Asche shines, but Phils find 'shifty' way to lose

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Asche shines, but Phils find 'shifty' way to lose

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The Phillies trudged out the door of Citizens Bank Park late Tuesday night for a flight to Toronto, where they will continue a home-and-home series with the Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

Good thing it’s a short flight to Toronto because this couldn’t have been a fun one. They seldom are when a team digs itself a five-run hole, battles back to tie the game, then loses it in extra innings.

That’s what happened in this one. Cole Hamels struggled for the second game in a row. (He has allowed 18 hits and 11 runs in 10 2/3 innings in those games -- see story.) Cody Asche bailed Hamels out with a game-tying grand slam in the sixth inning. But the Phils eventually lost to the Blue Jays, 6-5, when Antonio Bastardo allowed a couple of hits and Juan Francisco lifted a sacrifice fly to weak-armed centerfielder Ben Revere in the 10th (see Instant Replay).

The Phillies have lost two in a row to the Blue Jays to fall to 15-16 on the season.

A couple of things to keep an eye on Wednesday night at Rogers Centre in Toronto:

• Will manager Ryne Sandberg reward Asche for his grand slam and four-hit night with a start against lefty Mark Buehrle? Asche, who has struggled much of the early season, has not started against a lefty since April 4.

• Will Sandberg continue to employ a defensive shift in the infield when it cost the Phils a couple of runs Tuesday night?

Early indications are that Asche will get the start.

“I look at this as a possible breakout game for Cody,” Sandberg said. “I’ll give [starting him against Buehrle] a lot of consideration. We could give him some continued play and let him build on this.”

As for the shift, the Phils have had mixed results while using it against the Jays. The Phils lost, 3-0, to Toronto on Monday night. The score would have been more lopsided if the Phils hadn’t employed the shift in their infield. Losing pitcher Kyle Kendrick said as much.

But Tuesday night, the shift led to some miscommunication between shortstop Freddy Galvis and second baseman Chase Utley in the fourth inning. No one “took charge,” in Sandberg’s words, on a ball hit between the two fielders and Edwin Encarnacion ended up with a hit that sent a runner to third and set up a run.

In the decisive 10th inning, the Jays got a leadoff hit from Melky Cabrera. That brought up dangerous Jose Bautista. The Phillies shifted him to the left side of the infield in both games. This time, Bautista made an adjustment and singled through the area vacated by Utley, who was playing just on the other side of second. If Utley is in his usual position, it is a double-play ball. Then again, if Utley is in his usual position, Bautista probably doesn’t hit it there. He probably takes his normal big hack to the pull side.

Whatever the case, you live by the shift; you die by the shift.

“We had Bautista as a dead-pull hitter on the ground and he hit one away from the defense,” Sandberg said.

The Phillies were fortunate to even be in the game so late.

They made defensive miscues and baserunning gaffes -- the struggling Galvis was involved in both -- and failed to move runners or do much of anything offensively against Drew Hutchison in the early innings.

“We did not play a good fundamental game,” Sandberg said. “We made baserunning mistakes, didn’t get a man over from second, coverage on defense. A lot of little things came back to haunt us.”

Sandberg didn’t mention the fact that Revere had no shot to throw out Cabrera at the plate on a fly ball to medium center in the 10th.

He did mention that Hamels, who gave up 10 hits, including two home runs, was not sharp.

“He fell behind in some counts and they didn’t miss his fastball,” Sandberg said.

The Phillies' offense went 21 innings (back to Sunday) before finally scoring in the sixth. Ryan Howard’s RBI hit was the first of five in the inning against Hutchison, who was otherwise nasty on the Phillies.

Asche’s game-tying grand slam was the big blow against Hutchison. It came with two outs and brought to life the crowd of 26,057, which demanded (and received) a curtain call from Asche.

The first month-plus of the season has been difficult on Asche, who entered Tuesday night hitting .214. His four hits raised his average to .257.

“It felt good to produce and help the team out,” Asche said. “There have been a lot of games where I haven’t done that.

“But this is still a loss, a missed opportunity.”

The 23-year-old third baseman was asked whether he believed his big night would earn him a shot in Wednesday night’s lineup.

“If I’m in there, I’m in there,” he said. “If I’m not, I’ll be on the bench, ready to go.

“There’s a lot of mental turmoil in this game over the course of a long season. The good ones weather the storms. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Pete Mackanin unloads on Phillies' bullpen after latest collapse

Pete Mackanin unloads on Phillies' bullpen after latest collapse

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ATLANTA — The Phillies’ bullpen continued its ugly, late-season collapse on Tuesday night. It was tagged for six runs in a 7-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves. The Braves rallied for the tying and go-ahead runs in the bottom of the eighth inning (see Instant Replay).
 
The loss came two days after the bullpen gave up 14 earned runs in four innings in a 17-0 loss to the New York Mets on Sunday and it left manager Pete Mackanin more than a little bit frustrated.
 
“The bullpen has just not been doing the job,” Mackanin said.
 
Jerad Eickhoff gave up just one run (on a solo homer by Freddie Freeman) over four walk-free innings to open the game. He was up 6-1 after four innings when the rains came and stopped the game for an hour and 53 minutes.
 
With Eickhoff bounced by the weather, Mackanin had to go to his bullpen. He used four relievers — Severino Gonzalez, Luis Garcia, Joely Rodriguez and David Hernandez — and all gave up runs.
 
Phillies relievers have pitched 77 1/3 innings this month and allowed 69 earned runs for an ERA of 8.03. So that’s one more thing Matt Klentak has to fix this winter, along with the offense that Mackanin wants to see addressed (see story).
 
Ultimately, Hernandez took the loss when he gave up three hits and a run in the bottom of the eighth. The other run in the inning was charged to Rodriguez.
 
As unbelievable as it may sound with rosters being expanded in September, the Phillies played this game shorthanded.
 
They did not have reliever Edubray Ramos. He had a sore elbow, Mackanin said.
 
They did not have outfielder Peter Bourjos, who had gone home to be with his wife for the birth of their child.
 
They also did not have outfielder Tyler Goeddel, who is out with a concussion.
 
Not having Bourjos or Goeddel forced Mackanin to use Darin Ruf in left field after Roman Quinn went out with an oblique injury in the sixth inning. Ruf failed to make a catch on a long fly ball by Tyler Flowers to the gap in left-center. The non-play extended the eighth inning and fueled the Braves’ comeback.
 
“It should have been caught,” Mackanin said. “If Quinn's out there, he catches it. He wasn't out there.”
 
Hernandez was the only free agent that the Phillies signed to a major-league contract this winter. The Phillies signed him with an eye toward using him as the closer. But Hernandez struggled much of the season and slipped into the middle innings while Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez rose to high-leverage roles.
 
Gomez lost the closer’s job last week and Mackanin was saving Neris to close out this game. That meant Hernandez had to pitch the eighth. He couldn’t protect the lead. He gave up the game-tying hit to Mallex Smith and the go-ahead hit to Emilio Bonafacio.
 
“Neris was going to close for us,” Mackanin said. “I thought about using him with two outs in the eighth. But, at some point, somebody else has to do a (bleeping) job. Somebody else has to (bleeping) step up. In two games now, every reliever I brought in has given up a (bleeping) run. That's unheard of.”
 
The bullpen’s unraveling threw cold (rain) water on Eickhoff’s solid start and Ryan Howard’s big night. Howard belted his 24th homer, a grand slam in the first inning, to highlight a 14-hit attack and help the Phils jump to a 6-0 lead.
 
“Eickhoff looked like he was having one of his best games and then the rain came. So that was our first disappointment,” Mackanin said. "Other than that, Howie swung the bat great. Hit that grand slam. We got 14 hits, but we stranded 12 runners. We have to keep adding on.”
 
Quinn had three of the Phillies’ 14 hits then added to his collection of injuries with the oblique strain that bounced him from the game in the sixth. He hurt himself taking a swing.
 
Oblique injuries generally keep a player sidelined for at least three weeks, so Quinn’s season is likely over. He missed six weeks with a similar injury at Double A Reading this summer. The 23-year-old outfielder came up from the minors on Sept. 11 and has been auditioning for a spot on next season’s opening day roster.
 
“It looks like it,” Mackanin said when asked if Quinn was done for what remains of the season.
 
Injuries have been a consistent hurdle for Quinn ever since he was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft. He has missed significant time with a ruptured Achilles tendon, a wrist injury that required surgery, a torn quad muscle and an oblique strain. Now he has another one.
 
“It’s the same one I hurt before,” Quinn said. “It’s frustrating.”
 
Right now, just about everything is frustrating with this team. Good thing there are only five games left.

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Best of MLB: Blue Jays beat Orioles in opener of AL wild-card showdown

Best of MLB: Blue Jays beat Orioles in opener of AL wild-card showdown

TORONTO -- Josh Donaldson hit a two-run homer, Aaron Sanchez struck out 10 and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Baltimore Orioles 5-1 on Tuesday night in the opener of their AL wild-card showdown.

Ezequiel Carrera also homered as the Blue Jays won for the sixth time in eight games. They lead the wild-card standings by two games over the Orioles with five to play.

Baltimore began the day two games ahead of Detroit and Seattle for the league's final playoff spot.

Orioles slugger Chris Davis was ejected for arguing with plate umpire Will Little after striking out against Joe Biagini in the seventh, the third time in three at-bats Davis was caught looking. Baltimore manager Buck Showalter also was tossed after he came out to argue (see full recap).

Syndergaard, Mets pound grieving Marlins
MIAMI -- With time running out in the playoff race, the New York Mets set sympathy aside.

Noah Syndergaard struck out eight and allowed one run in six innings Tuesday night, and the Mets totaled 19 hits to beat the grieving Miami Marlins 12-1.

Jay Bruce and Yoenis Cespedes each hit his 31st homer for the Mets, who began the game with a half-game lead over the Giants in the battle for the first NL wild-card berth, with the Cardinals 1 1/2 games behind.

The game was the Marlins' second since the death of ace Jose Fernandez in a boating accident. One night after a heart-tugging victory over New York filled with tributes to their teammate, emotions were more subdued, and Miami's bats were too.

Syndergaard (14-9) had a lot to do with that. After missing a scheduled start Saturday with strep throat, he threw 93 pitches and lowered his ERA to 2.60, third-best in the majors. He'll return to pitch the regular-season finale Sunday at Philadelphia if needed (see full recap).

Cards beat Reds to tighten wild-card race
ST. LOUIS -- Playing with a heavy heart, Aledmys Diaz hit his first career grand slam and the St. Louis Cardinals finished with five home runs Tuesday night in a 12-5 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

Chasing the Giants and Mets in a tight race for the two NL wild cards, St. Louis moved within a half-game of San Francisco for the league's final playoff spot -- pending the Giants' late game against Colorado.

New York, which beat Miami 12-1, leads the wild-card standings and remained 1 1/2 games ahead of the Cardinals.

Jhonny Peralta had a three-run homer and drove in four runs for the Cardinals, who had lost four of five. Matt Carpenter, Randal Grichuk and Matt Adams also homered (see full recap).