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.

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