Phillies 2015 – Week Twelve
A week that began with Maikel Franco introducing himself to the world by making history ended with manager Ryne Sandberg being history. There is much to discuss. So, let’s get started.
In the storied history of baseball in the Bronx, countless legends have had memorable days … Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Maris, Jackson, Jeter and that’s just a few … none of them ever had a two game explosion like Franco did in his first two games ever at 161st & River.
The rookie third baseman staked starter Kevin Correia to a 1-0 lead with a first inning home run. Then, he extended a 4-2 lead to 6-2 with a single in the fourth and absolutely crushed Chris Capuano’s 3-0 fast ball, driving it halfway to Scarsdale with one out in the sixth. When the smoke cleared, Franco had his first multi-homer game and five RBIs and the Phillies had backed up their nine run explosion on Sunday with 11 on Monday. Phillies 11, Yankees 8.
With the Yankees rolling out a lineup of notorious Phillie killers (Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Garrett Jones, Chris Young), it was Brett Gardner that proved to be the most dangerous. The speedy centerfielder reached safely in each of his first seven at bats of the series before finally striking out to end the fourth inning on Tuesday night. This, of course, meant that the Phillies’ offense needed to continue their sudden and unexpected spike in production. They did.
Trailing 3-1 in the fourth inning, they exploded for five runs off of C. C. Sabathia (CC … Catastrophically Corpulent??). The key hit was a three run tater by Franco that looked like a bat-handle pop up to shallow right at first. But, this was Yankee Stadium… that means the most laughable rightfield short porch in baseball. The pinstriped Bombers answered with three runs of their own in the fifth, featuring back-to-back big flies by Chase Headley and Alex Rodriguez. It remained 6-5 until the ninth when the visitor’s bats were ignited again. First, a two-run double by (you guessed it) Franco, then Andres Blanco’s bases-clearing triple to the rightfield corner and before you knew it, the Phils had won their first series road series of the season. A week after scoring only three runs on Sunday. Monday and Tuesday, they had plated 31 across the same three day stretch. It’s a goofy game this baseball … Phillies 11, Yankees 6.
There is only one thing that is sure to stem the momentum of a rampaging Phillies offense. After 42 hits and 31 runs in three games, the wave crashed against the breakwall that is a Cole Hamels start. The appalling lack of run support received by the Phillies’ lefty has gone from a shame to a punchline and back to a shame again. Even with the Yankees starting Ivan Nova, who had not yet thrown a pitch at the major league level this season after tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow last season, the overwhelming power of this team’s inability to score for Hamels was simply too strong. Nova deftly scattered three hits and a walk across six and two-thirds innings before handing a 6-0 lead to his bullpen. The Phils managed two meaningless runs in the ninth against rookie Diego Moreno. But, their modest three game winning streak was over. Yankees 10, Phillies 2.
The Phillies hit a break in their schedule after a 13-day stretch that saw them drop eight of nine, then win three of four. Casual onlookers and rabid fans alike may have thought that the brief uptick had buoyed the hopes and spirits of embattled manager Ryne Sandberg. However…
A press conference was arranged in the afternoon to announce the resignation of the manager. After a run of less than two seasons (119-159), Sandberg’s ‘dream opportunity’ had become a nightmare. After making a vague reference to the rumored hiring of Andy MacPhail, he said that had decided to get out of the way and let the organization move forward. If the organization was planning on making a change in the manager’s office, Sandberg’s decision appeared to subvert their schedule, because they did not have a permanent replacement ready to go. Pete Mackanin received the battlefield promotion and the ‘Interim’ tag, as he had previously in his career for the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates.
In his first game as manager, Mackanin gave the ball to Aaron Harang. On the other side was Max Scherzer, one of the premier arms in the game who had allowed a grand total of three baserunners in his last two starts; a one-hitter against the Milwaukee Brewers and a no-hitter against the Pirates. Given the eight times this team had been shut out this season, there was a more than legitimate chance that Scherzer could join Johnny van der Meer at the peak of one of sports’ loneliest mountains.
Sure enough, the Washington Nationals righthander retired the first 17 batters he faced. By the time Freddy Galvis’ line drive found the rightfield corner for the double that ended Scherzer’s bid at history, the Nats had already posted a 5-0 lead. In one of the great “Wait … what??” moments of recent memory, Ben Revere took the nearly unhittable Scherzer deep in the eighth inning, only his third homerun in nearly 2200 lifetime at-bats. It wasn’t enough. Nationals 5, Phillies 2.
After the pleasant surprise we all received in Adam Morgan’s major-league debut, there was a degree of measured excitement about his second career start. He would be facing former Phillies’ farm hand Gio Gonzalez. But, the real challenge came from Mother Nature. Facing a forecast of steady rain that would clearly imperil any attempt to play nine innings, it was still decided that the game would be started. After only an inning and a half, the skies opened and, eventually, the game was postponed, taking with it a hit, a stolen base and a spectacular catch by Revere. It would be made up in on Sunday as part of that rarest of creatures, the ‘one gate’ doubleheader.
In the opener, it was Kevin Correia against Stephen Strasburg. Jeff Francoeur led off the second inning by reminding the dozens assembled at Citizen’s Bank Park and the hundreds watching at home that the one thing you CAN NOT DO is throw him a first pitch fastball. His bomb into the leftfield seats put the home team ahead 1-0. What followed was a series of odd, defensive misplays that highlighted this team’s lack of fundamentals. Amazingly, none of them resulted in runs until Francoeur chased Denard Span’s line drive into the corner in right and was momentarily transformed into Smalls from The Sandlot. He fumbled the ball at first, then had it squirt impotently out of his hand when he tried to launch one of his signature rifle throws. Span took third and eventually scored the game-tying run. In the sixth, Correia found himself facing a threat with one out and two men on base. With the 8-hole and the pitcher coming up, he could see his way out. To his credit, the 8-hole hitter, Michael Taylor, battled, worked the count full and smoked the payoff pitch into the leftfield corner for a run scoring double that ended Correia’s afternoon. Mackanin seemed not to care that there were two games to be played as he gave Jeanmar Gomez only one hitter, the pitcher Strasburg whom he retired on a chop to second, before calling on Jake Diekman to face the top of the Nats order. First, he walked Span on four pitches to load the bases, then he started Danny Espinoza with an errant fastball that catcher Cameron Rupp could only wave at as it headed to the backstop. Dan Uggla raced home and Washington led 3-1. Francoeur earned a measure of redemption with an RBI single in the bottom half of the inning. But, that is as close as it got. Nationals 3, Phillies 2.
Game two would prove to be a very different animal altogether. Saturday’s events had left both teams scrambling for an arm. The Phils reached into the Lehigh valley and recalled Severino Gonzalez. Washington skipper Matt Williams seemed to be waiting to see how many relievers he would use in game one before handing the ball to Tanner Roark. Mackanin rolled out a lineup that actually looked like a young team at the onset of a rebuild. Odubel Herrera, Cesar Hernandez, Franco and Domonic Brown at the top and, for the afternoon at least, the kids were alright. Sixteen hits and eight runs later, the double bill was split. Phillies 8, Nationals 5.
Between the circumstances surrounding the clumsily handled dismissal of Charlie Manual and the deterioration of this all-to-briefly spectacular team, Ryne Sandberg was placed in a very difficult position from Day One. It may be unfair to judge his tenure here strictly by W’s and L’s. But, even with a more abstract metric in place, it was not a success. In the end, Sandberg the manager may come to personify a historically dark period in team history the way that Sandberg the player came to represent what is considered one of the great personnel blunders in team history.
Looking ahead –
The Milwaukee Brewers come to town and there are guaranteed to be fireworks. No, seriously … it’s the first week of July … there will be fireworks. As far as the baseball, the Brewers and Phillies are the only two teams in the major leagues that have yet to win 30 games this year. So, at least they’re evenly matched. Then, it’s three in Hotlanta through the holiday weekend with the Braves.
Bronx Bomber of the Week –
Watching the Homeric exploits of Mikael Franco in the Bronx, we couldn’t help but wonder if any Phillies rookie had ever driven in five runs in successive games before. None had. At that point, the question became ‘when was the last time any Phillie had done it?’. Sure enough, since the statistic known as the Run Batted In was invented. Nobody in a Phillies uniform had ever done it.
Drinking Game of the Week –
Naturally, none of us here at The Cave would encourage such irresponsible behavior. But, if one was looking for a way to add a little excitement to this season, he need look no further than the broadcast booth. As the season progresses, as a ‘public service’ of sorts, your Week In Review will provide rules for the Official 2015 Phillies Broadcast Drinking Game. We begin with three rules that are bound to liven up any party.
1. Anytime the Phillies are retired 1-2-3 … take a drink (odds are you’ll be needing it)
2. Whenever Tom McCarthy says some version of, “That will retire the side. But, …” after an opponent has scored … take a drink
3. Each time Ryan Howard stubbornly hits a ball directly into the shift for an out … well, why don’t you just go ahead and finish whatever you’re holding.
That ought to put enough of us into rehab for now … more to come.