Monday, May 17, 2004

Rocked | If you had asked me back on May 7 whether I'd be happy with a 7-3 Phillies road trip to Arizona, San Francisco, and Colorado, I'd have looked at you funny, asked if that was a trick question, and responded quickly, before you had a chance to withdraw it, something along the lines of "Hell, yeah!"

But when the baseball gods bless that trip with seven wins in the first eight games, then gift-wrap opportunities for victories in the last two, I want my team to play for 9-1.

Didn't happen. Yesterday's unsettling loss was succeeded by an even more vicious kick in the teeth today, a 7-6 loss to the Rockies, who scratched back from a six-run deficit and won it in the ninth on Vinny Castilla's two-run dong.

It all looked so good in the early going. Supported by key hits from Mike Lieberthal and Chase Utley (who, yes, is looking more and more like a ballplayer), Randy Wolf cruised into the seventh. He looked sharp, changing speeds effectively and locating his entire arsenal of pitches with laser-like precision. Matt Holliday's leadoff homer cut the Phils' lead to 6-1, and after a strikeout and a single, Wolf was gone. Rheal Cormier then faced four batters without retiring any of them -- two-run tater, bunt single, double, single. Enter Ryan Madson. Single and a pair of fielder's choices, and finally, after five Colorado runs, the inning was over.

Tim Worrell cleaned up Madson's mess in the bottom of the eighth, and the Phillies entered the ninth with their one-run lead intact. But not for long. Worrell channeled Jose Mesa, walking Todd Helton on four pitches and then getting taken deep by Castilla. David Pinto's update to this post really says it all.

The temptation is to point fingers at the bullpen, but the relievers have been outstanding all season long. What happened today was that the injuries to Roberto Hernandez and Billy Wagner finally caught up to the Phils. With Brian Powell and Jim Crowell too inexperienced to trust in pressure situations, Larry Bowa is playing with a shortened 'pen in close games. And Cormier has been considerably less effective than he was a year ago. Amaury Telemaco has pitched well, and Bowa will have to start considering him for late-inning scenarios until Hernandez and Wagner -- especially Wagner -- return from the DL.

Offensively, the Phillies were an inefficient bunch today, scoring only six times on 12 hits and leaving a dozen on base. Reverting to early-season form, the top of the lineup -- Marlon Byrd and Jimmy Rollins, hitting in the 1 and 2 positions, respectively, each game -- turned in a cover-your-eyes performance in the two losses to the Rockies, going a combined 0-for-18.

My guess is that tomorrow's papers will have the Phils in a pissed-off mood, realizing the vast psychological and emotional differences between a 7-3 trip and an 8-2 trip. There's no way around it: Yesterday and today have marked a disappointing end to an otherwise terrific trip.


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