Love him or hate him, Chris Wheeler summed it up best just before tonight's winning run came across the plate in the top of the eleventh: "Nothing's comin' easy."
The Phillies took a three-run lead on a Jimmy Rollins blast in the second inning, then waited through an hour and seven minute rain delay before allowing it to drip away one frame at a time. The offense could not add to their total, Ryan Madson blew his first save of the season, and the club finally fell apart during extras when Placido Polanco failed to make a fairly routine play at third base to extend the game. Cubs steal one, 4-3.
Tonight's loss will be tough to swallow, as the Phils had every opportunity to play the role of finishers against a struggling ball club. Instead, Chicago kept coming back at the home team, and eventually outlasted them.
You Can Plan a Pretty Picnic, But You Can't Predict the Weather
The trouble began when the tarp came off the diamond. Kyle Kendrick, who had pitched well through three innings, was unable to return after the pause. From there, Charlie Manuel embarked on a mission to use every available arm, so by the time the tenth rolled around, the only remaining reliever was David Herndon.
Denys Baez went the farthest, giving the team a competent 2.2 innings after the delay. While he seems to have relished the longer appearances in recent weeks, Baez may have tired in the top of the sixth, plunking Darwin Barney with two outs to set up a Starlin Castro RBI single. Barney stole second, and scored when Domonic Brown's throw from right field took a wicked bounce that Dane Sardinha couldn't handle.
Romero, Stutes, and Bastardo combined for a scoreless 1.2, but Jose Contreras saw the lead cut to one on his watch after a pair of doubles by Castro and Carlos Pena in the eighth.
In the ninth, Madson blew the save, but he nearly cost them the game entirely. After Geovany Soto took the closer deep to left center to knot the score at three, it appeared the very next batter gave the Cubs the lead. Tyler Colvin drove another bomb over the wall in right, but replays showed it may have been aided by a Phillies(?) fan. The umpires went inside for a replay session, and indeed wound up sending Colvin back to second base. Madson worked his way out of the inning after the gift.
Was fan interference the correct call? (take a closer look here) The guy clearly leaned over the fence, but I wasn't sure there was conclusive evidence that ball didn't have the distance. In any event, it gave the Phils a second chance, and the imbecile was escorted from the stadium, so at least that much was win-win.
Another Long Night
The Fightins had a shot to take the game in the tenth, but the depleted bullpen reared its ugly head. Shane Victorino drew a two-out walk, and Raul Ibanez reached on an infield single. That brought Brown to the plate, but with Herndon's spot up next, Cubs manager Mike Quade called for the intentional walk.
While Wilson Valdez was willing and able, Charlie left Herndon in the game and prayed for the best. A reliever with two career Major League at bats, Herndon swung meekly at strike three, and the threat was over.
Not Like This...
File under "Not Meant to Be."
Colvin led off the eleventh with softly hit ball up the first base line, which he nearly outran. Howard got to it with little time to spare, but couldn't get the pill out of his glove in time for a flip. It appeared as if Herndon might come unglued after the runner advanced when a passed ball got through Carlos Ruiz, but back-to-back K's pulled the situation back to manageable.
Barney grounded the ball down the third base line to a charging Polanco, who had what looked like a relatively easy play at first. Instead, the usually steady Polanco short-armed the throw, and Ryan Howard wasn't able to dig it out. Colvin came flying around third, easily scoring the game's decisive run.
Time to Point Fingers
There is plenty of blame to go around after a loss like this. One group at least that should be left off the hook is the Phils' pitching staff. Sure, the bullpen allowed some runs tonight, but they weren't actively bad. Madson was probably due, and the winning score flat out wasn't Herndon's fault.
You could question Manuel's frequent use of the bullpen, however. I hope they have plenty of Anytime minutes out there. Four pitchers didn't even get a full inning of work, and obviously it created problems later in the game, when instead of managing to win the game, he was forced to manage it not to lose. While the Phillies mulled their limited options, the Cubs still had plenty of arms ready to go deep into the night.
But ultimately you have to look at the everyday guys. The offense has long since been a source of discontent, and tonight they didn't record a hit for five innings. On top of it, a series of shoddy defensive plays directly resulted in the winning run coming across. It's enough not to hit, but if the sloppy execution in the field continues, even the Phillies' pitching won't be able to save them.