA roster as the reason the Phillies dropped this game, but the real reason is just one of those unavoiadble parts of baseball: a usually-reliable pitcher happened to have a bad start. Ideally that will be likely with Cole Hamels on the mound tonight.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Utley Homers Late to Clinch Series

Chase Utley was given a chance to break the game open in the fifth inning. He came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out, with the Phillies ahead of the Pirates 2-1. Then, in the blink of an eye, it was over. Utley grounded the first pitch to short for what became a 6-4-3 double play. The play summed up the Phillies offense of late.

When Utley came to bat in the seventh, in what had become a tie game, he delivered the big hit the Phillies needed. Utley launched a 1-1 pitch over the right field wall, putting the Phillies on top 5-3 and helping to secure a much-needed series win.

Jamie Moyer produced yet another quality start, but that wasn't what he'll be remembered for in this game. In the bottom of the third inning, Moyer stepped into the batter's box for what should have been a routine play. Carlos Ruiz was on first base and Moyer, predictably, intended to lay down a sacrifice bunt.

Moyer did his part, but Pirates pitcher Jason Davis neglected his, making an errant throw to first. Moyer rounded first and headed for second, but an unexpected obstacle stood in his way. That obstacle's name was Randy Marsh, the first base umpire, who was as surprised by Davis' throw as anyone, and Moyer bowled him over before advancing to second base.

That was already more running than usual for the 45 year-old Moyer, but he wasn't done yet. Jason Michaels picked up the ball and fired to second, but his throw was also off the mark. That allowed Ruiz to score and Moyer to take third, where he could finally rest. Well...not for too long. Two pitches later, Jimmy Rollins hit a fly ball to center and Moyer tagged up and scored, giving the Phillies the lead and allowing Moyer to get a much-needed breather.

The 2-1 score held until the sixth inning, when Michaels redeemed himself by hitting a two-out, two-run double to left that put the Pirates in front by a run. After a walk to Brandon Moss, Moyer struck out Doug Mientkiewicz for his final out of the day. He had given the Phillies a quality start, with six innings and three earned runs, not to mention his baserunning antics, but he stood to get saddled with the loss.

Clay Condrey came in to pitch for him in the seventh and put two on with two outs. With the Pirates threatening to add to their lead and a left-handed pinch hitter coming up, Charlie Manuel turned to newly-acquired Scott Eyre. Eyre delivered in his Phillies debut, getting Andy LaRoche to pop out.

The Phillies offense, perhaps inspired by the performance of their newest teammate, responded in the bottom of the seventh. Ruiz doubled to start the inning and Greg Dobbs, in his familiar pinch hitting role, came through once more, hitting an RBI double down the left field line to tie the game. Dobbs would then advance to third on a wild pitch to Rollins, but neither Rollins nor Shane Victorino could drive him in. That brought up Utley, who had failed to deliver in the clutch earlier. However, he redeemed himself in this at-bat, with a two-run homer that put the Phillies ahead for good.

The game's outcome was still very much in question, however, as the Phillies were shorthanded in the bullpen. Both Brad Lidge and Chad Durbin were unavailable. But the Phillies were able to make do, nonetheless. J.C. Romero and Ryan Madson each pitched a perfect inning and Madson's ninth inning earned him his first save of the year.

The Phillies won by the final score of 6-3 and now head to Los Angeles for a four-game series against the Dodgers, who have lost four of their last six, despite the trade for Manny Ramirez. That's not to say Manny has struggled, as he has hit over .450 since his trade from Boston, but the offense has still been inconsistent and the Dodgers sit one game under .500 (though only 1 1/2 games back in the NL West). It's certainly a winnable series, but playing on the road is never easy.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Phillies Shut Out...Again

A legion of Phillies greats gathered before tonight's game against the Pirates to honor Juan Samuel as the newest member of the Phillies Wall of Fame. As nice as the ceremony was, it would have been good if the current Phillies could have given the legends a better game.

One day after they were shut out by the Marlins, the Phillies brought out the same anemic offense against Pittsburgh. Paul Maholm pitched brilliantly, holding the Phillies scoreless over seven innings, while striking out a career-high ten batters.

However, Joe Blanton matched him and was, in fact, slightly better. Blanton threw seven shutout innings of his own and allowed just one hit in the process. However, it was a wasted effort as the Phillies couldn't provide him with any run support. Now he knows how Cole Hamels feels.

Maholm pitched extremely well, but it's not as if the Phillies couldn't get any hits off him. They just couldn't string them together. The Phillies had one hit in each of the first five innings. Put two or three of those hits in a single inning and the Phillies have the lead, but scattered across five innings, the hits were useless.

Both teams turned to their bullpens in the eighth inning. Chad Durbin pitched a perfect eighth but the bottom of the eighth would prove more interesting. Shane Victorino singled to lead off the inning, but the left-handed Sean Burnett retired Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Pirates manager John Russell turned to right-handed Denny Bautista to pitch to Pat Burrell, and he almost paid for it. Burrell hammered a 3-2 pitch to deep left field and off the bat it looked like a home run. But the wind knocked it down and it fell harmlessly into the glove of Brandon Moss, ending the inning.

Both teams went down relatively quietly in the ninth inning, but in the tenth it was the Pirates' turn to threaten. J.C. Romero recorded the first two outs and with the right-handed Steve Pearce due up, Charlie Manuel turned to Brad Lidge to get the third out. This wasn't in any way a bad decision, but it sure began to look like one. Pearce tried to check his swing on a 3-2 pitch, but instead got a lot of bat on it and the ball skipped up the middle for a bizarre base hit. After that, Lidge seemed to unravel. He struggled to throw his slider for strikes and walked the next two batters. The Phillies crowd was on edge as former Phillie Jason Michaels stepped in with the bases loaded. Fortunately Michaels came through for his old team, popping a foul ball behind home plate that was secured by Carlos Ruiz for the third out.

Ruiz struck again in the bottom of the inning, as he led off with a walk against T.J. Beam. Jimmy Rollins sacrificed Ruiz to second (a questionable decision). Victorino was unable to deliver the game-winning hit, but his grounder to first at least advanced Ruiz to third base. With Utley and Howard coming up and no lefties remaining in the bullpen, Russell opted to order intentional walks to both Phillies sluggers, bringing up Burrell with the bases loaded. This was the type of situation where Burrell has excelled this season and he had nearly given the Phillies the lead just a few innings ago, off a right-handed pitcher, no less. But this was not the Phillies' night. Burrell popped out on a 2-2 pitch and slammed his bat to the ground in frustration as the Phillies blew another opportunity.

Manuel turned to newcomer Les Walrond in the eleventh in order to match up with the Pirates left-handed bats. This worked out well enough for one inning. Freddy Sanchez led off with a single, then Walrond retired the next three batters. In the bottom of the inning, the Phillies seemed to suffer from a hangover from the tenth, going down in order.

The twelfth inning, not surprisingly, was not so kind to Walrond. Ryan Doumit led off with a double in the left-center field gap and Brandon Moss advanced him to third with a ground-out. That brought up Pearce with one out. Pearce made a full swing this time and ripped a ball down the third base line that evaded the diving Eric Bruntlett and scored Doumit. Pearce would trot into second for a double and the Pirates led 1-0. Walrond intentionally walked Jose Bautista before Manuel pulled him in favor of Clay Condrey. Condrey struck out Luis Rivas, but pinch hitter Jack Wilson reached on an infield single to short. Freddy Sanchez then recorded his own infield single, scoring Pearce and doubling the Pirates lead. Finally Doug Mientkiewicz grounded out to third and the Phillies came to bat trailing 2-0.

The Pirates went to recently-acquired Craig Hansen to close out the game, and it almost came back to haunt them. Ruiz grounded out to start the inning, but Rollins and Victorino each walked, putting the tying run on base for Utley. Utley fouled off five straight pitches before hitting a ball hard to left-center. The runners took off, as it looked like a base hit, but Brandon Moss thought otherwise. Moss made a diving catch and fired back to second, attempting to double off Rollins. Rollins made it back safely, but Victorino was slower to react to the catch and Freddy Sanchez turned and fired to first, getting Victorino and ending the game with a rare 7-4-3 double play.

With the 2-0 loss, the Phillies have now gone 23 straight innings without scoring. This is the longest scoreless streak since 2000, when they went 24 straight against the Dodgers. That Phillies team won 65 games and finished last in the NL East. Despite their recent struggles, the Phillies still hold a one-game lead on the Mets, who beat the Marlins earlier tonight. Lately, the Phillies have responded when the division lead is in peril, doing just enough to stay ahead. I hate to say it, but that reminds me an awful lot of the 2007 Mets.

Love is in the Eyre

I know, it doesn't make sense (unless you're Mrs. Eyre), but it's the best I could do on short notice.

Yes, the Phillies have acquired Scott Eyre (pronounced "air," so my headline almost works) from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for a single-A pitcher, Brian Schlitter. Eyre is a 36 year-old lefty who continues the 2008 Phillies tradition of acquiring washed up left-handed relievers. (Oh, Steve Kline, we hardly knew thee.)

Eyre was designated for assignment to make room for Kerry Wood, and looking at his stats, it's not hard to see why. Eyre has a 7.15 ERA this year, though that number is a bit deceptive, as the vast majority of his earned runs came in his last three outings.

For the better part of the first half, Eyre was utilized effectively (if sparingly) as a situational lefty. In sixteen appearances, he pitched 10 1/3 innings, usually just getting one or two outs a game, and boasted an ERA of 0.87. In fact, he did not allow a single run until June 15th.

Then things got bad. Real bad. On June 19th entered a game against the Tampa Bay Rays in the seventh inning of a 3-2 game with the bases loaded and gave up a grand slam, a triple, and a double, before getting the first out of the inning. He then surrendered another double before he was removed. He was attributed three earned runs and that shot his ERA to 3.38. Then on June 26th, he gave up another two runs on just one out and two days later, he hit the disabled list with a strained left groin.

He made a not-so-triumphant return to the majors in July, pitching what would be his final game for the Cubs on the day of the trade deadline, July 31st. He struggled once again, allowing three runs and getting just one out. Apparently that was the final straw. He has not been used since and the Cubs felt no need to keep him around.

So while his ERA is horrific, Eyre has been an effective pitcher for most of this season. When properly used, he can be a functional member of a bullpen and having a lefty besides J.C. Romero should prove an asset.

That said, it's never encouraging to read quotes such as the one from Ruben Amaro Jr., who said "We were looking at him a couple years ago." That's great, Ruben, but please tell me you've seen him since.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Phils Shut Down By Marlins Rookie

On paper, the Phillies had the advantage. Staff ace Cole Hamels took on Florida rookie Chris Volstad. Apparently no one told Volstad about the uphill battle he was supposed to face, as he threw six scoreless innings and combined with the bullpen for a four-hit shutout.

The Marlins broke onto the scoreboard in the second inning, when Cody Ross doubled with two outs and Matt Treanor singled to bring him in. Florida would tack on another run in the sixth inning. Those would be the only earned runs allowed by Hamels. The Marlins would score once more in the seventh, an unearned run attributed to Hamels, due in part to a Ryan Howard throwing error.

The score was only 3-0, but, as often seems to be the case when Hamels pitches, the small deficit proved insurmountable. The Phillies could only muster four hits (though they also recorded six walks), one of which came from Hamels himself.

This has become a frustrating trend for the Phillies. Hamels' record dropped to 9-8, despite a 3.35 ERA. One has to think he is jealous of Kyle Kendrick, who has a 10-5 record despite a 4.37 ERA. Perhaps all this proves is that pitching records are meaningless, but it is a very strange trend that should have evened itself out by now.

At least the Phillies get a break from the Marlins, who, along with the Mets, have given them fits this season. That's something that will have to be rectified if the Phillies want to hang on to the division lead. They'll take on the Pirates next, a team which has (somewhat ironically) been heavily pillaged by the AL East. Perhaps that will get the Phillies on the right track.