Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Take A Memo, Please

It appears Houston never received the memo, the one that was supposed to remind them they had their shot last year but this time around the Phils were going to the post-season. Come to think of it, did anyone remember to send that memo to the Phillies?

Ask any team and they’ll tell you the last thing they want is to spend a precious off day at this stage of the season flying half way across the country to make up a rained out game, but the Astros not only showed up, they played like they had something at stake. In fact, they do, mathematically speaking, as the St. Louis Cardinals continue to stumble toward October in the NL Central, while the Astros, winners of six straight, now trail them by 2.5 games.

The Phils’ have plenty to play for but they didn’t act like it last night. The loss dropped them into a tie with the idle Dodgers for the Wild Card lead. To some of us phloggers in attendance at sold-out Citizens Bank Park, it looked like the Phillies were the ones who had to travel as they sleep-walked through much of the game, showing little patience at the plate against nearly half of Houston’s pitching staff. It’s difficult to comprehend how they could waste such a golden opportunity to take a full game lead in Wild Card, especially with the Bank rocking with a playoff-like atmosphere. Once again, so much for home field advantage. Following their comeback win Sunday over the Marlins when the Delaware Valley did it’s best imitation of South Florida in hurricane season, I guess there wasn’t sufficient time to install a retractable roof and pretend they were at Minute Maid Park.

Randy Wolf got the start last night and pitched well overall as long as he stuck with his fastball and mixed in the occasional breaking ball. Unfortunately, he works too many deep counts these days, running up his pitch total, struggling to set the side down in order. By the sixth inning he was relying more on that sweeping curve of his and Houston was having none of it. When Jason Lane, who entered the game hitting .203, homered in the top of the sixth to tie the score at 2 apiece and Humberto Quintero singled two batters later, Wolf’s night was over. The late home run is another pattern with Wolf; still, at that point the Phillies were in the game though not mentally...at least not most of them.

In the bottom of the frame they answered right back and retook the lead, 4-2, as Jimmy Rollins hit his 25th home run of the year. It any Phillie deserves to play on the national stage at this point he is J-Roll. The home run was his third in as many games. He is simply doing everything right: hitting, fielding, running and, Jimmy being Jimmy, speaking non-stop to his teammates, opposing players and the press. Utley and Howard have deservedly received much praise, but if Jimmy isn’t hitting the Phillies aren’t going anywhere…ever. No one had to remind him what is at stake!!

The top of the seventh proved the Phillies undoing and provided plenty of ammunition for second-guessing Charlie Manuel. Rick White, the first of four Phillies relievers in the seventh, began the inning by inducing the dangerous Willie Taveras to ground out. Morgan Ensberg walked. Manuel summoned Matt White to pitch to and turn around Lance Berkman and the move worked as Berkman struck out. But Smith walked Luke Scott and Chris Burke on close calls. From our 90 degree angle to the plate it looked like Smith was squeezed, but there was no real squawking from the Phillies. Out went Charlie. In came Geoff Geary who surrendered a bases loaded single to pinch hitter Orlando Palmeiro. Two runs scored and more significantly, Burke moved up to third on Pat Burrell’s throwing error. Next, Mike Lamb pinch hit and singled, driving in Burke with what proved to be the winning run. Out went Charlie. In came Aaron Fultz to finally retire the side.

Manuel has used Smith sparingly since his call up and the 27-year old left-hander acquired in the Abreu deal has been very effective. His role in last night’s game was to turn Berkman around, which he did successfully. After walking the next batter, however, it was time to make another move to a more experienced hand. Charlie hesitated, and he who hesitates…. Managers like Manuel love to talk about experience and working under pressure, but in the end they are more likely to go with their hunches. He guessed Smith could work his way out of trouble and he guessed wrong.

The Phillies had good scoring opportunities in the fourth and fifth innings and a last gasp in the 8th and though they plated two runs in the fifth, they failed to capitalize further when they could have put the Astros away. Over the last week or so the Phillies have not been wasting scoring opportunities in general, but they chose to revert to earlier season form this night and it proved fatal.

The 8th inning was particularly perplexing as Pat Burrell led off with a walk. Michael Bourn ran for him. Mike Lieberthal followed and tried to lay down a bunt, which he fouled off. Lieberthal hits into his share of double plays, but lately he has been swinging a hot bat. On the next pitch, Bourn took off for second on a straight steal and Lieberthal bunted again. This time it was successful, if by that we mean he was credited with a sacrifice. To most of us it looked like Bourn had the base stolen and the bunt was not only unnecessary, it was ill-advised. Did Bourn or Lieberthal miss a sign? Why give up an out under the circumstances? It is highly unlikely Bourn was running on his own. For his part, Lieberthal has probably bunted 5 times in 12 years…if that.

Now, it’s on to Washington for a three-game series between a team with absolutely nothing to lose and one with everything to gain. By this time next week the whole matter of a post-season appearance for the Phils will be settled. In between, a lot of people are going to be nervous wrecks.


Oisín/Wizlah said...

Tom, there's a noticeable difference in tone to your post and those of us who weren't there and find a bit easier to shrug off. I imagine the crowds were pretty down leaving, especially after our bullpen looked so damn ordinary. Not bad, just average.

there was much discussion over smith getting squeezed/not squeezed over at beerleaguer at the time, but everone felt the bunt was the wrong thing when we needed a long, patient at bat from lieberthal. bad move by charlie. and should we meet the 'stros in the postseason, I would pray that we comprehensively outscore them, because garner's endless changes play to charlie's weakness of uncertain and inconsistent bullpen selection.

Tom Goodman said...

Oisin: Excellent comments. Yes, we were down, especially given the atmosphere and importance of the game.

tc said...

I followed the game on the internet and watch some highlights and appreciate your at-the-scene reporting. Any thoughts on the last round of abs? Vic saw a bunch of pitches, I was hoping that would set up Utley.

Tom Goodman said...

As I recall, no one got in very good swings in the final ab's.

Rev. Smokin Steve said...

I'm sorry I missed you last night. I forgot to bring your number.

Anyway, I actually chose to sit in my seats up in section 303 for the last 5 innings. And from where I was, it looked like Matt Smith got squeezed too. I thought he had the first batter he walked called out on strikes.

I wondered why Manuel pulled the plug so early on Rick White. I guess turning around Berkman is important. Maybe we would have been better off starting the inning with Smith if Berkman is third in the order. Who knows.

I agree... on the last three hitters in the 9th, none of them got good swings. Victorino fought long and hard, but he was a little overmatched.

The bunt scared me. I never ever saw a runner take off for second like that on a bunt and run. What's the point of bunting? I think someone missed a sign. Lieby got down a bunt on the second try, but his first try was awful. And even the second bunt looked like it was a little hard that if Bourn hadn't been running. the fielder might have had a shot.

It's a 6 game season now.

gr said...

tom, if i remember correctly, utley and victorino both had good cuts in teh 9th, but only produced straight-back fouls.

this definitely did not feel like a loss to shrug off. it was a tight ballgame where the phils had every chance to win, including two pops in separate bases-loaded situations. their opponant was a team that could barely hit in self-defense. all they did was foul off alot of pitches. they couldn't have hit more than a half-dozen balls that made the outfield. the astros stole this game and its nothing to take lightly. our boys need to take a deep breath and play the best six games their legs and arms have left. its the home stretch and they need to lean forward as far as possible.

Tom Goodman said...

I neglected to mention something "else" about this game, specifically Ryan Howard's approach to it. I did him an injustice. His head was also in the game. Indeed, I can think of no greater testament to Howard's budding greatness than his ability to keep on hitting for average and driving in runs even when teams aren't really pitching to him in genera.

Moreover, he must be feeling enromous pressure from all of the media attention and expectations from the fans regarding the home run chase and the MVP candidacy. Despite it all (or maybe he is one of these guys who feeds on it), he drove in the first two runs and had another base hit later.

kuff6 said...

what do you mean nobody got a good cut in the 9th? jimmy almost put it out to left - off the bat, i was sure it was gone. alas, asking for an opposite field hr from a 5'8" skinny guy was probably a little to much, but he did hit it very hard.

Tom Goodman said...

What can I say, kuff6? I did not remember that this morning. Long night.

RickSchuBlues said...

Having Mike Lieberthal bunt was indefensible. It was a purely wasted out at a time when the Phillies were rapidly running short of outs. Manuel is too conservative with having runners steal bases. Bourn is the fastest runner on the team, and a straight steal attempt was in order in that situation - particularly with Nunez coming up after Lieberthal. And speaking of Lieby - people should have been aware that that might have been his last home appearance as a Phillie. As hot as he's been, and as good a player as he's always been, boos for popping up with 2 outs and the bases loaded? That's really wrong.

As for Smith being squeezed, very easy to think that from the stands and even maybe if you were watching at home, but I felt that Smith made a lot of quality pitches that all were a few inches off the plate. They were pitcher's pitches but they were not strikes, and the umpire was consistent in calling them. I credit the Houston hitters for not chasing them, more than I am apt to blame the umpire or Matt Smith.

I am glad you mentioned the Howard 2-run single, because that is something which should not go overlooked despite how the game turned out. That was *enormously* impressive to me for him to keep his head, not get caught up in all the noise, and deliver a sharp hit on a good pitch. To me, that at-bat was at least as impressive as maybe half of his homers this year.

Tom Goodman said...

RSB: I agree about that AB by Howard. He is one of a few in a generation to come along.

Oisín/Wizlah said...

Smith said in the papers today that he felt that the astros just put in good at bats and stayed patient. I don't think there was much squeezing going on.

Maria said...

Game sucked but the Phillies have to get over it & beat the Nationals.