Saturday, April 10, 2010

Moyer Falters But Offense Lifts Off

The hits just keep on coming for Ryan Howard and the Phillies, who dispatched the Astros in a 9-6 win.

Tonight's game was our first look at Jamie Moyer in 2010 and the results were mixed. Moyer dominated out of the gate, retiring the first eight Houston batters. While he was making the Houston hitters look bad, the Phillies offense was doing its thing. Howard tripled to start the second inning and scored on a Jayson Werth fly out, giving the Phillies a 1-0 lead.

Then, in the third, Moyer sparked the offense with his bat, hitting a single to left with one out. Jimmy Rollins followed with a fielder's choice and it seemed as if Moyer's hit might go to waste. But, as it happened, two-out RBI would be the theme of the night. Placido Polanco followed with a single, Chase Utley walked to load the bases, and Howard walked in a run. Werth then doubled, driving in two more runs. Raul Ibanez flied out to end the inning but the Phillies were looking good, ahead 4-0.

It looked like the Phillies would cruise to an easy win, like the 8-0 win that opened the series. But with two outs in the bottom of the third, things got interesting. Astros starter Felipe Paulino ripped a double over Werth's head in right field and Jason Michaels hammered the next pitch over the left field wall for a two-run homer. Moyer then walked Jeff Keppinger and Hunter Pence delivered a two-run shot of his own, tying the game at 4-4. Later, after three straight singles, the Astros took a 5-4 lead on a Tommy Manzella infield single. Finally, Moyer got Humberto Quintero to ground into a fielder's choice, ending a long inning.

After Houston's third inning rally, both pitchers settled down. Paulino got through the fifth inning without any further harm and Moyer recovered his poise and finished the day with six innings pitched and just the five runs he allowed in the third. But in the seventh, the Phillies offense got going, once again with two outs. After Rollins and Polanco were retired, Utley walked, putting the tying run on base. Howard didn't waste the opportunity, crushing a Brandon Lyon pitch to put the Phillies back on top, 6-5. Three straight singles by Werth, Ibanez, and Victorino extended the lead to 7-5.

The Phillies bullpen had no trouble holding the lead. Chad Durbin and Danys Baez each logged a perfect inning. Then, in the ninth, Victorino, who was one of the few Phillies hitters not to get off to a torrid start thus far in the season, joined the offensive onslaught with a two-run shot off Matt Lindstrom. That gave the Phillies a nice four-run cushion for Ryan Madson, who took the ball in the bottom of the ninth to finish the game off. Madson gave up a lead-off double to (who else?) Michael Bourn, who later scored on a one-out Michaels single. However, Madson locked in after that, retiring Keppinger on a fielder's choice and striking out Pence to end the game.

Moyer's season debut was a bit troubling. He looked very sharp for the most part, but that third inning would be enough to lose the game on many days, as we can't realistically expect to score 5+ runs every night. Still, he was able to regain his control after the third and he managed to work through six innings. Suffice it to say he currently holds the upper hand over Kyle Kendrick to stay in the rotation once Joe Blanton returns, but that's not saying much.

As for the offense, what's not to like? Polanco continued his incredible start with another two-hit performance and currently sports a .542 batting average. It was good to see Victorino get going with a home run, a single, and a couple hard hit outs. But the story thus far has been Howard, who cranked out his third home run in five games.

It's too early to read into it too much, but it is worth noting that Howard has only struck out once in 26 plate appearances this season. If he continued at this pace, he would record just 32 strike outs in 162 games. Obviously it's way too early to start projections, as he's also on pace for 97 home runs and 324 RBI, but it's still worth mentioning.

Tomorrow afternoon, the Phillies will go for the sweep, as Roy Halladay takes on Roy Oswalt. Halladay is Halladay, but he could be in for a test, as Oswalt is also an established ace and has fared well against the Phillies (6-1, 3.23 in 11 games).

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