Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Phillies Fall In Home Opener

GAME RECAP: Padres Edge Phillies 4-3

The Padres squeezed and replayed their way to a 4-3 victory over the Phillies on Monday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, spoiling Philadelphia's home opener. Padres third baseman Alexi Amarista dropped a perfect bunt between the mound and first-base line to score Derek Norris from third with one out in the seventh inning to give San Diego the lead. Wil Myers' solo home run to left field in the fourth inning handed the Padres a three-run lead before the Phillies scored a run each in the fourth, fifth and sixth to tie the game. The Padres won a replay challenge at first base in the seventh, which allowed the Padres to squeeze with one out. The Phillies lost a replay challenge on an infield fly play in the sixth, which stunted a potential rally. "I didn't like the call, but we have to live with it," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "We just have to get past it. We had opportunities after that." The Padres' bullpen combined for four scoreless frames, capped by Fernando Rodney's first save with San Diego. Starter Andrew Cashner, who allowed three runs over five innings, consistently dialed up his fastball to the high 90s, and he was ahead of Phillies hitters all afternoon. "I always try to take aggressiveness out there," Cashner said. "I think sometimes it maybe gets me in a little bit of trouble, but I think it was a lot better today."

  • With the bases loaded and no one out in the bottom of the sixth, the Padres called on lefty reliever Brad Hand, who got pinch-hitter Darin Ruf to pop up to shallow left. That was only the beginning. Left fielder Myers never saw the ball off the bat, and shortstop Alexei Ramirez couldn't make the play as he backtracked. But third-base umpire Will Little ruled it as an infield fly, and -- although a run scored -- Ramirez threw to third for a double play, which was confirmed by review. "It's the umpire's call," Ramirez said. "We're the players. We have to react to what's going on on the field. If that's the call they're going to end up making, then that's what they're making. You just react and have to make the play." Said crew chief Ted Barrett: "The criteria for an infield fly is a batted ball in the air that a fielder can field with ordinary effort. And that's what the third-base umpire ruled. ... Of course, the confusion a lot of times is people think that the depth of the fly ball into the outfield comes into play. And that's not a factor. It's actually [whether it can be] easily caught by an infielder, with ordinary effort."
  • The Phillies set up their rotation to have right-hander Aaron Nola pitch the home opener. He allowed four runs in seven innings, walking none and striking out a career-high nine. In 14 innings, Nola has struck out 17 and walked none. Entering Monday, no pitcher in baseball had double-digit strikeouts without allowing a walk. "Nothing affects him," Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp said. "Nothing fazes him out there. He doesn't show emotion at his highest point or when he's down in the ditches. He battles and he knows how to pitch and stay within himself."
  • Mackanin pinch-hit Ruf for Ryan Howard with the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth inning, when Padres left-hander Hand entered the game. Mackanin said he would platoon Howard and Ruf this season, but Monday really drove home that point. "You act like it's the first time it happened," Howard said. "It's not a surprise." "I thought it was the perfect time to do it, blow the game wide open," Mackanin said.
  • "If you're on the bases running it's hard, especially if there are 45,000 people, to hear an umpire yell it. You're certainly not looking for him to point. So when you see the ball drop that far into the outfield, your actual instincts are to try to advance." -- Ruf, on the controversial infield fly call.
  • If there's a team for Morton to get back on track against, it's the Padres. Among teams he's made more than one start against, Morton only has a better ERA against the Giants (2.59 in 12 starts) than San Diego (2.70 in seven).
  • Dating back to last season, Morton has yet to make it out of the fifth in four consecutive starts. The last quality start he recorded came Sept. 11 for the Pirates in a 6-3 win over the Brewers.
  • Padres center fielder Jon Jay has plenty of experience against Morton, with 34 career plate appearances. He's 9-for-24 (.375) with three walks -- and he's been hit by a pitch five times.
  • Erlin has made two career starts against Philadelphia, and he's had plenty of success. In 12 1/3 innings, he's allowed three earned runs and nine hits, while striking out 11. The Phillies' 3-4 hitters, Maikel Franco and Ryan Howard, are a combined 0-for-6 with four strikeouts against Erlin.

A 2-4 start with multiple bullpen collapses has many Phillies fans looking to the clouds in search of a silver lining after the first week. Look no further than the rotation, which six games in had compiled a 2.97 ERA. One holdout from the success, though, is Tuesday's starter, Charlie Morton. The free-agent acquisition didn't make it out of the fourth inning in his Phillies debut, allowing six runs before getting the hook. The Padres have their own issues -- namely having their Opening Day starter, Tyson Ross, on the disabled list. Taking his place in the rotation is Robbie Erlin, a 25-year-old left-hander recalled Friday, five days after he didn't make the Opening Day roster. He pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings in relief that night, which earned him the spot start in place of Ross, whom San Diego expects to return by the end of April.


Opening Day Celebrations – The Phillies saved the best for last. The team entered the ballpark from center field before Monday's home-opening 4-3 loss to the Padres at Citizens Bank Park, and first baseman Ryan Howard and catcher Carlos Ruiz were the final two players to enter the building. They are the only two remaining players from the 2008 World Series championship roster, and this is expected to be their final seasons with the team. Members of the U.S. military unfurled a large American flag as the Philadelphia Boys Choir and Men's Chorale sung "America the Beautiful" and "God Bless America." Kane Kalas, who is the son of the late Harry Kalas, sang the national anthem. Philadelphia police officer Jesse Hartnett, who was shot three times while on duty, threw out a first pitch. President Obama called Hartnett, 33, a hero in his last State of the Union address. Hartnett then surprised his girlfriend with a marriage proposal on the field. She said yes. Villanova basketball players Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu also threw out first pitches. Villanova won the NCAA championship last week.

Baserunning Issues… Again! – Pete Mackanin wasn't happy with the Phillies' baserunning instincts during the season-opening six-game road trip. Even though the lapses didn't cost his team, he knows that in the long run those mistakes would transform potential wins into losses. During Monday's home-opening 4-3 loss to the Padres at Citizens Bank Park, confusion over an infield fly rule call may have short-circuited a big rally. In this case, though, Mackanin's quibble was with the interpretation of the rule, not with the baserunning decision that led to an unnecessary out at third. Here's the setup: Down by a run going into the bottom of the sixth, the Phillies loaded the bases with nobody out against San Diego starter Andrew Cashner on a walk to Cesar Hernandez and singles by Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco. Left-hander Brad Hand relieved Cashner and Mackanin countered by sending Darin Ruf up to bat for Ryan Howard. Ruf popped up toward left and that's when the fun began. Padres left fielder Wil Myers threw his hands in the air, indicating that he had no idea where the ball was. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez and third baseman Alexi Amarista retreated. While all this was going on, third-base umpire Will Little emphatically invoked the infield fly rule. Ruf was out. The runners could advance at their own risk. When the ball dropped into the Bermuda Triangle among the Padres defenders, Hernandez did just that and scored easily from third. Herrera, however, was unaware that he didn't have to try to advance to third. Neither was Amarista, who stepped on third as if the force play was still in effect, then also tagged the runner almost as an afterthought. This led to a challenge, even though the infield fly itself is not reviewable. "The force was removed, so the Phillies were contending that [Amarista] never tagged [Herrera]," crew chief Ted Barrett said. "So they used their challenge on that. That's what we went to New York for. And the replay official determined he had tagged him. "The criteria for an infield fly is a batted ball in the air that a fielder can field with ordinary effort. And that's what the third-base umpire ruled. Of course, the confusion a lot of times is people think that the depth of the fly ball into the outfield comes into play. And that's not a factor. It's actually [whether it can be] easily caught by an infielder, with ordinary effort." Mackanin's contention was the rule shouldn't be invoked in the first place. "I didn't like the call, but we have to live with it," he said. "It's their judgment. That was a big play, obviously, [but] we had opportunities after that." The play was reminiscent of the popup to left field by then-Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons that fell into left field in the National League Wild Card Game in 2012, a play that might have helped Atlanta eliminate St. Louis if umpire Sam Holbrook hadn't called the batter out on the infield fly rule. Of course, all that could have been avoided if Herrera and Franco had stayed at their bases. The score would have been tied with runners on first and second with just one out. Instead, Cameron Rupp struck out to end the inning and the Phillies had only one more baserunner in the final three innings. "If you're on the bases it's hard, especially when there are 45,000 people, to hear an umpire yell it," Ruf said. "You're certainly not looking for an umpire to point. So when you see the ball drop that far into the outfield, I think it's just your natural instinct to try to advance." Said Herrera: "I did not hear anything from the umpire. It's the first time that's happened to me. If I had known the circumstances, I would have done something different. [Amarista] tagged me and I think he was as confused as I was." On Friday night, against the Mets at Citi Field, Hernandez was doubled up when he tried to advance to second when an infield popup by Herrera dropped behind the mound. What Hernandez didn't realize was that the infield fly rule had been called and that the proper move was to stay right where he was. Mackanin called the mistake "unacceptable." Hernandez said he should have known better. The next night, Hernandez was on third with Herrera on first and one out in the ninth. Franco followed by beating out a grounder to third. But this time, Hernandez didn't run when he should have. In the series finale Sunday, Herrera almost got doubled off second on a fly ball to right that he probably should have gone to third on. The Phillies didn't lose any games in New York because of their misadventures on the basepaths. Monday may have been a different story, but the manager disagreed more with how the rule was applied than with how his runner reacted.

Drawing Comparisons – The last time a Phillies pitcher younger than Aaron Nola started the home opener, Shibe Park hadn't yet been renamed after Connie Mack. The Phillies had yet to win a World Series and only had one National League pennant. Robin Roberts was in his second Major League season. It was Roberts, then 22, in 1949 who was the youngest before Nola. Roberts, too, was in his first full Major League season. The Hall of Famer, however, began the season far less auspiciously than Nola. He threw only three innings, walking six and allowing seven runs in a loss to the Brooklyn Dodgers. As for Nola? "He pitched well enough to win," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said after the 4-3 loss to the Padres on Monday at Citizens Bank Park. The 23-year-old Nola, less than two years removed from LSU, tossed seven innings, allowing four runs on six hits. He has yet to issue a walk this season. He also made history of his own, setting a career high with nine strikeouts. "He made one bad pitch, really," catcher Cameron Rupp said, referencing the curveball Padres left fielder Wil Myers mashed over the left-center-field fence in the fourth. It was his secondary pitches that got Nola in trouble, Mackanin said. His curveball got hit hard. He used his changeup, which he worked on sparingly in Spring Training. But Nola set the tone with his fastball, with which he recorded the majority of his strikeouts. He commanded the pitch so well, he drew comparisons to Cliff Lee from his manager postgame. "Cliff, I mean, he's outstanding," Nola said. "I watched his career a pretty good bit. He's a good guy to watch. For me, he's a pretty good guy to learn from." Mackanin was not only impressed by Nola's fastball but also by his demeanor pitching in front of the biggest crowd of his career. The 45,229 in Citizens Bank Park eclipsed the crowds generated by the Phillies last season except for Opening Day. "Sure it was the home opener," Nola said. "At the end of the day, right when I stepped on the mound, I approached it like just a regular game." It's the same demeanor in which Mackanin hoped his players would respond to the pomp and circumstance that surrounds the first time every team opens its gates. Despite being involved in Major League Baseball for more than 40 years, he delivered no pregame speech to the team in regards to the home opener. And it was exactly the attitude the entire team has come to expect from Nola. "I expected him to be poised," Mackanin said. "Because that's how he showed up to the big leagues last year." Added Rupp, "Nothing affects him. Nothing phases him out there."

Montgomery Remembers Snider – Ed Snider was directly involved at some point of his remarkable life with three of the four major professional sports teams in Philadelphia: Flyers, Sixers and Eagles. "We were the one he wasn't involved with," Phillies chairman Dave Montgomery said before Monday's home-opening 4-3 loss to the Padres, reacting to the news that Snider had passed away at the age of 83. "And yet our friendship on a professional level between the organizations is as deep as any." When Snider started PRISM, helping start the concept of regional sports networks, the Phillies were offered an opportunity to invest. They passed, to their later regret, but entered a business relationship that allowed local fans to see their games on television. "But we got a mulligan on that, because some 22 years later, we were able to work with [Snider, the Flyers and the Sixers] to put together what's currently Comcast SportsNet," Montgomery said. The Phillies not only have a stake in the enterprise, but are in the first year of a 20-year, $2.5 billion deal with CSN. When Citizens Bank Park was being built, the Phillies worked out a joint parking agreement with Snider. The Phillies modeled their annual fund-raising event to raise money to combat Lou Gehrig's Disease after the Flyers Wives Carnival. Montgomery also remembered Snider as an innovator, pointing out that when he built the Spectrum for his hockey and basketball teams, part of the blueprint called for a restaurant called the Blue Line Club. "That was one of the first innovations that Ed was involved with. Up until that time, if you attended events at the Palestra or Convention Hall or Connie Mack Stadium or wherever, there wasn't a thought to having a restaurant in the facility. But the Spectrum had the Blue Line Club," he said. The two franchises worked together to make the NHL's Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park a reality. Both organizations worked to develop a strong family culture. Snider watched a couple of games of the 2008 World Series with Montgomery and was in turn invited to come across Pattison Avenue to watch the Flyers. "I knew better than that," he said with a laugh. "Because when you think of Ed -- and I think this is what really appeals to the Philadelphia sports fan about Ed Snider -- he [had] a passion for sports. And a passion to win." In February, Montgomery was honored to be presented with the Ed Snider Lifetime Achievement Award. "In many ways we learned from the Flyers," Montgomery said. "And perhaps in a few things they learned from us."
Phils History - In addition to dominant performances on the day by Earl Moore (1911) and Chris Short (1965) this day also marks the Opening of the Astrodome (1965), and anniversary of the 1,500th player to appear in a Phillies uniform (1990), and, unfortunately, a forgettable moment at the end of Dave Hollins' career (2002) which took place exactly 12 years after his major league debut. 

The Phillies are currently 2-5 this season putting them on pace to meet most preseason predictions. The Phillies finished the spring exceeding most expectations compiling a record of 15-11-3 (18-11-3 if you include the exhibition games against Reading and the University of Tampa). All time, the Phillies are 24-24-0 on this day. I expect the Phillies to finish in the bottom half of the division but not last in the NL East by finishing the season with a 77-85 record. Let the rebuild begin!

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