Jimmy Rollins attempts to avoid a tag from Todd Helton in the Phillies' 5-3 loss to the Rockies. (USA Today Images)
In three of the five games Ryne Sandberg has managed for the Phillies, the offense has produced just three hits.
Obviously, all three of those games ended up being losses.
Tuesday night’s three-hitter resulted in a 5-3 loss to end a modest two-game winning streak for the Phillies (see Instant Replay), but maybe if Jimmy Rollins was able to get one hit the result would have been different.
With two on and two outs in the seventh inning, Rollins ripped a 1-2 pitch from reliever Rex Brothers down the third-base line that seemed to be rolling to the corner for a two-run double. Even when third baseman Nolan Arenado made a sensational diving stab to keep the ball in the infield, it looked like Rollins had a single at the very least.
But along with the great stop, Arenado also made a great throw. With his momentum carrying him into foul ground, Arenado made a strong, one-hop throw that pulled Gold Glove first baseman Todd Helton off the bag. With a quick downward swipe, Helton made what replays seemed to show a whiff on the tag to get Rollins at first. Still, first-base umpire Jim Wolf called Rollins out.
Apparently, Helton sold the tag well enough to fool both Wolf and Rollins. That’s because afterwards, Helton says he never touched Rollins.
“I didn’t tag him,” Helton said of the bang-bang play. “I tried to, but I didn’t tag him.”
That admission differed from Rollins’ reaction and his explanation to Sandberg. After running past first base -- and never touching it -- Rollins did not argue the call. It seemed as if everyone in the ballpark thought he was safe but him. And because Rollins did not react other than to wait for someone to bring him his glove and cap before taking his position in the field, first-base coach Wally Joyner didn’t argue the call.
Neither did Sandberg.
“It looked like a close play at first, but J-Roll felt some contact over there, he felt like a tag was applied,” Sandberg said.
“That was the biggest thing, Jimmy had no argument. He told me later he felt something over there on his back. From my angle, I just saw a throw that was slightly up the line with a swipe tag. I based it on Jimmy’s reaction.”
Had Rollins beat the throw, the bases would have been loaded with two outs and Carlos Ruiz at the plate. Or if Arenado’s glove had been an inch lower or higher, the game could have been tied with Ruiz at the plate.
“That was a game-saving play,” Sandberg said. “Two men on and a possible double, who knows?”
That was the Phillies’ best chance to score, and that even includes the three runs in the third inning when they got two singles, a walk and an error by Helton to rally to within two runs. But Rockies’ lefty Jorge de la Rosa held the Phillies in check on three hits and three walks into the seventh, making the five early runs stand up.
Nevertheless, spot starter Tyler Cloyd gave the Phillies a chance despite allowing three in the first highlighted by a long homer from Troy Tulowitzki and one in each of the second and third innings. After the second inning, Cloyd retired 13 of the final 16 he faced and had just two three-ball counts.
“I was just trying to do too much, trying to be too fine,” Cloyd said. “Mechanics wore down a little bit. Later on, I settled down and started trusting that my stuff was going to go where I wanted it to go.”
Sandberg lauded Cloyd for pitching through six innings after such a shaky start. However, Sandberg explained, starting pitching sets the tone for the game and with five runs before the bottom of the third, the hitters were at a disadvantage.
Then again, starting pitching has put the Phillies at a disadvantage a lot during the second-half swoon. Since the All-Star break, the Phillies’ starters are 6-17 with a major-league worst 5.79 ERA. The next closest team, Toronto, is nearly a full run a game better than the Phils’ starters with a 4.82 ERA since the break.
“Starting pitching really sets the tone for the game and letting the offense do the things,” Sandberg said. “When the pitcher can put up some early zeroes, I think the offense feels better about that. And then the offense can work on getting some runs on the board. But we needed some innings out of Cloyd and he put the three zeros up there at the end, which helped the bullpen and it gave us a chance to come back. We were still in the game for the last three or four innings.”
The series continues on Wednesday night when Cliff Lee (10-6, 3.19) faces right-hander Juan Nicasio (7-6, 4.94). Lee goes into the game searching for his first win since July 5.