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.

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