The Phillies played another extra-inning game Saturday night — 18th to be exact — and picked up another loss in this season destined for nowhere.
Rookie reliever Ken Giles came back to earth, permitting the decisive run in the 12th inning and picking up his first major-league loss in a 6-5 defeat to the St. Louis Cardinals (see Instant Replay).
But afterward, the talk wasn’t about Giles or the offense clawing back from a 5-2 deficit. No, it once again revolved around the much-maligned Domonic Brown and his defense.
With a runner on second in the top of the sixth inning of a 2-2 game, Brown pulled up on a flared single that fell in front of his feet. Caught off guard by Cardinals catcher A.J. Pierzynski breaking for third, Brown paused slightly and then fired an errant throw, allowing the runner to score.
It was all part of a slipshod inning by the Phillies that uncoiled with another throwing error by Cody Asche, resulting in two more St. Louis runs.
“We struggled in the sixth inning,” manager Ryne Sandberg said. “Not a good defensive inning for us.”
And again, it all came back to Brown. The sixth inning could serve as a symbol for his season. The 26-year-old has struggled at the plate and in the field.
Saturday was just another game of Brown receiving resounding boos for questionable defense.
“It definitely wasn’t a ball that I think I could have got to, but I should have charged it better than that,” Brown said. “I knew it was a wet ground, I didn’t know if the ball was going to shoot right or left there, so I was just trying to keep it in front. He took the extra base on me, I short-hopped Cody Asche and they ended up scoring a run, so it was a big play, for sure.”
Has Brown had trouble reading balls or getting quality jumps?
“I mean, I’m not out there everyday, so it’s kind of tough coming off the bench,” Brown said. “I’m doing the best I can out there. I’m trying to catch every ball, and if I can’t catch it, it’s gonna fall. But I’m definitely going out there and playing as hard as possible.”
As a result of his struggles, Brown has split time of late with Grady Sizemore and Darin Ruf.
“Ryno’s doing the best job that he can with the outfielders that we have,” Brown said, “just getting us all playing time right now.”
Sandberg removed Brown in the seventh as part of a double switch, replacing him with Sizemore, while calling upon Antonio Bastardo to relieve Justin De Fratus.
“I don’t know if those are late breaks or what but I know outfield defense is something we’ve stressed,” Sandberg said. “We’ve improved overall outfield defense in right field, and center field’s been better. Whether it’s better jumps or having reads on those balls.”
Brown said the shoddy defense is not for a lack of effort. Sandberg agreed.
“No,” Sandberg said, “I don’t question effort with the guys.”
In the end, the Phillies helped turn that sixth inning into somewhat of an afterthought with an offensive rally. Ryan Howard hit his 19th home run in the sixth to pull the Phillies within two before Marlon Byrd delivered a two-run single in the eighth to knot the score.
“Well, the guys battled right down until the end,” Sandberg said. “Battled back, had late fight.”
David Buchanan threw five innings of two-run ball. He scattered eight hits on 90 pitches, but minimized damage. He wasn’t thrilled with his early exit.
“That caught me off guard, honestly,” Buchanan said. “I didn't expect that. I wasn't too happy about it. But I can't control that. I just do what I'm told. And I go for as long as I can. Unfortunately, that was only five innings tonight. But it definitely caught me off guard.”
But once Giles surrendered his first run since Aug. 3 on a sac fly by Matt Carpenter in the 12th, the discussion reared its head back toward Brown.
It’s been that kind of season for him.
“I feel great out there,” Brown said. “When I’m out there, I feel good.”