Off the DL: Halladay Has a Solid Outing in Phillies Win over Arizona

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday

Roy Halladay pitched well since going on the disabled list in May and earned his first win since April. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Roy Halladay pitched well since going on the disabled list in May and earned his first win since April. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—If you needed any indication that Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay was back to his old self after spending most of the season the disabled list, all you needed to do was see the standing ovation he got from fans at Citizen’s Bank Park after he left the field in the sixth inning.

Halladay (3-4, 7.81 ERA) didn’t perform badly for a guy who got the call to pitch for the Phillies late Saturday night.  He was supposed to be pitching in a rehab assignment for the Phillies Double-A affiliate in Reading.

“I was half asleep. I was more than happy to come back,” said Halladay, who had shoulder surgery. “Hotel phone was going off, my cell phone was going off. Everything was ringing. I didn’t know what was going on. It took me a second to figure out what was going.”

Facing major league hitting for the first time since May, Halladay allowed just two runs on four hits in six innings of work with two strikeouts and two walks.  He said the velocity on his fastball, which was mostly in the high 80s, but got up to about 90-91 miles per hour, will eventually come, but he wants his other pitches such as his sinker or cutter to be effective as well.

“I’m going to continue to throw fast balls, but I need to show guys early in the count that I’m throw something soft and put as much in their minds as I can early,” Halladay said. “If I go out there and show them that I’m going to throw all fast balls, they’re going to be on it. I’m going to have mix and match and change speeds as much as possible.”

The Phillies offense Sunday helped Halladay by giving him a whole lot of run support and some spectacular plays in the field as the Phils came away with a 9-5 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Things started a little shaky for Halladay, who gave up two runs in the first two innings on an RBI groundout and a sacrifice fly.  But after the second inning, Halladay settled down and didn’t allow a run for the remainder of the game.

The offense came through in a big way. They scored four runs in the first inning. Two of those came on an RBI double by third baseman Cody Asche. Left fielder Darin Ruf had a base loaded single that put the Phillies on the board.

John Mayberry Jr. added to the Phillies lead by blasting a two-run homer to left in the fourth inning. The Phillies added three more runs in the sixth to close out the scoring.

“We scored early and then in the middle and then late,” said interim manager Ryne Sandberg. “In our wins on the homestand here the guys are really coming through with clutch hits, situational hits and big hits with guys on base. I feel  like it’s getting contagious throughout the lineup now.”

Phillies newcomer Roger Bernadina had a couple spectacular plays in the field including robbing Diamondbacks third baseman Matt Davidson of a two-run homer  with a leaping catch at the wall. He also had a diving catch in the seventh inning that took away another hit from Arizona catcher Tuffy Gosewich.

“For a second I thought the ball was over my head,” Bernadina said. “I kept going when I crossed the warning track, I jumped and made a catch out of it.”

Added Halladay: “That was probably a game-changing play.”

For good measure, Bernadina was 1-for-4 with a double and two runs batted in.

End of an Era: Manuel Firing Means It’s Rebuilding Time for Phillies

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday

 Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro looks to rebuild Phillies after firing Charlie Manuel.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro looks to rebuild Phillies after firing Charlie Manuel.

PHILADELPHIA—With the Phillies 15 games below .500 and their awful performance after the All-Star break, you should now have all the evidence you need to understand that team’s run of success in recent years has to come to an end.

The Phillies fired Charlie Manuel Friday after compiling four wins in 23 games after the All-Star Break and replaced him with Ryne Sandberg, who is in a 42-game tryout as the Phils interim manager.

But Manuel’s dismissal wasn’t necessarily about his abilities as a manager. It was emblematic of an aging team that is in decline and is about as good as they’re going to get this season, which explains the Phillies current 53-68 record.

From 2007 to 2011, the Phillies won five straight division titles, a World Series title and two National League pennants. Like it does with every good team, age and injuries over the last two seasons have finally caught up with them.

At the end of the day, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is going to have to do an overhaul of a team that needs to move forward rather than hanging on to players who are nothing more than aging shells of their former selves.

If you’re going to bring in a new manager, I think you’re also going to have to bring in new, younger players who are going to buy into the new manager’s philosophy and at some point you have to start growing your younger talent.

That means you have to say good-bye to popular fan-favorites. I thought it was a mistake for Amaro to sign second baseman baseman Chase Utley to a two-year contract extension.  Don’t get it twisted, Utley has been a warrior of a player for the Phillies and a key contributor during the team’s playoff run.

Charlie Manuel led the Phillies to five straight division titles, a World Series title and two National League Pennants.

Charlie Manuel led the Phillies to five straight division titles, a World Series title and two National League Pennants.

But with his degenerative knees and his age, Utley’s days as a regular second baseman are numbered. I personally think they should have traded him for some prospects or some younger player.

As much as I admire and respect shortstop Jimmy Rollins, I think it’s time for him to move forward on him as well. After this season, he will have one year left on his contract. After next year or maybe even before that, it’s thank you for your service and the good things that you’ve done for the team.

While he is still one of the best defensive shortstops in the National League and maybe in baseball, at the plate he hasn’t hit above .280 since winning the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 2007.

Rollins hasn’t been the most disciplined hitter, which is surprising for a veteran ball player of his stature. He doesn’t work the count and often swings at bad pitches.

A couple weeks ago, the team placed the 34-year-old Rollins on waivers since he has a no-trade clause in his contract, but there were no takers.  Unless he has a huge resurgence next year, I don’t see the team signing him to an extension. Eventually, they’re going to have to look to their farm system to find a replacement.

Meanwhile, the Phillies are going to have see if 36-year-old Roy Halladay, whose contract is up at the end of this year, has anything left following his shoulder surgery.  He is currently on a rehab assignment with Phillies minor league affiliate in Clearwater, Fla.

In his first start, Halladay allowed three runs and struck out four. The velocity on his fastball was somewhere between 85 and 87-miles per hour. That’s not good enough for him to come back to the major league level.

The bottom-line now is that the Phillies are officially in rebuilding mode and for them to get better they will inevitably have to say adios to guys who helped build and shape the Phillies last run of success.

Just as Rollins, Utley, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels became the foundation of 2007 to 2011, especially after the team unloaded guys like Jim Thome and Bobby Abreu, a new crop of kids will come in and hopefully achieve what those guys did.

 

The Phillies May Have Something Left, But the End is Near

By Chris Murray

Cole Hamels has struggle in his eight starts this season. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Cole Hamels has struggle in his eight starts this season. Photo by Webster Riddick.

For the Chris Murray Report

PHILADELPHIA—In a week in which the Phillies face the possibility of not having starting pitcher Roy Halladay until maybe September or possibly not at all, the Phillies are facing a crossroads in the early season with a combination of injuries and players not playing up to their potential.

Phillies team doctor Michael Ciccotti said for Halladay to come back in September, he would have to get to the point where he has all his range of motion in the shoulder.

“(Halladay) needs to meet certain milestones before he can progress to the next level,” said Ciccotti. “If he achieves his range of motion if he’s strong and he can pick up a ball. If he can go to a mound and he can pitch and he’s comfortable. He has to pass those tests along the way and if he’s not comfortable and we’re not comfortable, we’re not going to let him get on the mound and pitch.”

As it stands now, the Phillies (20-22) are 3.5 games out of first place behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East and they are now down two starting pitchers. John Lannan, who had strained ligaments in his knee, is expected to be off the disabled list in June.

But the real issue facing the Phillies is that their run of success that goes back 2007 and includes one World Series title, two National League pennants and five National East titles is slowly coming to an end.

That’s not to say the 2013 season is a done deal by any stretch of the imagination because we’re not even at the All-Star Break just yet. The Phils can still contend for a playoff spot and a division title, but they don’t have a lot of margin for long stretches of games where they struggle to hit, have bad starts by their pitchers or have their bullpen blow games.

Shortstop Jimmy Rollins recently told MLB.com that team could be broken up if they don’t start winning on a consistent basis

“We’ve just got to make sure we do what we need to do before they blow it up,” Rollins said.

You have to think that at some point Cole Hamels (1-6, 4.61 ERA) is going to break out of his current funk. If he doesn’t do it anytime soon, then more than likely, the Phillies will be sellers by the time the July 31 trade deadline.

Oddly enough, Phillies starters outside of Halladay, Hamels and Cliff Lee, have combined for a 7-2 record so far this season while aforementioned big three are combined 7-12.

“We haven’t gotten the pitching performance — other than Lee — the guys at the top of the rotation haven’t pitched the way we know they can pitch, in particular Roy wasn’t very consistent, although he threw a couple good games,” said Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.  “And Cole hasn’t been real consistent. But I am less worried about Cole than our offense, which has to come around and be a little more consistent.”

While the offense has played better within the last week or so, Amaro said he is concerned about Delmon Young, who is 2-for-11 on the current homestand and Ryan Howard, who is also 2-for-11, in the Phillies last three games.

“Right now, we have to be patient and see if Delmon starts swinging it and Ryan is going to have to start swinging it,” Amaro said. “If those guys do, then’ we’ll be OK. If they don’t, then we will have to figure out what we are going to do.”

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said Howard has to work on finding some consistency at staying on the baseball.

“He’s not right yet,” Manuel said. “His swing is not consistent right now and he’s got to keep working until he finds it.”

The Phillies, whether they want to or not, are going to be finding how good or not so good their minor league farm system is getting ready pitchers are ready to start in the big leagues. So far, Jonathan Pettibone (3-0, 3.41 ERA) has raised as few eyes with his performances on the mound since being called up from Lehigh Valley.

At some point, teams around will the league have a better understanding of what Pettibone is doing on the mound and they will make the appropriate adjustments. If Pettibone can work through that, the Phillies will be in good shape.

Another possible “X” factor for the Phillies starting rotation is Zambrano, who recently signed a minor league contract with the team. In 12 years in the majors with the Chicago Cubs and Miami Marlins, Zambrano is 132-91 and has a 3.66 earned run average.

If the 31-year-old Zambrano can overcome his volatile past which includes fights with teammates and he comes back and still has something left, it will certainly give the Phillies a much-needed boost.

“We’re just trying to find some additional depth and some options for us,” said Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock. “It’s low risk and hopefully high reward …It’s one of those thing where just get him down there and see where he’s at. From the reports we got the other day, he’s in pretty good shape. We have to get a gauge of where he’s at.”

Meanwhile, some of the players feel that they are on the verge of putting together a run of game that would put them near the top of the division.

“I’ve been feeling that way the whole season,” said Phillies leftfielder Domonic Brown. “We’ve got a great team here. We just got to put it together.”

 

 

 

 

 

Halladay Headed to Disabled List After Marlins Rout Punchless Phillies

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and The Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Roy Halladay has struggled in his last two outings of a sore right shoulder. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Roy Halladay has struggled in his last two outings of a sore right shoulder. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA–If you were wondering if there was something physically wrong with Phillies starting pitcher Roy Halladay after two disastrous starts in which gave up 17 earned runs in five innings, you absolutely right.

After the Phillies 14-2 loss at Citizen’s Bank Park to the last-place Miami Marlins in which he gave up nine earned runs in less than three innings, Halladay told reporters after the game that he had been experiencing soreness in his right shoulder since an April 19 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“My shoulder was bothering me,” Halladay said. “I woke up and I really didn’t think anything of it. I thought it was regular soreness. It kind progressed over the last two weeks or so. ..I felt good all spring, I felt good all year. It was after that start against Pittsburgh, I had soreness in there and I wasn’t able to get rid of it.”

 Meanwhile, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Halladay will be on the disabled list sometime within the next day or so once the team decides who they’re going to bring up from one of their minor league affiliates. He said Halladay will be examined by doctors in California.

“Clearly, it does seem like he’s not healthy,” Amaro said. “It was pretty apparent with his performance today unfortunately.”

Halladay apparently kept his condition from manager Charlie Manuel and Amaro. Because Halladay is a proven veteran, he felt that he was able to pitch his way through his soreness.

“Listen, he’s a competitor. If he feels he can pitch, he can pitch,” Amaro said. “Clearly, he wasn’t pitching to his custom level and it was apparent today and after his last outing.”

Going back to his last start against the Cleveland Indians, Halladay has given up a grand total of 17 earned runs, 12 hits, seven walks, two hit batsmen and four homeruns.  He hasn’t been able to pitch beyond the fourth inning.

The competitive portion of Sunday’s game ended in the first and third innings.  In the first inning, the Marlins scored five runs on two hits because Halladay had absolutely no command over his pitches. He walked three batters and hit another in the back.

“He couldn’t find his pitches today,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “He didn’t have his location and command. It was a combination of things. He kept falling behind and when had to come in and throw the ball in the big part of the plate he got hit.”

 Halladay gave up a two-run double to Miami rightfielder Marcell Ozuna that was almost a home run.

Marlins shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria hit a bases loaded triple to put the Phillies in a 5-0 hole after one half of an inning.

But Hechavarria wasn’t done with Halladay. In the third inning, the Miami shortstop hit a grand-slam home run that sent Halladay to the showers.  For the game, Hechavarria had seven runs batted in.  It was 9-0 and the rout was on.

With Halladay definitely out of the starting rotation, the Phillies, starting with their seven-game road trip to San Francisco and Arizona, will be playing a stretch of games against teams with winning records with the exception of the Marlins.

“I think our road trip is big,” Manuel said. “I think we need to win today’s game.  I think we need to win tomorrow’s game. I come here with the mindset that we’re going to win. We definitely need to start winning some games.

Last season, it was late May in which Halladay wound up on the disabled list and the Phillies went from being a game above .500 to being 13 games below .500 prior to the All-Star break. They were in a huge hole from which they never recovered.

In addition to Halladay’s problems on the mound, the Phillies offense in the last two games of the Miami series could only muster just two runs. After being shutout in Saturday night’s loss, the Phillies managed to score two runs (one earned) in the eighth.

“Until we start hitting the ball and start making better contact and doing things right, we’re going to struggle,” Manuel said. “We’ve got to come out and play-get runners on base and hit the ball. With the lineup that we got we better get some extra base hits because we’re not getting a whole lot out of our speed right now.”   

 

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.

 

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.”

A Long Way from Playoff Contention, Phillies Hope to End Season on a Winning Note

John Mayberry Jr. drove in three runs including a home run in the Phillies 4-2 win over the Washington Nationals.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

The Phillies, as you know, are a long way out of the pennant chase, but the way they played Saturday night in their 4-2 win over the Washington Nationals, there’s a huge part of Phillies fans and the players, for that matter, that wishes they push the reset button and restart the season with everybody healthy and playing the way they are now.

With the postseason out of the question, finishing the year on a good note with winning records over good teams is the only solace they can take out of a season that’s had its lion’s share of bad breaks and setbacks.

“I think it means something whenever you win games if you have a winning record against a team, but at the same time, just the fact that we can some games, if we can keep going to close out the season and enjoy playing the rest of the way and get some victories, I’d like to see what happens,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.

The Phils can enjoy the win over the first-place Nationals that had a little bit of everything that defined the Phillies success over the last five years. First, the Phillies got a solid outing from starting pitcher Roy Halladay, who had just one bad inning when he allowed a pair of runs when he allowed a bases loaded single to Nationals second baseman Steve Lombardozi.

Halladay (8-7) kept the Nationals at bay by holding them to two runs on seven hits with six strikeouts and two walks.  The 2010 Cy Young Award resembled the guy he was two years ago outside of the fifth inning with his ability to mow down the opposition and pitch his way out of jams.

For the third straight night, the Phillies bullpen kept the opposition off the scoreboard and enabled the Phillies to hold onto a lead in the late going, something they’ve struggled with during the first half of the season. The much-maligned Antonio Bastardo struck out the side in the eighth and closer Jonathan Papelbon slammed the door shut on Washington with his 29th save of the season.

“I always feel like we when we get in close games that we have a chance to win with our starting pitching, but our bullpen with the experience that they’re getting is going to pay off for us,” Manuel said. “The way we’ve played the last couple of days proves that we can stay in close games and win.”

In addition to Halladay’s solid effort, the Phillies got timely hitting, something that was a regular staple of Phillies victories during their success of the last five years. Tonight, it was John Mayberry Jr. leading the Phils hit parade as he drove in three of the team’s four runs. He had an RBI single, a home run and a sacrifice fly.

“I think that Doc really set the tone, he threw the ball extremely well as is customary. We just wanted go out there and support him, getting as many runs as we can get,” Mayberry said. “You have able to come up with big hits in big situations and you have to be able to get that run from third with less than two outs. Little things like that make big differences in games.”

Another thing the Phillies can hang their hats on is that they are 16-10 since the trading away former centerfielder Shane Victorino to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants.

“Obviously, we wanted to play good baseball all year-long. In the first half of the year we didn’t do that,” said second baseman Chase Utley, who went 1-for-3 with a run batted in, a  run scored and two stolen bases including his steal of third base that enabled Mayberry to drive home for the Phillies final score of the game. “Every game is important from here on out. I think we do a good job of preparing the same way whether it’s the best team or the worst team.”

While most of the world  has written off the Phillies 2012 season as a lost campaign, Utley believes the Phillies still have a chance for the postseason. When asked that by a reporter, he looked her in the eye and with a straight face said: “Absolutely.”

A Week That Will Live in Infamy: If you’re a fan of Philly sports teams, last week was one of the worst ever

Roy Halladay allowed just one run, but his teammates scored less than that in Game 5 of the 2011 National League Division Series. Photo by Webster Riddick.

 

By Chris Murray

For the CM Report

Philadelphia’s sports fans have had some moments over the years that have probably led to record profits for bars and liquor stores.

Pick your poison—the 1964 Phillies losing the pennant in the last week of the season despite having a six and a half game lead, Joe Carter’s walk-off homerun that beat the Phillies in the 1993 World Series; the Eagles losing the 2002 NFC Championship game (and the final game at Veterans’ Stadium) to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXIX.

You can also throw in the 1981 76ers blowing a 3-1 lead to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals and “Black Friday” 1977 when the Phillies blew a two-run lead in the ninth against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 3 of the NLCS.

And don’t even get folks started on a more recent example; the Phillies stunning loss to the San Francisco Giants in the 2010 National League Championship Series.

But while all of these sports losses are still stuck in the craw of Philadelphia’s sports fans, my guess is that they’ll pale in comparison to the week of Oct. 2 to Oct. 9—which included the horrendous two-game slide of the Eagles, part of a four-game losing streak, and the Phillies unceremonious exit from the Major League Baseball playoffs.

Those seven days represent arguably one of the most miserable weeks to be a Philadelphia sports fans in the city’s storied sports history.

While most of Philadelphia’s sports fans were able to observe the carnage from a safe distance, I had front-row seats.

Here’s how it went:

Sunday, Oct. 2. I started my day at Lincoln Financial Field to cover the Eagles-49ers game. By the third quarter of that game, Eagles had taken a 23-3 lead and it looked like they were going to stop the bleeding of losing two straight games.

I mean, this current incarnation of the 49ers is being led by Alex Smith. He’s gonna beat you? Really? A guy who has been labeled as a bust is going to lead a team from 20 points down to win. Joe Montana was not coming through that door at Lincoln Financial Field, right?

The 49ers also had a gimpy leg running back in Frank Gore, who was a playing on a sore ankle. Surely, he wasn’t going to be busting through the Eagles defenses for big yardage.

That’s exactly what happened… and don’t call me Shirley.

Smith, looking like the second-coming of Montana, John Elway, and John Unitas combined, led the 49ers on three second-half scoring drives. He threw two touchdown passes and wound up passing for 291 yards on 21-of-33 passing.

Meanwhile, Gore gashed a poor tackling Eagles defense for 127 yards on 15 carries. He averaged eight-yards per carry. On Gore’s game-winning 12-yard touchdown run, he ran over Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel and dragged him into the end zone.

The Birds offense couldn’t get out of the way of itself. They were 2-of-7 in the red zone and they committed three turnovers, including Jeremy Maclin’s fumble on the Eagles last possession of the game that sealed the defeat. The Eagles new kicker Alex Henery also missed two easy second-half field goals that might have won the game for the Birds.

Instead, the Eagles left Lincoln Financial Field to resounding boos and chants of “Let’s Go Phillies.”

About three hours later, I was in the press box at Citizens Bank Park and it’s the top of the fourth inning. The Phillies are up 4-0 with Cliff Lee on the mound. Surely, the rest of the game is a mere formality, right? The Phils would be heading to St. Louis with a 2-0 lead.

Again, this is Cliff Lee, the same Cliff Lee who back in late August went through a stretch of three straight outings where he didn’t allow an earned run.

Lee gave up five runs over the next three innings—three in the fourth, one in the sixth, and one the one that tied the game in the seventh. I thought that after Lee gave up the tying run in the sixth it might have been time for him to hit the showers for the night. He may have had nine strikeouts, but he didn’t have his best stuff.

As it turned out, the Phillies relievers allowed just one hit for the remainder of the game.

But after the second inning, the Phillies offense got just two hits for the rest of the game. Instead of a 2-0 lead, the Phillies go to St. Louis with a 1-1 tie. Phillies’ fans didn’t know it or even want to think about it, but Lee blowing that lead would ultimately cost the Phillies.

In game three, Cole Hamels and Ben Francisco gave Phillies fans a reason to think all was right with the world. Hamels didn’t allow a run in seven innings and Francisco hit a three-run homer in the top of the eighth. The Phillies held onto for a 3-2 win and they were one game away from advancing to the National League Championship Series.

But the joy was short-lived.

Twenty-four hours later, the Phillies gave Roy Oswalt 2-0 lead in the first inning and that was it for the Phillies offense.

After that the Cardinals third baseman David Freese owned the show, driving in five runs with an RBI double that gave the Cards their first lead and a two-run homer that put the game away for good and sent the series back to Philly for Game 5.

With the second largest crowd in the history of Citizens Bank Park warming up for a huge Phillies victory, the Cardinals needed just one run in the first inning and a good nine innings by their ace Chris Carpenter.

Even as Roy Halladay brilliantly recovered from giving up a triple to Rafael Furcal and a run-scoring double to Skip Schumaker, 46, 530 towel-waving Phillies fans were tortured for nine painful innings at the inability of their hitters to come up with a run-scoring hit of any kind.

Whether you’re talking about the long fly ball that Ibanez hit with runners at the corner, Ryan Howard, who was 0-for-his last 15 at bats in the series, swinging at bad 3-0 pitch or Chase Utley smacking the ball to the wall in the ninth inning, it was like watching a slow, tortuous death.

And of course, the piece de resistance for this debacle was Howard making the last out and rupturing his Achilles Tendon in the process, which means he could be out for half of next season. It was a horrific end and a monumental disappointment for a team that won 102 games and had the best pitching staff in baseball.

But Philly’s sports fans weren’t going to get a break from their heartache anytime soon.

By Sunday, Oct.9, Philly’s sports fans, still hurt over the Phillies stunning exit from the playoffs, found no solace in the Eagles who lost another game they had no business losing to the Buffalo Bills.

The Eagles committed five turnovers including four interceptions by Michael Vick and the defense complicated things by not tackling anybody and letting the Bills run and pass all over them. The Birds did almost as good a job of beating themselves as the Bills did in beating them. They committed big penalties in crucial situations including a silly holding penalty that cost the Eagles a touchdown.

But the worst came late in the game. The Bills had a fourth and one at the Eagles 49 with one minute, 23 seconds left in the game. Everybody with an inkling of football knowledge knew that Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn’t going to snap the ball and he was calling out signals to draw the Birds offside.

And sho’ nuff, sho nuff, veteran defensive end Juqua Parker fell for it and leaped across the neutral zone and was flagged for encroachment. C’mon, man! Huh? The oldest trick in the book and you fell for that. C’mon, maaaaaaaan!

Philly’s sports fans may need help from Dr. Phil, Oprah, the Rev. TD Jakes, the Wizard of Oz or their local bartender to get past this week of infamy.

But with the Eagles heading to Washington to face the Redskins this week, they might want to wait until Sunday to get that pint of Jack Daniels. After Sunday, they may need a quart.

Michael Vick and the Eagles can't out of the way of themselves in their four-game losing streak.

Halladay and Phillies Ready to Take on Cards in Game 5

Roy Halladay hopes to close out the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLDS. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday and the Chris Murray Report

PHILADELPHIA—There will be two types of emotions that fans in this city will exhibit after Game 5 of the National League Division Series- a sense of relief that goes with making it into the next round of the postseason or another year of monumental disappointment where Phils hopes for a World Series title will be a dream deferred.

The good news for  Phillies fans is that their ace, 2010 Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay on the mound for the Phillies against a scrappy St. Louis Cardinals team that forced Friday’s Game 5 at Citizen’s Bank Park with a 5-3 win in Game 4 on Wednesday. Halladay beat the Cardinals in Game 1 despite allowing three runs in the first inning.

In that game, Halladay allowed just three hits and retired the last 21 batters he faced in an 11-6 victory. Though his start was shaky in his last outing, Halladay said he’s not going to change anything, but go out and stick to his normal game of making good pitches.

“You can’t go out and try to guard against something,” Halladay said. “You know, you have to go out and be aggressive. I’m not going to try and do anything more early in the game than I would do later.”

The Phillies will be going up against Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter, who will be facing the Phillies on four days rest. In their game 2 loss, the Phillies got to Carpenter early, jumping out to a 4-0 in the first two innings only to have the Cardinals bullpen shut them down the rest of the way.

Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS is an ideal scenario for both teams with their aces on the mound. Both Carpenter and Halladay were teammates in Toronto and are good friends to this day.

“It’s going to be competitive. Once you get to this point, you’re going out trying to help your team win,” Halladay said. “We have talked back and forth throughout the series, but I think we both — we get to this point, and it’s down to business. The friendships kind of go by the wayside, I think, after this point.”

Carpenter, who is looking to pitch better than he did in Game 2, said he has enough postseason experience to manage his emotions.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s obviously a huge game, but you control your emotions, you can control distractions,” he said.

With the exception of their Game 1 victory, the Phillies have not hit the ball consistently, especially from four to eight in the Phillies batting order. Ryan Howard is batting .133 (2-for-15), Raul Ibanez is 3-for-12, Placido Polanco .125 (2-for-16) and Carlos Ruiz (1-for-14). John Mayberry, who played left field in Game 3 was 0-for-4.

Patience hasn’t been a virtue for the Phillies, who seem to have a penchant for not working the count and swinging at too many first pitches. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said he expects his hitters to be more relaxed in Game 5.

“They definitely work on throwing strike one if you look at it and they kind of –from there, then they stretch the strike zone on us, ” Manuel said. “I think, at times, and especially (in Game 4) once we got behind, we got a little anxious, and that’s kind of natural. We started chasing some balls out of the strike zone.

“I think what we’ve got to just be ourselves and play like we can and I think the results will be there.”

Of course, Manuel’s big concern has to be with Howard, who has driven in six runs in the, but hasn’t had a hit since Game 2.

“Yeah, well, the last couple days he’s having trouble tracking the ball, staying on the ball. When he does that, usually he struggles,” Manuel said. “He got to stay on the ball, let the ball get a little deeper on him and stay in the middle of the field, just try to make good contact. That’s how comes out of it.”

Phillies right fielder Hunter Pence said he and his teammates aren’t going to do anything dramatic with their approach at the plate, but follow their instincts.

“I think if you go up there trying to do something, you’re going to end up working against yourself,” Pence said. “You have to let the game play out. There’s going to different situations, different circumstances. You can’t predict what’s going to happen in this game. You have to allow your instincts to take over, just your process, your approach and let it be at that.”

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.