Offense offers Lee little support in home finale

Offense offers Lee little support in home finale

Phillies react to Sandberg being named manager

September 22, 2013, 6:30 pm
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Cliff Lee gave up two earned runs over seven innings Sunday, striking out eight and walking none in the Phillies' 2013 home finale at Citizens Bank Park. (AP)

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When general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and new manager Ryne Sandberg get together to put together the 2014 Phillies, the need for a player able to drive in runs will be high on the priority list.

Certainly the return of Ryan Howard will be a major development for the Phillies, since the slugger has a special knack for driving in runs. But in a 4-3 loss to the Mets in the home finale on Sunday afternoon (see Instant Replay), even Howard would not have been enough.

With plenty of base runners and lots of opportunities to score runs on Sunday, the Phillies left runners in scoring position in five of nine innings and had the proverbial ducks on the pond in four of those innings.

But all the Phillies could muster were three runs, going just 3 for 13 with runners in scoring position, as they closed down Citizens Bank Park for the 2013 season with a fourth straight loss.

The fourth loss and a three-game sweep by the Mets is the longest skid since Sandberg took over for Charlie Manuel on Aug. 16 and left the Phillies with a final 43-38 record at home.

“Offensively, it was kind of the same story for the whole weekend — missed opportunities with men on base and any of these three games could have went the other way with hitting a guy in from third or coming up with a clutch hit,” Sandberg said. “[We] really didn’t capitalize throughout the weekend on some opportunities in close games. It came back to haunt us.”

How long will it haunt the Phillies is the question. The Phillies rank 12th in the National League in runs scored, largely because they rank ninth in batting average (.249) and 11th in on-base percentage (.308); both totals are well below the league average. With those numbers, the Phillies have to make the most of their chances, especially when Cliff Lee turns in another stellar outing like he did for seven innings against the Mets.

Runs (obviously) would have helped, but keeping the other team off the scoreboard usually helps, too. Lee did the job in that regard, holding New York to two earned runs in seven innings with eight strikeouts, no walks or even three-ball counts.

But Lee was on the mound when the Mets scored twice in the seventh. Juan Lagares muscled off a two-strike pitch for a single before novice outfielders Cesar Hernandez and Darin Ruf played the second out into a table-setting double for Anthony Recker.

Then, with two on and one out, Wilfredo Tovar got his first big-league hit to tie the game. Recker stopped at third and then hustled home when left fielder Dom Brown misplayed the ball for an error.

“I got 0-2 to the eight-hole hitter — what’s his name? I think it was his debut? — and I think I made a good pitch with a fastball up and in and I have to tip my hat on that one,” Lee said. “He hit the pitch I was trying to make and got a big hit for them right there and took the lead and never lost it. Gotta give them credit.”

In his last four starts Lee has 41 strikeouts and just one walk in 31 innings. After perfectly tearing through the Mets’ lineup in the first three innings and holding a one-run lead going into the seventh, it seemed as if Lee was in perfect position.

But Sunday’s game was all about the little things adding up. There were the runners left on second and third, the misplayed balls in the field and even an assist by the second base umpire that doomed the Phillies. Mets’ starter Carlos Torres was helped by an inexplicable call in the first inning when Chris Guccione ruled that Jimmy Rollins had been hit by a ground ball off the bat of Chase Utley.

Replays showed it wasn’t even close and Rollins, usually mild-mannered on the field, was as indignant over the call as one would ever see him. Afterwards, when asked if the ball hit him, Rollins was still hot.

“Hell no!” he said.

“Yeah, the umpire said he was right there and heard something and saw something on the back of the heel,” Sandberg said. “I found that hard to believe with no misdirection of the ball and the fielder having no problem with the ground ball. Unfortunate play.”

As a result, instead of having two on with one out, the Phillies had one on with two outs.

“We’d rather have first and second with one out right there,” Sandberg said. “In one-run games, including that type of a play — bang-bang play at first base — adds up. Especially in one-run games.”

The Phillies will play out the string on the road with three games in Miami and four games in Atlanta starting on Monday night. The pitching matchups for the series against the Marlins are:

Monday: Roy Halladay (4-4, 6.71) vs. Nathan Eovaldi (3-6, 3.79)

Tuesday: Zach Miner (0-1, 3.22) vs. Henderson Alvarez (4-5, 4.05)

Wednesday: Cole Hamels (8-14, 3.62) vs. Brad Hand (1-1, 2.92)

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