magical ride through September hit a bump in the road last night as the
Phillies fell for the first time in six games. For all they've
accomplished, they haven't done anything yet except put themselves right
into the middle of a dogfight. For every dramatic three run homer off the
bat of Chris Coste, Nomar is waiting in the wings to deliver another walkoff
blast for the Dodgers. The Phillies are doing everything they can to write
themselves a storybook ending. But this story isn't over.
A baseball game is so long that the missed opportunities are glaring in every loss. Two pop ups with that bases loaded stymied the offense last night. Those things will happen, and given the pixie dust the Phils have been throwing around for the last two weeks they were due to have a couple of breaks go against them. The thing to worry about is still the bullpen. The hitters are going to hit. Not every night or in every situation, but enough and consistently enough that over a span of games they are always going to be the strength of the team. For most of this season the bullpen was also a strength of this team, but by this point the disastrous starting pitching of Madson and Floyd at the beginning of the season has taken it's toll. Who is the guy that comes in out of the pen for the Phillies that makes you feel comfortable at this point? For me it's nobody. I'd like to believe that Geary and Smith and Gordon are still solid. Geary has already given so much and couldn't get it done last night. Smith has been great, but we've seen so little of him and he struggled last night for the first time. Gordon is old and has had a great season, but he seems to be just barely hanging on as well. The last time we saw him Manuel brought him in to pitch the ninth with a four-run lead, which may be a good indication that Charlie himself isn't feeling so comfortable with the guys out there at this point.
There is good news, though. Lots of it. If the Phillies have shown you anything this month it's that they're going to fight for every inch. More important than that, they're just good. And they're not the only flawed team around, there's 15 others in their league. For every walkoff grand slam from Garciaparra there's an error by Furcal or a ball just out of the reach of Lofton just waiting to happen. The Phillies are going to need more from their pen to get it done this season, but they're going to need more from everyone else, too. There's a long way to go and the only teams playing are the imperfect ones.
The Phillies lost to the Houston Astros last night, falling 5-4 to drop to 82-74 on the year. The Padres won last night while the Dodgers were idle, which extends the San Diego lead in the NL West to two games. The Phillies move into a tie with the Dodgers in the Wild Card hunt. Each team has six games to play.
Randy Wolf got the start for the Phillies and went 5 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on four hits and four walks. He allowed two extra-base hits, a double and a home run, and struck out five.
Wolf got Willy Tavares and Morgan Ensberg to ground out to start the first before Lance Berkman walked. Wolf struck out Luke Scott to end the inning.
In the second, Chris Burke led off with a line out to second. Wolf struck out Jason Lane and Eric Bruntlett to end the inning.
Humberto Quintero led off the third with a double and Chris Sampson bunted him to third. Taveras grounded to short for the second out of the inning, but Ensberg walked to put runners on first and third with two down for Berkman. Berkman grounded to third to end the inning.
Wolf set Houston down 1-2-3 in the fourth.
In the fifth, he got Bruntlett to ground to short for the first out of the inning. Quintero walked and went to second on a single by pinch-hitter Charlton Jimerson. Wolf hit Taveres with a pitch to load the bases with one down, and Ensberg hit a sac fly to right that scored Quintero and put Houston up 1-0. Berkman was walked intentionally to load the bases again, and Wolf got Luke Scott to pop to third to end the inning.
Wolf started the sixth with a 2-1 lead. Burke popped to second for the first out, but Lane tied the game at 2-2 with a solo home run. Bruntlett crushed a ball to deep center, but Victorino tracked it down for the second out. Quintero followed with a single and that was it for Wolf. Ryan Madson came in to pitch to the pinch-hitter Craig Biggio and struck him out to end the inning.
Rick White started the seventh with the Phillies up 4-2. He got Taveras to start the inning but Ensberg followed with a walk. Matt Smith came on to pitch to the switch-hitter Berkman, and Smith struck him out for the second out of the inning. Smith walked both Scott and Burke to load the bases, and with the righty Lane due up Manuel called on Geoff Geary. Lefty Orlando Palmeiro hit for Lane and singled to left, driving in two to tie the game at 4-4. Burrell's throw hit a sliding Scott and Geary, backing up Lieberthal, made a diving stop to keep the runners from advancing further. Burrell was given an error as the throw allowed Burke to go to third. With two down and runners on first and third, lefty Mike Lamb hit for Bruntlett. Geary just couldn't put Lamb away. After the count went 2-2 Lamb fouled off five straight pitches. On the 11th pitch of the at-bat he hit a ground ball in-between first and second. Utley made a diving stop but couldn't get the handle. Lamb was safe as Burke scored from third to put Houston up 5-4. Aubrey Huff pinch-hit for Quintero and Manuel called on Fultz to pitch to Huff. Fultz walked him on four pitches to load the bases with two down. Righty Adam Everett pinch hit for the Astros and Fultz got him to pop to second to finally end the inning.
Fultz returned for the eighth. He struck out Tavares to start the inning. Ensberg followed with an infield single to deep short. Berkman lined to right for the second out of the inning. Fultz struck out Scott to end the inning.
Clay Condrey pitched the ninth and got the first two before Lamb singled. Hector Gimenez pinch-hit for Qualls and struck out to end the inning.
The Astros started 28-year-old righty Chris Sampson, not Matt Albers. The Phillies lineup against Sampson went (1) Rollins (2) Victorino (3) Utley (4) Howard (5) Dellucci (6) Burrell (7) Lieberthal (8) Nunez. Three lefties in a row. Burrell sixth when he should be fifth.
The Phils went 1-2-3 in the first.
With two outs in the second, Burrell blooped a single into right. Lieberthal popped to second to end the inning.
The Phillies went 1-2-3 in the third.
Victorino and Utley went down to start the fourth before Howard singled to center. Dellucci followed with a single and Burrell walked, loading the bases for Lieberthal. Lieberthal popped up to the catcher in foul territory to end the inning.
Nunez and Wolf struck out to start the fifth with the Phillies down 1-0. Rollins singled and Victorino sent him to second with another single. Utley walked to load the bases and Howard hit a two-run single that put the Phils on top at 2-1. With lefty Wandy Rodriguez on the hill for the Astros, Conine pinch-hit for Dellucci and the Astros brought in righty Fernando Nieve to pitch to Conine. Conine walked, loading the bases for Burrell. Burrell popped to shallow right to end the inning.
Nunez singled with one out in the sixth. Randall Simon was next, pinch-hitting for Madson, and he flew to left for the second out of the inning. Rollins was next and he homered to right, putting the Phillies up 4-2. Victorino flew out to left to end the inning.
The Phillies were down 5-4 in the bottom of the seventh and went 1-2-3.
Burrell led off the eighth with a walk and Michael Bourn pinch-ran for him. Lieberthal bunted Bourn to second.
Rollins led off the ninth with a ball well hit to left, but Luke Scott tracked it down for the first out. Victorino popped into center for the second out and Utley followed with a ball into just about the same spot in center to end the game.
Rollins was 2-for-5 with his 25th home run of the year. He has homered in three straight games and has at least two hits in six games in a row. 18-for-his-last-30 with three doubles and four home runs (and no walks).
Victorino was 1-for-5 with a single. 1-for-his-last-10.
Utley was 0-for-4 with a walk.
Howard 2-for-4 with two RBI. 421/575/868 in September after hitting 348/464/750 in August.
Dellucci was 1-for-2 with a single. Conine was 0-for-1 with a walk.
Burrell was 1-for-2 with two walks.
Lieberthal was 0-for-3 and left four men on base.
Nunez was 1-for-4. He has two extra-base hits in his last 58 at-bats.
Brett Myers faces Ramon Ortiz tonight.