Phillies Offense backs up Kendrick in Win Over the Mets

By Chris Murray

Brown's three-homer in Wednesday's win over the Mets sailed over the Budweiser sign into the second deck at Citizen's Bank Park. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Brown’s three-homer in Wednesday’s win over the Mets sailed over the Budweiser sign into the second deck at Citizen’s Bank Park. Photo by Webster Riddick.

For the Chris Murray and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

If you’ve been crying the blues about the Phillies struggles this week—poor starts by Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels, remember that it’s only April and nine games into the season.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel made it clear that he’s not as worried as some Phillies fans might be at this point in the season.

“So far is a big word,” Manuel said before the game. “You can be hitting .300 and then two days go 0-for-4 and then be hitting .220, .230 and .210. Time will take care of all of these things.”

After losing five of their first seven games, the Phillies (4-5) closed out the first homestand of the year by winning two straight including Wednesday’s 7-3 win over the New York Mets at Citizen’s Bank Park.

“It’s great to get that first series under our belt and just try to carry the momentum to Miami on this road trip,” said Phils first baseman Ryan Howard. “We’ve had a couple of situations where we’ve come up short in games. These last four or five games we’ve been going out there and just swinging.”

The Phillies will embark on a six-game road trip that will take them to Miami and Cincinnati. They will be back at the ball park in South Philly on April 18 when they start a three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

“We definitely need  to play the Marlins and we have to win series and take it one game at a time,” Manuel said.

The Phillies got off to a hot start offensively in the first inning—they got a two-run homer from Chase Utley and a monstrous 3-run shot from Domonic Brown that went over the Budweiser sign and into second deck in right field to give them a 5-0 lead.

“I think we started to get good balls to hit and started swinging the bats good,” Manuel said. “I felt like out hitting picked up because we were leaving runners on base and things like that.  It was just a matter of time we started getting some hits with guys on.”

The Mets would get one back via the long ball on a solo shot by catcher John Buck in the second inning and another solo homer by Lucas Duda in the top of the fourth. The Mets leftfielder would get another solo home run in the eighth off Phils reliever Mike Adams.

Kyle Kendrick wasn’t necessarily the second coming of Cy Young and didn’t necessarily overwhelm Mets hitters.  He gave up solo home runs to catcher John Buck and leftfielder Lucas Duda.  He pitched six innings (105 pitches) and got six strike outs and allowed just two walk while pitching on a tight rope.

“It was important that he took us where we wanted to go,” Manuel said. “He pitched out of some jams. Tonight, he definitely did that tonight.”

But in the midst of his struggles, Kendrick managed to survive a 27-minute rain delay and pitch his way out of some tight jams after seeing his team jump out to a big lead. After Buck’s homer in the second, the Mets loaded the bases with one out.

Kendrick got out of it back striking out pitcher Jeremy Hefner and centerfielder Jordany Valdespin to get out of the inning.

“It’s always nice to get out of jams,” Kendrick said. “You try to minimize the damage and stay away from big innings.”

In the fifth inning, Kendrick gave up a single to Valdespin and walked second baseman David Murphy.  Then he struck out Mets third baseman David Wright for the first out of the inning. While pitching to first baseman Ike Davis, Kendrick uncorked a wild pitch that moved the runners to second and third.

Kendrick managed to get out of the inning thanks to the speed of centerfielder Ben Revere and the dumb base-running of Murphy.  Revere ran down a short fly ball by Davis and then tossed the ball to second to double up Murphy, who didn’t tag up and apparently thought the ball was going to drop.

“That was a big spot in the game,” Kendrick said. “I guess (Davis) thought Ben might not have gotten to it, but I was happy, happy, happy.”

Meanwhile, the offense added a couple of insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth thanks to a two-run homer by pinch hitter Laynce Nix.


Lee, Phillies Bats Power their Way Past the Mets

Ryan Howard hit his first home run of the year Tuesday in the Phillies win over the New York Mets. Photo by Webster Riddick

Ryan Howard hit his first home run of the year Tuesday in the Phillies win over the New York Mets. Photo by Webster Riddick.


By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Earlier this week, Charlie Manuel had talking about the need for his team to start putting every aspect of their game together to start winning on a consistent basis. That means solid pitching and hitting, something they haven’t had much of so far this season.

In the second game of their three-game series against the New York Mets, the Phillies finally got a good game from the guy on the mound and some firepower from their bats in their 8-3 win Tuesday night at Citizen’s Bank Park.

“I saw them hit the ball and they hit it real good,” Manuel said. “We were fortunate enough to get some runs early. It’s a matter of time that we’re going to have some good nights when we do knock them in and getting them on first is important and the most thing is knocking them and scoring runs.”

Starting pitcher Cliff Lee (2-0) has been the most consistent element of the Phillies starting rotation so far this season.  Tuesday night, the Phillies lefthander served up a gem by pitching eight and two-thirds innings, allowing just three runs (two earned) on eight hits. He struck out six and had zero walks.

“I was just throwing strikes and making them swing their way on base,” Lee said. “We were making plays, being aggressive and trying to staying away from hitter friendly counts. “

Lee even helped himself at the plate. He was 1-for-4 with a run batted in. Phillies third baseman Michael Young described him as a baseball player who happens to be a pitching.

“Cliff’s awesome. I’ve always liked to play behind Cliff,” Young said. “He loves to compete. He has a bad at-bat and he’s pissed. It’s fun to play with a guy like that.”

Said Lee: “Anytime you can do anything at the plate or any aspect of the game, If I can do anything to help the team in positive way, I feel good about it.”

When Lee was taken out of the game in the ninth, the fans, probably tired of the poor performances by the bullpen, booed Charlie Manuel while giving Lee a standing ovation.

“It was tough,” Manuel said. “I want Cliff to finish the game, but at the same time, I didn’t want him into no big inning where throws 25 or 30 pitches either. He wanted to stay in of course.”

Now in Manuel’s defense, Lee did throw 106 pitches up to that point and given how the rest of the pitching staff is going right now, the Phillies are not in position to risk any injuries.

Meanwhile, the middle of the Phillies lineup awakened from their slumber in a big way thank to the long ball. With the Phillies already leading 4-0 in the third, Ryan Howard and Young hit back to back homeruns. Later in the inning, rightfielder John Mayberry Jr. also hit a home run.

“For awhile we had trouble getting that big hit,” said Young, who was 3-for-4 and was a double short of the cycle. “We kept saying to ourselves as long as we keep getting out there. That’s the important thing. Eventually, we’ll start moving them in. Hopefully, this is the start of something good.”

The Phillies started the scoring in the bottom of the second by jumping out to a 4-0 on an RBI double by Mayberry that scored Young and Domonic Brown.  The Phils also got an RBI single from Lee and an RBI double from Jimmy Rollins.

Something to Prove: Re-Energized Phils Hope to Take Back NL East

Phillies left-fielder Domonic Brown is coming off a hot spring training. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies left-fielder Domonic Brown is coming off a hot spring training, but can he be consistent during the regular season. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—While every team around baseball is excited about the opening of the new season, the Phillies seem to be approaching the 2013 season with a new sense of energy and a determination to get back to the top of the National League East standings.

“It feels like to me there’s more intensity and focus this spring because of the failure from last year,” said left-handed starter Cliff Lee. “Everybody knows we had a lot of injuries, so guys are more focused on getting ready and a ‘we’ll show everyone mentality.’ To me that’s a good thing. It’s just go matter of going out there and executing and staying healthy.”

For one thing, the Phillies will have their best run producers—Ryan Howard and Chase Utley at the beginning of the season, something they didn’t have last season until shortly before the All-Star break when the team was in too deep of a hole to get back into the pennant race.

Both Howard and Utley played well in spring training and will come into the season with a clean bill of health.  Howard batted .338 down in Florida, hit seven homeruns and had 17 runs batted in.  Utley had a .273 batting average, but hit five home runs while driving in 16.

“I think it’s very big for the fact that they are the two biggest run producers for our team,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manager. “I think having them back is very important. It always has been. The acquisitions that we made this year with Ben (Revere) and (third baseman) Michael Young makes us better and when we get Carlos Ruiz and (right fielder) Delmon Young our offense should really pick up.”

Coming into Friday’s exhibition game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Citizen’s Bank, Manuel hadn’t announced his decision if Revere or shortstop Jimmy Rollins would be batting at the lead-off spot. In the last few weeks of spring training, Manuel has rotated Rollins at the No. 1 and the No.2 spot.

“I would feel comfortable hitting (Revere) at leadoff or second or anywhere else in the lineup even if I have to put him down (in the lineup), I feel very comfortable with him,” Manuel said. “I like Jimmy Rollins leading off basically for a couple of things. One of them is the runs he produces in the lead-off hole. He’s knocking seventh, eighth and ninth hole hitters and that’s pretty big.

“How he does it? He hits triples, doubles and homers. That’s how he does it.”

Another huge story line for the Phils is their starting rotation, namely Roy Halladay. With talk of his velocity diminishing and his struggles during the course of spring training, Manuel said he expects Halladay to be okay when the regular season starts.

“I have some concerns about it, but at the same time in the last three times, he’s gotten better,” Manuel said. “I think he’s ready to go. In talking to (pitching coach) Rich Dubee and Roy, he’s ready to start the season and he’s ready to pitch.”

Even as strong as the Washington Nationals starting rotation is projected to be, Lee said the Phillies rotation with himself, Halladay, Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan are equally as good.

“I think the track record speaks for itself,” Lee said. “It’s a pretty solid rotation. If we stay healthy and give the team a chance every time we go out there. I like our chances.”

With veteran Mike Adams as the setup man in the back end of the bullpen with closer Jonathan Papelbon, Manuel said he likes his bullpen and he is expecting some of his younger pitchers to come through as well.

“I think (Antonio) Bastardo is going to pitch better this year because we can get him away from pitching against three right-handed hitters,” Manuel said. “I think with Adams back there that gives us more consistency in the back end.”

Manuel said he’s expecting some of the pitchers the team sent to the minors to be good as well.

One of the big questions for the Phillies offense is can leftfielder Domonic Brown duplicate his outstanding performance during spring training in the regular season? The often maligned Brown raised eyebrows this spring with a .376 batting average, seven homeruns and 17 runs batted in.

“I think mentally he’s a lot different,” Manuel said. “He has a direction now in like who he is and where he wants to go. He’s made some adjustments in his hitting. The biggest thing I saw is that he had good balance and rhythm when he caught ball out front. He has a strong, active bottom hand that’s what creates angles for the ball.”

Perhaps the biggest thing for the 25-year-old Brown is that he got through spring training healthy and did not sustain any injuries, something that has bothered him throughout his brief career.

“The big thing for me was just to stay healthy and put in the work that I’ve always have,” Brown said. “I’m just going out there and having fun. I’m preparing the right way every day and trying to do my part to help this team.”

Same Old Story for Lee and the Phillies

Cliff Lee gets no love from the Phillies offense.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

If you hide the date and the names of the teams involved in just about all of Cliff Lee’s outings with the exception of his two wins, it’s the same old script.

Phillies can’t score runs, Lee pitches well and ultimately gets burned by one bad

inning and gives the other team the win. That’s been ending to a sorry saga in what has been a lousy season for the Phillies

Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals fell into the same narrative.  The Phillies jumped out to a 1-0 lead on an RBI ground by Ryan Howard. After that the offense went to a deep freeze and managed just three hits the rest of the way because they couldn’t figure out Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook.

“Our offense was really weak tonight, four hits and three singles,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “When our pitchers hold people to three or four runs we’ve got to win those games.”

Meanwhile, Lee seemed to be rolling along for the first five innings, scattering just three hits up to that point.  The sixth inning determined both Lee and the Phillies fate for the evening.

Lee gave up a single to John Jay, a double off the right field wall by first baseman Allen Craig.  The coup de grace was delivered by Cardinals leftfielder Matt Holliday who smacked 1-2 pitch into the right field seats.  And there’s your ball game lady and gents. Art Carney, Sheila McCrae, good night everybody!

“I had the game in hand. I just left a couple of pitches up that double off the wall and the home run,” Lee said. “Tonight it came down to two mistakes the pitch to Craig and the pitch to Holliday. It is what it is.”

I’ve seen superstar players have bad games in sports. I’ve seen good free throw shooters clank balls off the rim in crucial spots and we’ve seen Peyton Manning throw a pick six in the Super Bowl.

But Lee’s 2012 season is something that some how that makes one wonder what can he do to appease the baseball gods.  Maybe he needs to call in Pedro Serrano from the movie, “Major League” and spray rum on the baseball or get a priest to bless the Phillies bats before the game. Maybe he can get light some candles and place them around a big picture of Cy Young or Walter Johnson.

Through it all, Lee has somehow managed to keep his head while others around him can’t seem to swing a bat and give him run support.  As former Temple head coach John Chaney once told to me, (paraphrasing) defense with no offense is like working all day and not making any money.

“That’s the life of starting pitcher,” Lee said. “ You’ve got to continue to make pitches. You’re there to make pitches, hitters are paid to hit the ball and if you make too many mistakes they’re going to make you pay.”

Lee has worked his butt off all season,  it’s too bad that his offense is not helping him to reap the rewards.  He doesn’t have bad luck, he has dumb luck.

Phillies Doubleheader Loss is a Microcosm of the 2012 Season


By Chris Murray

You would like to think that all the Phillies have to do is go on a major 10-game winning streak and everything would be right in the world. But the stark reality is that in order for them to get on that roll, they’re going to have to get it right in all phases of their game.

As you’ve seen this season, the Phils can’t seem to get anything right on a consistent basis. If the starting pitching is going well, then the Phillies aren’t scoring enough runs or the bullpen is letting them down. Then you have guys Kyle Kendrick or Joe Blanton where you never know what you’re going to get or somebody makes a crucial error.”

“We have trouble and there’s no getting away from it,” said Phils manager Charlie Manuel. “There’s three phases of the game and I see it over and over. There’s pitching, defense and hitting. We’re dysfunctional at times. Two of those phases, it seems like we really can’t put together good games.”

Losing both ends of a day-night doubleheader to the Tampa Bay Rays was a microcosm of the season. In the first game, Cole Hamels pitched his rear-end off. He allowed no runs and scattered three hits, but didn’t get the decision.

“That’s kind of like who we are,” Manuel said. “In order for us to put together a streak and win five or six games in a row, we’ve got to play much better.”

Two of the Phillies (34-40) nagging bad habits-their inability to score enough runs and the bullpen giving up the lead late in the game-came back to bite them on the rear end.

Antonio Bastardo, who struggled in the eighth inning of Saturday’s win, gave up two walks and allowed what turned out to be the game-clinching three-run home run to Rays first baseman Carlos Pena.

Of course, it’s easy, not to mention absolutely right to blame Bastardo for having a poor outing the mound and not helping Hamels out. But when you don’t score more than one run, you’re a big two-run, three-run or grand-slam away from being on the short end of a defeat.

In the eighth inning of the opener, the Phillies, down 3-2, had two chances to tie tbe game, but came up short. With men on first and third, John Mayberry Jr. inexplicably looked at a pitch that was right down the middle. Instead of swinging, he ended being called out on strikes.

After pinch hiiter Jim Thome was intentionally walked to load the bases, it was up to Mike Martinez, who was 0-for-3 coming into that at-bat. He eventually became 0-for-4 when he flew out to right.

“We’ve had trouble knocking in runners from third base with less than two outs all year long,” Manuel said. “We must be trying too hard because the law of averages should catch up to you before long and our percentages will be better.”

A visibly frustrated Manuel chided the media for second-guessing his moves and sarcastically “invited” reporters to give him suggestions via Twitter. That display of surlyness is really about a deeper frustration of not having players who are going to get it done on the mound or at the plate.

In game two’s 7-3 loss to the Rays, Cliff Lee (0-4) had another outing where he walked off the mound without getting his first win of the season, but this time it was partially because of his own doing. He allowed five runs on six hits, but struckout nine.

“It’s not like his stuff is not there because it is, he’s very capable of pitching much better than that, we know that,” Manuel said. “It’s hard for me to explain it.”

Lee put the Phillies in early 3-0 hole by giving up three runs in the second. When the Phillies cut the margin 3-2 in the fourth inning, Lee gave up two more runs in the sixth inning after retiring 11 in a row.

“I do have to do a better job of being ahead in the count. With two outs, I can’t let a big inning happen with nobody on,” Lee said. “The second inning, I let things get out of hand there. I walked the first guy in that inning and led to a bad inning. A few crucial walks throughout the game ended up costing me.”

And then, of course, the Phillies awful bullpen topped off the evening’s festivities by allowing two more runs. Relievers B.J. Rosenberg and Jake Diekman combined to walk five. Rosenberg four and Diekman. Both pitchers walked home the runs.

During the course of the game, the Phillies suffered another injury when backup catcher Brian Schneider sprained his right ankle. X-rays were negative, but he likely spend some time on the disabled list, leaving the Phillies with just one catcher.

This, too, is par for the course for what is so far a difficult season for the five-time defending National League East champions.

“This year has been real tough on us because of everything that’s happened,” Manuel said. “We’ve got more problems than we’ve had in the past. Injuries and things like that have kind of accumulated. If you look at our pitching, if you look at our hitting, our offense and our everyday players, we’re trying to get by until we get healthy.”

Phillies Offense Comes Up Short for Cliff Lee Again

Lee pitched seven shut-out innings before giving up two runs in the eighth inning in Tuesday’s loss to the L.A. Dodgers.

By Chris Murray

For the CM Report

You have to wonder if Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee did something wrong to offend the baseball gods with all the bad luck he’s been having this season.

He has pitched well even though he is 0-3, but the team doesn’t give him any run support. In Tuesday’ s 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Lee had 12 strikeouts in seven and two-thirds innings. He had just one bad inning and that was the top of the eighth when Dodgers third baseman Elian Herrera hit a two-run double off the left field wall that missed Juan Pierre’s glove by inches.

Things looked promising for the Phillies. They scored the game’s first run in their half of the first on an RBI-single by Hunter Pence that scored Jimmy Rollins, who doubled to lead off the inning.

But for the rest of the night that was it. Only two Phillies runners got as far as second base after that first inning. Dodgers pitcher Chad Billingsley (3-4) put the Phillies bats on lockdown. He pitched seven innings and allowed the one run on six hits.

Of course, most folks would second-guess Charlie Manuel keeping Lee, who threw 122 pitches, in the game when it appeared he was tiring, but it wouldn’t be so bad if the offense would just score runs. There was a certain radio talk show host who suggested that Manuel should have put closer Jonathan Papelbon in for a four-out save.

If you want to make that argument, fine. It’s an easy one to make But don’t get mad at Manuel for this one because Lee should have had some help tonight. When you don’t score runs, you can leave yourself vulnerable to one bad inning, one mistake over the plate by your pitcher or the hitter gets lucky and crushes your best pitch to kingdom come. The offense has to got to do something at some point.

“What happens, you just sit there and it only takes one swing at the bat to beat you, especially when you have somebody on,” Manuel said. “All it takes is one swing of the bat and that’s what happened here (Tuesday) night and that can beat you when you let them stay around like that. We didn’t add on and of course, it came back and got us.”

Watching Lee tonight reminded me of something that former Temple basketball head coach John Chaney once told me about good defense and no offense: “It’s like working hard all day and not making no money. We played good defense, but we haven’t scored.”

That’s probably the best way to describe Lee’s recent outings on the mound. Even in the eighth inning, he got some stellar defenive plays, including a throw he made to third base to throw out Dodgers catch Matt Treanor when Tony Gwynn Jr. tried to bunt him from second to third base.

Pence made another brilliant defensive play when he threw out Gwynn trying to go from first to third base on a Bobby Abreu pinch-hit single.

All that hard work and Lee has nothing to show for it. That’s just wrong.

“He’s pitched well enough to win four or five games,” Pierre said. “We haven’t hit the ball when he’s pitched, we haven’t scored any runs and we haven’t made the plays behind him. It’s always one guy on the pitching that gets it and you just feel for that guy as well as he pitched.

“(Lee) didn’t deserve to lose that game tonight. Hopefully, it will be water under a bridge in August or September and he runs off 12 straight wins or something.”

And by that time maybe Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are back or better yet the players they have will get hot and start tearing the cover off the ball before those guys come back.

Meanwhile, you have to admire Lee for at least keeping a stiff upper lip through all this.

“I’m not really frustrated, I’m not,” Lee said. “All I can do is throw pitches. I don’t set goals that I have to have this many wins or whatever. I just want to put up as many zeroes as I can and throw strikes, don’t walk guys and give the team a chance to win. That’s all I can do and continue to try to do.”


Despite Win Streak, Bullpen and Offense Still a Problem for the Phillies

Cliff Lee struck out 10 against Houston Tuesday, but got a no-decision because the bullpen allowed the Astros to tie it in the ninth. The Phils needed a walk-off home run in the 10th inning to win it.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

The Phillies are hoping this current run of wins will be the start of more consistent winning streak that will get them on track for contending for another National League East crown.

But even though they’ve won four out of their last five games against a couple of bad teams, the Philies still have issues they need to fix if they’re going to keep this run of wins going.

Though the Phillies ended this last home stand with a walk-off homerun by Hunter Pence to beat the Houston Astros 4-3 in 10 innings, it probably shouldn’t have come to that point. Instead of bringing in Jonathan Papelbon to close out the game, Chad Qualls came into the game and gave up two runs to tie it at 3-3, ruining starting pitcher Cliff Lee’s best effort of the season.

The reason you didn’t see Papelbon in the game to close it was that he was in the game night before in a 5-1 win over the Astros. That led folks to asking why w ould use your best reliever in a game four-run game.

Manuel’s initial explanation was that Papelbon already warm and Antonio Bastardo had pitched in three straight games. Qualls, oddly enough, was pitching in his fourth game out of the last five games. Bastardo was unavailable for Tuesday’s game.

It might have been better to pitch Qualls in Monday’s game where you had a four-run lead. But of course, if Qualls blows the lead in that game, then folks would have been saying Manuel should have brought in Papelbon.

But later in the postgame press conference when Manuel was asked a question about Citizen’s Bank Park being such an easy place to hit homeruns, he modified his answer on Papelbon being in the game with a four-run lead by talking about how it easy it is to hit homeruns in places like the Phillies homefield.

“A four-run lead is not what you call a big, safe lead,” Manuel said. “If he’s rested and he can throw sometimes, it might be best to use him. If you play in Colorado and I used to managed in Colorado Springs, I used to look at a five-run lead like it was two or three. That’s exactly how I looked at it and believe me you better be prepared for some of that.”

The bottom line to all of this is that the Phillies bullpen is woefully inconsistent no matter how you, I or anyone else would have called it.. Still, I probably would have pitched Qualls in the four-run win over the Astros that Monday night. Papelbon had pitched in four straight games and I’m sure Manuel didn’t trust Jose Contreras, who has been struggling in his first games back from an injury.

I would have erred on resting Papelbon when I had a four-run lead and then bringing him back the next day if I needed him. But again, if Qualls blows a four-run lead, the manager would have also received a heavy dose of second-guessing and criticism.

Luckily, for the Phillies, rookie Jake Diekman saved the day for the Phillies by getting the last out in the ninth and retiring the Astros in order in the 10th . They should probably use that guy more often or at least until the rest of the league figures him out

On the flip side of the coin, the Phillies struggling offense, sans Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, have done a poor job of putting teams away when they’ve had opportunities. Tuesday’s win over the Astros was a good case in point. If they could have scored more runs, we are not having this discussion about the bullpen.

In the bottom of the eighth, the Phillies had two men on first and third with no outs. Pence, who was on third was thrown out at the plate after John Mayberry Jr. hit a grounder to the third baseman. Why Pence tried to score in that situation is beyond me. The inning ended with Freddy Galvis flying out and Brian Schneider grounding out to the first baseman with the pitcher covering first.

“We need to pick up those hits with two outs and add on, not just be complacent with three or four runs,” Schneider said. “We have to get those hits and make it a four or five-run lead. We have to do that to be successful.”

Meet Me in St. Louis: Cardinals Overcome Four-Run Deficit and Phillies to Even NLDS

By Chris Murray

For the CM Report

The Philadelphia Phillies got a little taste of what their neighbors across the street-the Eagles-have been experiencing over the last three weeks: Blowing a big lead late in the game.

In Game 2 of the 2011 National League Division Series, the Philadelphia Phillies jumped out to a four-run lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the first three innings and probably thought they were in a good position to go up 2-0 in the series.

After all, lefthander Cliff Lee was on the mound and when he is on top of his game, the Phillies are virtually unbeatable. Unfortunately, Lee was not sharp as he allowed five runs on 12 hits and the hard-hitting Cardinals not only caught up with the Phillies, but surpassed them.

“When you’ve got Cliff out there, you definitely have a great feeling, but at the same they battled back and make some things happen and we weren’t back and score,” said left fielder Raul Ibanez. “Cliff’s been unbelievable for us all year.”

More importantly, the Cards evened the best-of-five NLDS with a 5-4 win over the Phillies in front of a disappointed record crowd of 46, 575 fans at Citizen’s Bank Park. A night that started with the shouting and waving of towels would ultimately end in a din of silence.

The series will now shift to St. Louis for Game 3 (TBS, 5:07 p.m.).

Things started off well for the Phillies they jumped on Cardinals starting pitcher Chris Carpenter early by scoring three runs in the first inning. The first two runs came courtesy of a single by first baseman Ryan Howard with the bases loaded that scored Jimmy Rollins, who reached on a double and Chase Utley who walked. Raul Ibanez added a run scoring single that plated Hunter Pence.

The Phillies  added another run in the second inning on a two-out RBI single by Pence that brought home Rollins, who hit his second double of the game.

That turned out to be the last run of the game for the Phillies whose bats went into chill mode for the rest of the night.

“Well, we felt real good about ourselves,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “You know we got Carpenter out of the game early and we were trying to get into their bullpen. What came—the big problem was that their bullpen held us. We got two hits, two hits after that.”

Meanwhile, the Cardinals began gradually chipping away at Lee. In the fourth, St. Louis got singles from leftfielder Lance Berkman and catcher Yadier Molina. Ryan Theriot doubled home Berkman and moved Molina to third. Jon Jay singled home Molina and then moved to second while Theriot ended up on third.

After Lee struckout pinch-hitter Nick Punto, Rafael Furcal singled home Theriot, but Jay was thrown out at the plate on a brilliant throw to catcher Carlos Ruiz from Ibanez in left field.

The Cardinals evened the game at 4-4 in the sixth inning on a RBI single by Jon Jay that scored Theriot, who reached on a two-out double.

Lee’s night ended in the seventh when the Cardinals took the lead on an RBI single by Albert Pujols that scored rightfielder Allen Craig who tripled to center off the glove of Shane Victorino. After a single by Berkman, Lee’s night was done.

“I take full responsibility,” Lee said afterward. “Anytime you give a starting pitcher a four-run lead in the first two innings, he’s in a pretty good spot and that was the situation I was in and I somehow squandered it away. You’ve got to give their hitters credit, they got a ton of hits and they drove a lot of pitches, they battled and never gave up.”

Perhaps the big question for that situation was whether or not Manuel left Lee in the game too long. When asked if he should have pulled Lee after the sixth when St. Louis tied it, Manuel said had no thought of taking Lee out of the game.

“No I didn’t,” Manuel said. “More than likely if we had two guys on base, I might have hit for him. But at the same time once we didn’t get there, I was sending him back out there.”

Considering that  Phillies relievers allowed just one hit in the final three innings, taking Lee out of the game after the sixth inning might have been the wise thing to do.