When the Phillies announced that they re-signed Cliff Lee this past December, it was hard to believe. From the shocking trade after the 2009 season, to Lee’s return and now, his first start back in a Phils uniform, it has been quite an emotional roller coaster ride.
But when Lee took the mound tonight against the Astros, the reality truly set in. Fans jumped to their feet and roared before Lee even threw a pitch. The excitement was palpable. Like a gift from heaven, Cliff Lee is home again.
As expected, Lee dominated the Astros line-up for most of the game. The only issue he ran into was his namesake, Carlos Lee who smashed a two-run homer. Lee wound up going seven innings, allowing three runs on four hits while striking out 11 batter.
The only remaining question for the Phillies was could they muster any offense. The answer is yes. After the amazing Opening Day ninth inning comeback rally on Friday, the Phils offense picked up today where they left off yesterday.
The Phillies got off to a quick start with two runs in the first inning. Between the fourth and fifth innings, they scored five more runs. The highlights were a Raul Ibanez double, a two-run Shane Victorino bloop single and a Ben Francisco double, just to name a few.
The real encouraging factor was not just the runs, but the way they scored the runs. It was a combination of good base running, patience at the plate, small ball and timely hitting. This is the Phillies offense everyone has been waiting to see.
Of course, we all loved the home run days and there will still be some of those. But in the past, the Phillies offense really seemed to rely on the big hits with little to no focus on manufacturing runs. With Chase Utley hurt and Jayson Werth gone, the big concern going into 2011 was the lack of power on a team that has issues playing small ball.
While we have only seen two games so far, it does look like the offense has finally figured out how to go one base at a time to score runs. With the incredible pitching they have, if the offense can keep up this pace and be consistent, this will be a very scary team.
Of course, where there is good news, sometime bad news follows. After a collision in center field with Francisco, Victorino left the game early. Reports say that he has soreness in his left calf. While his previous injury was to the left calf, there is still concern. Hopefully, pulling him was just a precaution. There is no word yet on how serious it may be.
The Phillies went on to win the game by a score of 9-4. On Sunday, they will go for the series sweep with Roy Oswalt on the mound against his former team. Former Phillie J.A. Happ was scheduled to pitch for the Astros but has been scratched due to an oblique issue. Bud Norris will pitch instead. Game time is 1:35pm and I will return with photos.
Lee photo by Jenn Zambri Photography
Happy Opening Day! And what an unusual Opening Day it was for the Phillies.
The Phillies sent Roy Halladay to the mound to face ex-Phillie Brett Myers of the Astros. What initially looked like it might be a bad day despite great pitching, the Phillies pulled out a win in walk-off fashion to open the 2011 season.
The first hit off Halladay came off the bat of Myers. And from there, more drama ensued. In fact, Myers wound up with two of the five hits Halladay allowed through six innings. Myers allowed only three hits and one earned run through seven innings.
But for the Phillies offense, hits were few and far between making fans wonder if all the hard work assembling this amazing pitching staff was going to pay off. If Halladay only allows one run but the offense cannot score any runs, wins will be hard to come by.
Only Ryan Howard and Wilson Valdez got any hits through the first six innings. The Valdez hit was a double in the third inning, but they were unable to score him. A bad call at first base where Halladay was called out did not help the situation.
Also not a huge help were a strange variety of Phillies mistakes. Ben Francisco missed a fly ball in right early in the game, prompting chants of, “Bring back Werth!” from the crowd. Valdez let a ball slip right between his legs and Shane Victorino got caught stealing. Later, poor Carlos Ruiz took a bouncing relay to the plate in what looks like an uncomfortable position:
None of this was good news for the Phillies. But in the seventh, Myers started to tire and the Phils finally manufactured a few runs. By the ninth inning, down 4-2, the Phillies probably started to imagine the backlash if they were to lose on Opening Day after Halladay pitched a great game. Suddenly, the hits started coming.
Jimmy Rollins started off the inning with a single to inspire the team. Howard, Francisco and Ruiz followed suit. The hit for Francisco was especially huge as it redeemed him from the previous error in the eyes of the crowd.
Valdez stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. Visions of the 20 double plays Valdez hit into last year began to haunt the crowd who held their collective breath. But perhaps the DP curse is over, because Valdez nailed and RBI single to tie the game.
All the Phillies needed now was a hit or a sac fly from John Mayberry Jr. With his father, former major leaguer John Mayberry Sr., and mother looking on, Mayberry Jr. smashed a 2-2 fastball to center field, over the head of former Phillie Michael Bourn. Francisco scored and Mayberry had his first major league walk-off hit in his first game ever as an Opening Day roster player.
The walk-off win was the first on Opening Day since May 6, 1974, when Mike Schmidt hit a two-run home run against Tug McGraw to beat the Mets at Veterans Stadium. But with the high expectations for this 2011 team, this walk-off victory will go down as one of the most memorable in Phillies history.
The stunned Astros team will probably have nightmare’s tonight knowing they face Cliff Lee on Saturday. Game time is 7:05pm.
Here is the full Photo Album from Opening Day.
Photos by Jenn Zambri Photography
In yesterday’s spring training game against the Astros, pitcher Cole Hamels had words with second baseman Bill Hall. Hamels threw a pitch up and in which did not even come that close to Hall, but he apparently took offense.
Hamels blew off the incident saying Hall was a “good guy.” Hall reacted a bit differently. According to the veteran infielder, “He’s (Hamels) definitely a marked man for me now. So when I do some damage off him I’m going to let him know I did some damage off him. I guarantee that. I’m not going to let him disrespect me. If you disrespect me I’m going to do my best to disrespect you back.”
In nine years in the majors, Hall is a lifetime .250 hitter. I am not sure what “damage” Hall is referring to and I am guessing we will not find out anytime in this decade. For a 31-year old, below-average player, these are certainly very immature remarks. Hall is not worthy to lick Cole’s muddy cleats.
The grocery list of Phillies player injuries has just grown a bit longer. It began with Chase Utley’s bum knee, moved on to a broken hand bone for Domonic Brown, a sore neck for Ben Francisco and now, Brad Lidge has joined the party.
According to Phillies sources, Lidge has bicep tendinitis. Pitching coach Rich Dubee said, “He generally has it in the spring,” indicating that this is business as usual for Lidge. The Phillies insist it is not serious. Then again, we have heard that one before.
There are also reports that Lidge’s fastball is not up to speed. Combined with his injury history and the fact that he has yet to get through an entire spring training with the Phillies healthy, there may be reason for concern.
Speaking of Lidge’s history, did you know that Lidge missed parts of his first four professional seasons, from 2002 to 2005, with a variety of injuries? These included a torn rotator cuff, right shoulder tendinitis and a broken forearm that almost ended his career.
Here is a closer look at some of Lidge’s injury history:
– 2002, a strained intercostal muscle near the rib cage.
– December 2003, arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.
– June – July 2005, shut down with elbow issues.
– May 2007, bone bruise on his right femur near his knee.
– June – July 2007, left oblique strain.
– October 2007, surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee.
– February 2008, tore the meniscus in the same knee he just had surgery on during his first pitch off a mound in spring training.
– June 2009, sprained right knee and a sore elbow, specifically the flexor pronator tendon.
– January 2010, surgery on both the elbow and the right knee again.
– March 2010, the elbow is still an issue and Lidge gets a cortisone injection.
– March 2011, bicep tendinitis.
While history does not always predict the future, the long list of injuries is a bit scary. The amount of time Lidge has missed is an issue as well.
Of the top ten closers in baseball who remained basically healthy in 2010, the average number of innings pitched for each closer was about 68.2 innings per year. Lidge pitched only 45.2 last year and 58.2 in 2009.
The current injury for Lidge may indeed be nothing to worry about. Phillies fans certainly hope that is the case. But at the rate Phillies players are dropping, any injury is scary.
Adding to the Phillies woes, Placido Polanco left a spring game early today after hyperextending the same elbow he had surgery on this offseason. Just like Lidge, the Phillies say he is not expected to miss much time.
For both Lidge and Polanco, many are hoping that history will not repeat itself.
Photo by Jenn Zambri Photography
Every time someone mentions the name “Brad Lidge” now, I instantly feel sick to my stomach. It has become a Pavlovian response. And while I am not a dog, I do get a tad bitchy around the “Lidge” references. The last two years of the Phillies-Lidge experiment have been a rollercoaster ride…and not a pleasant one.
Last night, the Phils managed to squeak out 2 runs against the Padres amazing pitching staff while Roy Oswalt held their offense to just one run. Oswalt had an amazing game; the kind of game everyone hoped he would bring to Philly. But leave it to Lidge to try to sour the evening.
The 9th inning save attempt turned into another Lidge disaster. Former Phillie Matt Stairs singled to start the inning and a pinch runner came in. But Lidge got the first two outs without a problem after that. And then, the wheels fell off the wagon.
After an intentional walk to slugger Adrian Gonzalez, Lidge was ahead 0-2 to Ryan Ludwick. Yes, ahead in the count. So what does Lidge do on the next pitch? He hits Ludwick to load the bases. As if that were not bad enough, Chase Headly steps to the plate and Lidge BALKS a run home. And it was not one of those picky balk calls; it was blatantly obvious and without explanation. Lidge was not holding anyone on base; the bases were loaded! WHAT was he thinking? Wow. That was blown save #5 for Lidge this year.
The then tied 2-2 game went into extra innings. Thanks to Jimmy Rollins and Chad Durbin, the Phillies pulled out a win. Rollins led off the 12th with a double and scored on a Placido Polanco single. It was a scary play as Rollins danced around the tag at home plate and just barely got his hand on the plate to score safely. And Durbin pitched 2 scoreless innings to record the 3-2 win.
But runs were not easy to come by in the game and the Phillies still have issues hitting, especially with runners in scoring position. In the 3rd, singles by Rollins, Polanco and Chase Utley scored the 1st run but, with two men on base, Ryan Howard struck out…again. Shane Victorino had a chance to add on in the 8th with one out and the bases loaded. A sac fly would have been nice, but instead, Victorino swung at the first pitch; the weak grounder was thrown home for the force out.
Jayson Werth grounded into a double play in the 12th with 2 men on base, which blew a prime opportunity for an insurance run. Werth went 0-5 with 2 strikeouts and in an odd twist, he even fell down the dugout stairs after a bad at-bat. He appeared to be ok afterwards. I hate to keep picking on Werth as I have all week, but his lack of focus is simply astounding. He is not the only one, but he has been the most obvious about it.
So while a win is a great thing, especially after losing 4 straight to the Astros, the Phillies bats had better wake up today before this road trip takes a turn for the worst. They did gain one game on the Braves with the win, so this is the time to step on the gas pedal and getting moving. Game 2 with the Padres is this afternoon at 4:10pm.
By the way, pitcher Danys Baez was placed on the DL yesterday with back spasms. Lefty Antonio Bastardo was called up to take his place.
Player photos by Jenn Zambri Photography
Did the Phillies forget to pay their electric bill this month? Because they are suffering from a serious and prolonged power outage. When sluggers Ryan Howard and Chase Utley finally came off the DL in mid-late August, everyone was relieved to finally see the Phillies line-up back in order. But the relief was short lived as the team has been on a downward spiral ever since.
And now, the Phillies have lost ground in the NL East race, falling 3 games behind the Braves and missing key opportunities to catch up. This 4-game sweep at the hands of the Astros may come back to haunt them in September.
Howard has only 3 hits in his last 10 games and has struck out 20 times. In 16 at-bats for the Astros series, Howard got only 1 hit. Utley has had only 7 hits in his last 34 at-bats since coming off the DL. Other key players during the Astros 4-game series did not hit either; Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Placido Polanco had just 3 hits each. They have consistently failed to hit with runners in scoring position too, with the worst offender being Jayson Werth.
They have lost their fire and their intensity. That was no more evident than today in the 5th inning when Werth tried to tag and score on a shallow fly to right. Not only did Werth not even bother to slide, he never even touched the plate. Werth should have slid hard and tried to take out the catcher to get that run. Instead, he gave up and basically accepted defeat.
Kyle Kendrick looked half asleep on the mound too. Ever since JA Happ was shipped to the Astros, Kendrick had relaxed more and more each start, to the point where he is just not present on the mound. Maybe he figures there is no one left to take his job so why bother kicking it up a notch? Kendrick has allowed 15 runs in his last 4 starts, with 4 of those runs coming in 6 innings tonight.
However, the real offenders this series were the Phillies hitters who got absolutely nothing done. Except maybe for getting picked off on the base paths multiple times, failing to gets bunts down and not bothering to slide in order to score. The way they have played is disgraceful.
If the Phillies take this sort of attitude and performance into San Diego tomorrow, they are going to be crushed. They have 3 games with the Padres, 3 with the Dodgers and then a make-up in Denver against the now hot Rockies. Cross your fingers. Game time tomorrow is 10:05pm.
Player photos by Jenn Zambri Photography
JA Happ returned to Philadelphia today in a different uniform. Pitching for the Astros against his former team for the first time, Happ showed Phillies brass why they should have kept him around. Going pitch for pitch with Roy Halladay, Happ allowed only 2 runs in 6 1/3 innings. Halladay went 7 with 3 runs given up. He may have gone further, but Halladay was pulled for a pinch-hitter with runners on base in the 7th.
Having Happ on the mound did not help the struggling Phillies offense emerge from their current funk. Jayson Werth hit a solo homer in the 5th, but with runners in scoring position in the 6th, he grounded out. Werth has hit only .159 with RISP all year; with 2 outs and RISP, the stat drops to .107. By a wide margin, Werth is the worst situational hitter on the team.
The second run the Phillies scored was helped along by Halladay leading off the 6th with a base hit. Placido Polanco later doubled to score him. So of the 5 hits Happ allowed, one was from the opposing pitcher. Base running errors have not helped the Phillies this week either. Ben Francisco was picked off leaning too far off 3rd base during a potential rally in the 6th. That was the 10th runner picked off this year.
Earlier in the series, Werth got picked off at second after peering into the Astros dugout; former teammate Brett Myers stuck his tongue out at him and in an attempt not to laugh out loud, Werth lowered his head and was thrown out. A lack of concentration was bad enough, but playing around with the opposing team while on the base path? Wow. That is bad.
This entire Astros series has been a microcosm of Werth’s lack of focus. Players getting thrown out on the base path, no discipline at the plate and a serious lack of urgency have now led to a huge series loss. While the Braves have been losing as well, the Phillies have simply thrown away their opportunity to gain ground in the NL East race.
Disagreements with the umpires in every game of this series so far have added to the frustration. Today, the home plate umpire called Shane Victorino back to the plate after being hit by a pitch; the ump claimed Victorino leaned into it. Replay shows he leaded down and away. But Victorino got on base anyway with a hit.
Despite the controversial umpiring, it has not been the officiating that lost these 3 games; it has been the Phillies invisible offense. Today’s 3-2 loss was evidence enough. The final game with the Astros is tomorrow afternoon at 1:05pm.
Photo by Jenn Zambri Photography
In a strange turn of events last night, the Phillies lost a 4-2 game to the Astros in 16 innings that took 5 hours and 20 minutes to play. The game started with an outstanding effort, again, by Cole Hamels who allowed just 2 runs. But as has been the case all year, Hamels got no help.
The Phillies offense scored only 1 run off Bud Norris who entered the game with a 5.23 ERA. The one run was a Raul Ibanez double that scored Jayson Werth. Not only are they not hitting, the Phils are striking out at a record pace lately. Adding to the problem, Jimmy Rollins even got thrown out trying to steal 3rd base. Most of the few hits they got came with 2 outs and the next batter could not capitalize.
Rollins tried to redeem himself with a game-tying homer in the 9th that sent the game into extra innings. But as in the first 9, the Phillies still did not hit. Both teams’ bullpens got a workout though and both performed well. 15 pitchers were used in total for both teams.
There were some nice defensive plays in the game; most notably two double plays, one of which Rollins started from the ground to toss to Chase Utley:
The real drama occurred when in the 14th inning, umpire Scott Barry, acted like a child, which led to the ejection of Ryan Howard from the game. Howard put his hands on his hips in disgust as a check swing was called a strike. Barry in response mimicked Howard’s action by placing his hands on his hips and gawking childishly at Howard. Howard told the home plate ump he was mad at himself, not at Barry. The kindergarten move by Barry was unprofessional, uncalled for and outright disgusting.
As a result, the already annoyed Howard tossed his bat after being called out on another check swing. He was mad, and with good reason. Replay shows the bat never crossed the plate and Howard should not have been called out. But Barry, still in 3-year old mode, took offense to the bat toss and ejected him. But this should have been an equipment fine, not an ejection. However, the infantile Barry made up his own rules. Check out the VIDEO. Here are a few game shots of Howard:
Barry, 31, is a minor league call-up who just started his 4th year of AAA ball umpiring. This is the same ump who tossed Charlie Manuel from the game on Monday night after another BS call. And on August 18th, the same umpire ejected the National’s Ryan Zimmerman for tossing his bat and helmet after striking out. Zimmerman said nothing but Barry ejected him anyway for the first ejection of his career. Again, this should have been an equipment fine, not an ejection.
This minor leaguer is a disgrace to all umpires and he should be fired for his childish actions. Barry is the kind of ump who gives all the good ones a bad rap. But as usual, NO umpires are EVER held accountable for their actions. It is a real shame and a serious blemish on the game of baseball.
All that drama led to the Phillies not having ANY players left. As a result, starting pitcher Roy Oswalt was put in to play left field; it was the first time since Bill Wilson on Aug. 6, 1971 that any pitcher had been made to play another position. Raul Ibanez, having some experience at first base, was moved to take Howard’s place.
And of course, the first batter of the 15th inning hit the ball right to Oswalt who snagged the fly ball easily and had a nice giggle over it. Ibanez did a descent job at first, considering he has not played there in years. He did drop a ball in the 16th, but no one can really blame Ibanez for the loss. Same goes for relief pitcher David Herndon who gave up 2 runs that inning. He got all ground balls, they were just hit in odd places.
I was at the game for the first 9 innings but having to get up early for work today, I did not stay for extras. I listened on the radio in the car and then saw the last 3 innings on TV at home. Here is the full Photo Album from the first 9 innings.
As for tonight, the Phillies had better find their bats if they are going to avoid losing this 4-game series to the Astros. Roy Halladay will pitch against former Phillie JA Happ who will be in another uniform in Philly for the first time. Game time is 7:05pm.
Photos by Jenn Zambri Photography