Hitting Woes Derail Phillies World Series Dreams Again

Ryan Howard was hitless in his last 15 at-bats in NLDS loss to St. Louis Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun and the Chris Murray Report

The lack of consistent hitting has been the Achilles Heel of the Philadelphia Phillies dating back to their loss to the Giants in the 2010 National League Championship Series. It was something that haunted them throughout the regular season even as the Phils, thanks to their highly-touted pitching staff, piled up enough wins to have the best record in baseball.

The Phillies inability to hit, despite having baseball’s best pitching staff, brought another premature ending to what was the best record in club history. It will be  another long  winter of discontent for the Phillies as they try to recover from another postseason loss that probably shouldn’t have happened.

“This is the most pitching that I’ve ever had depth-wise in our starting rotation and our pitching definitely did a good job this year,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “Once we got Hunter Pence, I felt like our offense definitely picked up and this is a good ball club and we’re definitely capable of winning. Right now, I’ve got some anger, I’ve got some—I don’t know and I just feel very empty.”

The St. Louis Cardinals advanced to the National League Championship Series with a 1-0 shutout of the Phillies in front of a disappointed crowd of 46, 530 fans at Citizen’s Bank Park. The Phils lose the NLDS three games to two.

“It sucks being in this situation and having to come and making the last out and having it the way it happened, it just sucks,” said Howard, who injured his left leg on the final play of the game when he grounded out to first . “You don’t want to be a part of that. Obviously we want to be on the other side of that and we came up short. The only thing we can do is focus in on next year.”

The Cardinals, who won the wildcard berth on the last game of the regular season, will move on to take on the Milwaukee Brewers in the NLCS.

In a battle of Cy Young Award winners that truly lived up to its billing as an intense pitchers’ duel, St. Louis Chris Carpenter out-dueled Roy Halladay by the narrowest of margins. Carpenter allowed just three hits while pitching the full nine innings.

“I saw Carpenter throw breaking balls and change ups and fastballs,” Manuel said. “I saw him move the ball around and he pitched a real good game.”

Halladay was stellar in a losing effort for the Phillies and allowed just one run on six hits while striking out seven and pitching his way out of some tough jams.

If he could start the game over, Halladay would gladly take back the first inning or the two hits he allowed that gave the Cardinals their only run of the game. St Louis got what turned out to be the winning run on an RBI double by Skip Schumaker that scored Rafael Furcal, who tripled to open the game.

Perhaps the most telling stat of this series was the poor hitting performances of Howard (.105) , Raul Ibanez (.200), Placido Polanco (.105)and Carlos Ruiz (.059). After driving in six runs in the first two games of the series, Howard’s bat went silent as he was hitless in last 15 at-bats.

“The mentality was to get guys on base and try to make something and we weren’t able to do that,” Ibanez said. “It’s very frustrating offensively because we’re capable of doing more.”

In Friday’s game, Howard, Ibanez and Chase Utley hit some balls hard, but just could not get  that big hit that would have turned the tide of the game in their favor.

“It felt like one of those nights where we going to break through,” Howard said. “We have (Carpenter) on the ropes a couple times and guys just missed pitches. I missed a couple pitches, Raul missed a pitch. We felt like we were on the verge and for some reason, it didn’t happen.”

After the first inning, Halladay did everything to keep the Phils in the game. In the eighth, the Cardinals loaded the bases with just one out, Halladay struck out Lance Berkmann and got Matt Holliday to hit a harmless flyball to Ibanez in left.

“Obviously that’s very frustrating because (Halladay) had pitch his heart out there, but Carpenter did, too,” Ibanez said. “It’s hard to go home early because everybody in here thought we were going to be playing. We were expected to be out there still competing.”

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.

Halladay, Howard Lead Phillies past the Cardinals in Game One of NLDS

Howard's three-homer helped the Phillies to win Game 1 of the National League Division Series. Photo by Webster Riddick.


By Chris Murray

For the CM Report

The Philllies were able to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five 2011 National League Division Series thanks to a familiar formula that, at times, has been absent at Citizen’s Bank Park this season: The big inning.

With the Phillies trailing 3-1 in the sixth inning, first baseman Ryan Howard sent the third largest crowd in Citizen’s Bank Park history into a towel-waving frenzy by launching a three-run homer to right center. Two batters later, Raul Ibanez added a two-run homer for good measure. The Phils scored five runs on five hits to take command of the game for good.

“It’s definitely nice to do that and we were able to do it tonight,” Ibanez said. “Tomorrow is a different day and you may need another tool in your tool box, but it’s definitely nice to to have the big inning. We were able to string two big innings in a row and that was the difference in the game. ”

That five-run outburst propelled the Phils to an 11-6 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in front of 46, 480 fans at the ball park on Broad and Pattison.

It wasn’t all about the hitting because Roy Halladay’s pitching kept the Phillies within striking distance after the Cardinals jumped out to a 3-0 lead on a three-run homer by Lance Berkman in the top of the first inning. After that troublesome first, Halladay allowed just one hit and zero runs the rest of th way.

Roy Halladay retired the last 21 batters he faced in Game 1 of NLDS

“Really, I just tried to stick with our plan,” Halladay said. “I felt like, for the most part, we were making good pitches, just tried to continue with that, be aggressive and let things take care of themselves.”

Catcher Carlos Ruiz said it would have been easy for Halladay to get down on himself after Berkman’s homerun, but his battery mate kept his competitive spirit as the game moved forward.

“It was big because when give up a homerun in the first inning maybe sometimes you kind a give up, but he was like okay we have to keep going, we have to keep fighting and we have a chance to win the game,” Ruiz said.

For the game, he pitched eight innings and allowed just three hits. After a second-inning single to Skip Schumaker, Halladay was perfect, retiring the last 21 batters he faced. It was as if three runs he gave up in the first inning didn’t exist.

“Yeah, he was kind of like a Rocky movie,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “He got mad after he gave up that homer. That ticked him off and he hung in there and he got going.”

Meanwhile, the heart of the Phillies batting order-one through six- tore the cover off the ball against Cardinals pitching. They struggled in the beginning against St. Louis starter Kyle Lohse, swinging at bad pitches and not working the count. But in the sixth inning, the bats woke up from their slumber thanks to the long-ball by Howard (1-for-3, 4 RBI) and Ibanez, who was 2-for-4 with three runs batted in.

“The big innings are huge and they’re great momentum shifters for us,” Howard said. “But like I said in those kind of situations, you want to try to get a run here, try to get a run there, continue to give yourself opportunities to score runs.”

In the first three innings, the Phillies were impatient at the plate and had difficulty getting to Lohse, swinging at several first-pitch strikes and a few bad pitches along the way.

“It took us awhile to get to him, but we got patience with him and he made a couple of mistakes with his breaking ball up and he made a couple of mistakes with his breaking ball up and I think those were the balls we hit for homers, ” Manuel said.

After taking a 6-3 lead in the sixth, the Phillies added five more runs on their last two at-bats. After Halladay left the game after the eighth, Michael Stutes came in the game and allowed three runs on three hits before he was replaced by Ryan Madson who got the game’s final two outs.

Manuel said having the big lead allowed the Phillies the luxury of taking Halladay out of the game.

“He was going to go out there if we don’t add on, but once we got it to 11, Rich Dubee (Phillies pitching coach) and I decided we were going to take him out,” he said.









Bring on The Cardinals: Energized Phillies Ready for NLDS

Roy Halladay to pitch Game 1 of NLDS for the Phillies

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun and Chris Murray Report

Bring on the Cardinals: The Phillies are rough and ready for the Division Series

PHILADELPHIA—Even though they had clinched the National League East and homefield advantage for all the National League playoff series, the Phillies were trying to shake themselves out of a season-worst eight-game winning streak.

Shortly before his team’s final road series of the regular season, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins predicted that his team’s batteries would be fully charged on their road trip, especially in their final series against a desperate Atlanta Braves team.

“It helps when another team is coming to get you, you find a way to turn it up,” Rollins said.

J-Roll was right, but will the rush the Phillies got from their sweep of Atlanta enough to ward off an equally hot St. Louis Cardinals team in the best of five National League Division Series, which begins Saturday afternoon at Citizen’s Bank Park (5:07 p.m. TBS).e

“We have to be hungrier than anyone because we’re expected to, we have a target on our back,” said Phils right fielder Hunter Pence. “It can add pressure, but the main thing is to not think about that. It’s about being hungrier and go with everything you’ve got with all your focus and concentration.”

2010 Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay (19-6, 2.35 ERA) will start for the Phillies against St. Louis starter Kyle Lohse (14-8, 3.39 ERA) .

Even though the regular-season is now in the past tense, the Phillies seemed to be energized by their recent experience in Atlanta and the now feel that they are in the right frame of mind to battle a scrappy Cardinals team that overcame an eight-and-a half-game deficit to win the National League Wildcard race on the final game of the season.

“I think that series, going in, was a playoff series,” Howard said. “We had to look at it to get ourselves geared. The Braves knew they were playing for something to try to get into the playoffs. We knew that they were going to bring it and come with whatever they had and just gear ourselves up for October. Yeah, I thought that was a good series for us to get things going and get ready for October.”

During the regular season, the Cardinals, who clinched their playoff spot on the last day of the regular season, beat the Phillies in six of their nine games. Two of those losses came at Citizen’s Bank Park after the Phillies had clinched a playoff berth.

“Everybody’s dangerous, you can’t overlook anybody,” Howard said. “Sometimes wildcards can be the most dangerous team because they had to scratch and claw and do what they had to do to get to this point.

“As far as they nine games we had against St. Louis, it’s a whole different ball game. When you get to this point, you throw all that other stuff out the door because now it’s a sprint to the finish, every body’s going to come with their A-game.”

Of course, the Phillies will come into the postseason with the best pitching staff in baseball with the likes of Halladay, Cliff Lee, who will start in Game 2, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. Halladay opened last year’s postseason with the second no-hitter in the history of postseason baseball in Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS.

With all the pressure and expectations heaped upon what is arguably a “Dream Team” of a starting rotation, Halladay said there is no more extra pressure on the Phillies than what they put on themselves.

“You know I don’t really see a lot of extra pressure,” said Halladay, who pitched a major league leading eight complete games. “I think that everybody expects what we expect out of ourselves. You know if if doesn’t happen, I’m sure there would be a lot of disappointment, but we don’t look at that side of it right now. I think we have the opportunity in front of us and we have the chance to do it.”

The big question for the Phillies will be whether they can hit consistently enough and score enough runs for their starting pitchers In a season where the Phillies have gone through more than their share of injuries, hitting slumps and losing streaks, they have managed to do well enough to win 102 games.

“I think that when we lost eight in a row, I don’t think our players were panicking,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “I think we were at even keel, but also we knew it was time for us to get our best team on the field and get our pitchers out there and win some games before the playoffs started. I think that’s who we are, that’s the way we play and our team stays on an even keel.”

Perhaps for the first time all season, the Phillies will be fielding a team that will be healthy, something that they haven’t been all season and they’ve gone through dozens of injury depleted lineups. Manuel said his team will be in good shape just in time for the postseason.

“Healthwise, we’re in the best health we’ve been, I should say, all year long,” Manuel said.