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September 15 2006

Finally.  Pat Burrell hit his first home run since August 28 tonight.  It was a big one.  A first inning grand slam that gave the Phillies all the runs they would need on their way to a 4-3 win over the thought-to-be-unbeatable Houston Astros.

Burrell's blast gave them all the runs they would need, but before it was over they would most definitely need a titanic effort from Tom Gordon.  In the bottom of the ninth the Phillies defense completely abandoned Gordon and Flash had to dig deep into his bag of tricks to get them a win.

With the win the Phillies improve to 75-72 on the year. 

Brett Myers got the start for the Phillies and went seven innings, allowing three runs on five hits and three walks.  Two of the hits went for extra-bases, both home runs, which accounted for all of the Astros scoring against him.  He struck out four.

In the first, Myers gave up a leadoff single to Willy Tavares, but set the next three Astros down in order escape unscathed.   He let the leadoff man get on in the second as well, walking Aubrey Huff.   He got Luke Scott to ground into a double play and Adam Everett lined out to Utley to end the inning.

Myers threw a 1-2-3 third.

In the fourth, Morgan Ensberg hit a solo home run with one out to cut the Phillies lead to 4-1.  Myers got Berkman for the second out, but walked Huff again, bringing up Scott, who hit another home run to make the score 4-3.  Everett singled with two outs and nobody on, but Myers got Ausmus to pop to first and end the inning. 

Myers threw a 1-2-3 fifth.  With two outs in the sixth he walked Huff for the third time, but got Scott to fly to left to end the inning.

Brad Ausmus singled with one out in the seventh.  Mike Lamb was next and Myers got the second out of the inning when he flew to left.  Willy Tavaras was next, and he hit a shot back at Myers.  The ball bounced off of Myers but right to Rollins, who got the force at second to end the inning.

Geoff Geary came in to pitch the eighth with the Phillies clinging to a 4-3 lead.  Geary challenged Biggio on a 3-2 pitch to lead off the inning and Biggio flew out to right for the first out of the inning.  When you hear Geary interviewed he often talks about how he likes to go after hitters an not nibble -- he did there and it worked.  On the year he's walked just 19 in 82 1/3 innings after walking 21 in just 58 innings last year.  He still gives up a lot of hits, but does a pretty good job of keeping the ball in the yard.  Geary got Ensberg to ground to third for the second out of the inning.  With the switch-hitter Berkman due up, Manuel called on Matt Smith, who he had twice seen set Berkman down in a big situation this year.  Berkman singled to left.  Smith stayed in to pitch to the lefty Huff and Smith got ahead of him 1-2 before he picked Berkman off and Howard threw down to second for the out that ended the inning.  Wretched job by Berkman and a nice move from Smith.

Tom Gordon came in to pitch the ninth.  Huff lead off and hit a hard ground ball to first that Howard failed to field for a terrible error at a terrible time.  The ball rattled into right field and Huff was safe at second.  The Astros pinch-ran for him Charlton Jimerson.  Scott popped out to Rollins for the first out of the inning.  Pinch-hitter Chris Burke reached on an infield single to third.  Jimerson didn't do a good job on the play, he should have moved to third and it wound up costing the Astros at least a tie in the ninth inning.  Jason Lane pinch-hit for Ausmus and hit a routine fly ball to left.  Conine just missed it.  The ball went off of his glove and the runners were safe.  The bases were loaded with one out.  Humberto Quintero pinch-hit for the pitcher and Flash got him to ground into an inning-ending double-play.

It was a fantastic job by Gordon to pitch around two terrible defensive plays in the inning.

The Phillies lineup against righty Roger Clemens went (1) Rollins (2) Victorino (3) Utley (4) Howard (5) Dellucci (6) Burrell (7) Lieberthal (8) Nunez.  Lieberthal returns, seeing his first action since September 3.  Burrell is back in the lineup against a righty, still hitting sixth, as Manuel again puts his three lefties in a row.

With two outs in the first, Utley drew a walk.  After he stole second, Clemens intentionally walked Howard and Dellucci followed with a walk, loading the bases for Burrell with two down.  As everyone no doubt expected, Burrell hit a grand slam to left to put the Phillies up 4-0.  Lieberthal flew out to center to end the inning.

Myers drew a one out walk in the second.  Rollins followed with a ground out to first, and the Astros got Myers at second.  Rollins stole second with two down, but Victorino grounded to second to end the inning.

The Phillies went 1-2-3 in the third. 

In the fourth, Burrell led off with a bloop single to right.  After seeing Burrell swing at the first two pitches in his first two at-bats last night, he did another unusual thing in this at-bat, swinging at a pitch out of the strike zone (and making contact) on a 3-2 pitch.  Lieberthal was next, and he ripped a double into left field.  With nobody out and runners on second and third, Nunez struck out, swinging at a terrible pitch that was nearly over his head.  Terrible at-bat for Nunez.  Clemens walked Myers after getting up on him 0-2.  It looked like he struck Myers out on the 0-2 pitch, a breaking ball, but he didn't get the call.  It loaded the bases with one out for Rollins.  Rollins grounded into a double-play to end the inning.

The Phillies went 1-2-3 in the fifth, sixth and seventh.

In the eighth, Victorino struck out and Utley grounded to first before Howard singled.  With the lefty Trevor Miller on the bump, Manuel pinch-hit Conine for Dellucci.  The Astros brought in righty Chad Qualls.  Conine hit a dribller to the right of Qualls and the Astros pitcher made a nice play to retire Conine and end the inning.

Pat Burrell led off the ninth with a walk and Michael Bourn pinch-ran for him and was picked off before the first pitch to Lieberthal.  Lieberthal grounded to short.  Nunez singled with two outs, but Randall Simon struck out to end the inning.

The Phillies offense was miserable tonight.  The fourth inning was the worst, but they were fortunate to get out with a win on a night they managed just five hits.  It was nice to see Burrell get a big hit, but you've got to be at least a little worried about how terrible everyone else looked.

Rollins 0-for-4.  Victorino 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. 

Utley 0-for-3 with a walk.  Howard 1-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts.

Dellucci 0-for-2 with a walk. 

Burrell 2-for-3 with a walk and four RBI.  Another meaningless homer for Burrell.

Lieberthal 1-for-4 with a double.  Nunez 1-for-4.

Cole Hamels faces Jason Hirsh tomorrow.


September 15 2006

The Phillies these days are a little like a hamster on an exercise wheel.  Full of energy and effort and getting nowhere.  The team certainly doesn't lack intensity, you see it in virtually everyone.  With Jimmy Rollins you see it in his approach to every at-bat, despite a tough game against the Braves last night.  With the grizzled veteran Jeff Conine you see it in his face.  With some of the players you don't even need to look for the outward signs, you just know that it's there.  Chris Coste worked his entire adult life to be exactly where he is right now.  Can you believe for he would take an at-bat, a pitch, even a second, off?  Me neither.  More than even the intensity you see something else with the Phillies these days.  Urgency.  They see they have a chance in a weak National League and that it's slipping away as they take two steps back for every two they take forward.  They keep reaching down for the next gear to shift into and they can't find it. 

The feeling is different with the team these days than it was in the Abreu era.  With Abreu you always knew the team was good enough, they just couldn't get it together when they needed to.  I'm not sure I feel the same way these days.  Is it that the gear that they need and can't find is eluding them, or does it simply not exist?  Whatever the answer, until the Phillies find it, until they go on a tear where they put together a long winning streak, their opportunity this season is going to continue to slip away.  They are stuck.  Like a painted ship upon a painted ocean.

In truth, the Phillies would have been better off if they had been able to stand still yesterday.  With their 4-1 loss to the Braves and the Padres win, they lost a full game in the Wild Card standings and now trail San Diego by 2 1/2 games.  The Phillies are 74-72 on the year.  They are in second place in the NL East and trail the Mets by 16 1/2 games.

Jamie Moyer, the ancient mariner himself, got the start for the Phillies in last night's game.  He went six innings, allowing four runs on five hits without walking a batter. Three of the five hits he allowed went for extra-bases, two home runs and a double. 

Moyer was strong early.  After throwing a 1-2-3 first inning he allowed a two-out double to Brian McCann in the second but got Matt Diaz to ground out to end the inning.

He set the Braves down 1-2-3 in the third and again in the fourth.

Jeff Francoeur led off the bottom of the fifth with a single with the game still 0-0.  Moyer struck out McCann for the first out of the inning, but Matt Diaz followed with a single that sent Francoeur to third.  22-year-old Martin Prado was at the plate, and he socked Moyer's 1-0 pitch out to left center for the first home run of his career.  His blast would prove to be the big blow of the game and it gave the Braves a 3-0 lead.  Pitcher Chuck James was next for the Braves, and he reached on an error by Utley, but Marcus Giles grounded into a double-play to end the inning.

In the sixth, Moyer got the first two before Andruw Jones connected for a solo homer to extend the Braves lead to 4-0.  Moyer got Francoeur to ground to short to end the inning.  After allowing just one hit through his first four innings, Moyer allowed four runs on two homers to righties in the fifth and sixth.

Matt Smith came in to pitch the seventh with the Phillies down 4-0.  He didn't look as awesome as he had in his previous outings, but kept the Braves off the board and his ERA at 0.00 as he ran his streak of scoreless innings on the year between the Yankees and Phils to 17 1/3.  He walked lefty Brian McCann to start the inning, but got Diaz to ground into a double-play to third.  With two down and nobody on he walked Prado, and pinch-hitter Brian Jordan sent Prado to third with a single.  Smith got Marcus Giles to ground to Rollins to end the inning.

It sure looks like Manuel is willing to include Smith, along with Fultz, Geary, Madson, White and Gordon as the guys in the pen he's willing to use in a game where the outcome hasn't been decided.  It's a good development.

Madson came in to pitch the eighth and kept the Braves off the board.  He allowed a leadoff single to Renteria, but got LaRoche to ground out and Andruw Jones to hit into a double-play.  A good, but somewhat un-Manuel-like decision to bring Madson and not Geary in there to pitch to the meat of the Braves order, two righties and a lefty.  The Phillies need to tread lightly with Geary, who has been awesome this year, and if that's what they were doing here it was a nice idea.

The Phillies lineup against lefty Chuck James went (1) Rollins (2) Victorino (3) Utley (4) Howard (5) Conine (6) Burrell (7) Coste (8) Hernandez.  Hernandez starts at third instead of Nunez against the lefty, nicely done Charlie.  Coste catches Moyer.  Here comes my daily Pat Burrell rant.  It's CTRL+P on my keyboard at this point.  This lineup is bad and Manuel should be hugely criticized for it.  Here's a question for you:  In this year where Ryan Howard may be the best hitter in the league and Pat Burrell is struggling horribly, who has been a better hitter against lefties?  Howard 286/354/577, Burrell 286/430/595.  You can make the argument that Howard should be protecting Burrell.  I promise I don't have any problem with the guy with 56 home runs hitting cleanup, but to hit Conine behind him, against a lefty that Burrell was 2-for-5 with two home runs on the year against, is really atrocious.  Conine's numbers against lefties for the year are 258/340/402.  It was a bad lineup if it worked -- it didn't this time, and it cost the Phillies.

Rollins singled to lead off the first inning and, after Victorino struck out, went to second on a bunt single by Utley.  Howard struck out and it brought five-hitter Conine, not Burrell, to the plate.  Conine lined out to Renteria.

Burrell led off the second with a single.  Had he been hitting fifth and singled the previous inning it would have scored a run for the Phillies.  After Burrell's single to start the second the Phillies went down 1-2-3.

The Phils went 1-2-3 in the third.  In the fourth, Conine reached with one out on an error by Prado.  Burrell and Coste went down to end the inning.

The Phillies went 1-2-3 in the fifth.  Down 3-0 in the top of the sixth, Howard walked with two outs.  Conine flew out to center.

Burrell led off the top of the seventh with a long fly ball to center field.  It hit the wall in center field and bounced to Andruw Jones on one hop and Burrell held at first.  Again the five-six problem with Conine and Burrell as Howard would have had a chance to score from first with two outs on the long fly ball.  Coste followed and singled, sending Burrell to second.  Hernandez struck out for the first out of the inning, and pinch-hitter Ruiz walked to load the bases, setting up the biggest opportunity of the night for the Phillies, bases loaded with one-out for the top of the order.  Rollins popped to third and Victorino grounded to second.

Utley led off the eighth with a triple.  Howard struck out for the first out of the inning, but Conine singled to right to bring in Utley and get the Phillies on the board at 4-1.  Burrell and Coste went down to end the inning.  In that case, Conine in the five-hole got a run where the same result from Burrell probably wouldn't have.  Burrell's out was a line drive to Francoeur, who has a tremendous arm in right.

Dellucci singled with one out in the top of the ninth.  Rollins again popped out to third in foul territory, but Victorino followed with a single that brought Utley to the plate as the tying run.  Utley grounded to second.

Rollins was 1-for-5 and left four men on base.

Victorino was 1-for-5 and left four men on base.

Utley was 2-for-5 with a bunt single and a triple.  He made his 16th error on the season as the Phillies continue to have defensive trouble with the right side of their infield. 

Howard was 0-for-3 with a walk and three strikeouts.  He's 0-for-his-last-5 with five strikeouts with Conine hitting behind him.

Conine was 1-for-4 with the Phillies lone RBI.  During his time with the Phillies, Conine is now 3-for-16 with three singles against left-handed pitching.

Burrell was 2-for-4.  Coste 1-for-4.

Hernandez was 0-for-3 and struck out twice. 

The Phillies will be in Houston tonight for the first of three and need wins against a team they haven't been able to beat.  Brett Myers faces Roger Clemens. 

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