Cliff Lee tames Braves, gives Phils first win

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Cliff Lee tames Braves, gives Phils first win

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA -- For a hitter, the weather was frightful Thursday night at Turner Field. Forty degrees at game time. Wind blowing in. Chilly mist falling.

Cliff Lee made the elements work for him.

“It was cold, but as a pitcher, I don’t mind it,” Lee said. “I just tried to attack the strike zone, throw strikes, get ahead and make them swing their way on base. I tried to locate my fastball and when they got on the fastball, throw something else.”

Lee’s plan worked.

On a tough night to hit, he pitched eight innings of two-hit, shutout ball to help the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 2-0, for their first win of the season (see Instant Replay).

The Phils headed home late Thursday night at 1-2.

That sounds a lot better than 0-3 -- especially during introductions before Friday’s home opener.

“Without a doubt,” manager Charlie Manuel said with a laugh. “We’ve got hope now.”

Lee did what Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay couldn’t do in the first two games of their series. He iced a powerful Braves’ lineup that hit six homers and scored 16 runs in the first two games.

Lee allowed just two singles, did not walk a batter and struck out eight.

“He commanded and controlled the game,” Manuel said.

“It was a tough night to play a baseball game and he made it look easy,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

Lee got into such a good groove that Manuel let him pitch the eighth inning even though he was at 98 pitches and Mike Adams, the team’s new eighth-inning man, was warm in the bullpen.

Adams will get plenty of chances to protect leads before this season is out. The Phillies blew 13 eighth-inning leads last year. Lee protected this one himself with an eight-pitch inning. He threw 106 pitches in all and 78 were strikes.

“I thought about using Adams, but Lee had pitched so well the last few innings we stuck with him,” Manuel said.

Lee didn’t get his first win until July 4 last season. He got his first of 2013 on April 4.

“It’s nice to get it out of the way,” he joked after the game.

Lee had a tough first half last season. He spent some time on the disabled list, received poor run support, and had trouble protecting a few leads.

But his second half was brilliant. He had a 2.45 ERA in 16 starts, struck out 109 and walked eight. By the end of the season, he finished in the top 10 in the National League in ERA (3.16) and WHIP (1.114) for one of the best six-win seasons you’ll ever see.

One of Lee’s best feats of 2012 was his finishing the season by pitching at least six innings and walking one or zero batters in 17 straight starts. That is a major-league record. Make it 18 after this one.

“I felt strong the whole time,” he said. “The cold didn’t bother me. When it’s 95 degrees it’s more taxing.”

Offensively, the Phils left 26 men on base in the series, including nine Thursday night. Eight of their LOBs came in the first four innings against Atlanta right-hander Kris Medlen, who had unusual control problems. The Phils got hits from Laynce Nix and Erik Kratz to open the second and Lee followed with a walk to load the bases. The Phils ended up scoring a pair of runs on a groundout by Ben Revere and a sacrifice fly by Chase Utley, who drove six of the Phils’ nine runs in the series.

“We’re going to score runs with this lineup,” Manuel said. “We’ll get it going.”

On nights when it’s not there, it’s nice to have well-pitched game like the one Cliff Lee delivered.

Best of MLB: Matt Kemp walk-off HR lifts Braves over Giants

Best of MLB: Matt Kemp walk-off HR lifts Braves over Giants

ATLANTA -- Matt Kemp hit a two-run homer off Cory Gearrin in the 11th inning to lift the Atlanta Braves to a 5-3 win over the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday night.

The homer, the third of the game for Atlanta, was Kemp's seventh game-ending shot of his career.

Gearrin (1-2) walked Nick Markakis with one out before Kemp's homer barely cleared the right field wall..

Matt Adams hit a two-run homer and Tyler Flowers also homered off Jeff Samardzija.

Braves Sean Newcomb, who gave up one run in six innings, was denied his first win when Hunter Pence's homer off Braves closer Jim Johnson tied the game at 3-3 in the ninth. It was Johnson's fifth blown save in 18 chances (see full recap).

Diamondbacks ride 10-run 4th inning to victory
DENVER -- Taijuan Walker pitched six solid innings and slapped an RBI single during Arizona's biggest inning ever on the road -- a 10-run fourth -- and the Diamondbacks went on to beat the Colorado Rockies 16-5 on Wednesday night.

Shaking off Tuesday's tough loss in which Colorado rallied late for a one-run win, the Diamondbacks sent 14 men to the plate and pounded out nine hits, including a two-run double and RBI single by Brandon Drury in his two at-bats in the inning. Drury finished with four hits and career-high six RBIs and the Diamondbacks established season highs in run and hits (20).

David Peralta and Paul Goldschmidt also connected for two hits in the inning and combined for three RBIs, helping the Diamondbacks snap the Rockies' winning streak at six games and setting up Thursday's match between the NL West rivals as the decisive game in the series (see full recap).

Royals rally past Red Sox on Perez grand slam
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Salvador Perez hit his first career grand slam, connecting in the eighth inning to rally the Kansas City Royals over the Boston Red Sox 6-4 Wednesday.

The Royals have won nine of 11 and moved within a game of .500.

Perez homered over the Kansas City bullpen in left field on the ninth pitch from Robby Scott (0-1). With Boston leading 4-2, reliever Matt Barnes started the inning by walking Jorge Bonifacio and Lorenzo Cain on 12 pitches.

Scott was summoned to face Eric Hosmer, but walked him on four pitches to load the bases for Perez. The All-Star catcher fouled off three full-count deliveries before hitting his 15th home run of the season.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Perez was the first Kansas City player to hit a grand slam in the eighth inning or later with the Royals trailing since Frank White in 1986.

Jorge Soria (3-2) worked a spotless eighth. Kelvin Herrera pitched the ninth for his 17th save in 19 chances (see full recap).

Phillies on pace for 111 losses after bizarre late-game bullpen meltdown

Phillies on pace for 111 losses after bizarre late-game bullpen meltdown

BOX SCORE

In the big picture — and that's what has really mattered right from the beginning of this season — something quite positive happened for the Phillies on Wednesday night: A young, promising pitcher took a nice step forward and for the second straight start offered hope that he might just be a reliable piece of the rotation when this rebuilding club is ready to be relevant again.

But in the narrow view, it was easy to look right past Nick Pivetta's six innings of three-run, 10-strikeout ball. That's how bad the losing has been. Every night offers a gaper delay on the highway to 100 losses.

Did we say 100?

How about 111? That's the Phillies' current pace after an ugly 7-6 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals (see Instant Replay) — and 111 losses would match a franchise high set in 1941 when Doc Prothro's club went 43-111.

It's bad, folks.

But you already knew that.

This one was especially unsightly for how the Phillies lost it. They blew a five-run lead under the weight of a barrage of home runs — two against the bullpen in the eighth and ninth innings — had the potential winning run cut down at the plate by 20 feet in the bottom of the ninth then lost it in the 10th after a troubling meltdown by reliever Edubray Ramos.

You almost had to see it to believe it. And if you didn't see it, don't bother looking for a replay. It will only hurt your eyes.

"We let that five-run lead get away from us," manager Pete Mackanin said. "Real disappointing night. Pivetta did a really good job for us, gave us six good innings. And we had 16 hits; you have to win a game when you get 16 hits. We couldn't push any more runs across until that 10th inning. Very disappointing."

Pivetta — 19 strikeouts in his last two starts — took a 5-0 lead to the mound in the fifth and was tagged for a home run on a 3-2 fastball in that inning. No problem. He issued a two-out walk in the sixth then served up a first-pitch, two-run homer to Jedd Gyorko. Little problem, but not fatal.

Things started to turn bad in the eighth when reliever Joaquin Benoit served up a first-pitch homer to Jose Martinez to make it a one-run game and they got worse when Hector Neris blew his second save in three games when he gave up a game-tying homer to Tommy Pham (his second of the game) on a 1-1 fastball in the ninth.

In the 10th, Ramos gave up a leadoff double to Martinez. The reliever then balked Martinez to third and gifted him home plate on an errant pickoff throw to first base. (It sailed way over Tommy Joseph's head.) The Cards ended up scoring two runs in the frame. The second one came in handy when the Phils pushed across one in the bottom of the inning.

Ramos looks like a pitcher who needs to go to the minors to clear his head. In his last three outings, he has faced eight batters and allowed three hits, three walks and seven runs. He has also committed a costly balk and a costly error, signs that's he becoming a little overwhelmed.

"I don't know what to tell you," Mackanin said. "It looks like he's mixed up or something. He's not the same guy."

Ramos declined to speak with reporters after the game.

But Odubel Herrera and Pat Neshek did agree to chat.

Neshek, the Phillies' best reliever, was conspicuously absent from a close game. He threw 28 pitches Sunday, had a day off Monday and threw 11 on Tuesday. He was not available. What was curious was that Mackanin said Neshek had told him he was sore. Neshek said he never said such a thing, that he showed up to the ballpark and was told he was getting a day off, which he actually thought was a good idea. But sore? Not so, he said.

As for Herrera, he drew attention for running through third base coach Juan Samuel's stop sign in the bottom of the ninth inning and getting nailed at the plate for the final out. Samuel said it was the first time a player had ever run through one of his stop signs. In this case, Herrera almost ran him over.

"It's just bad timing for it," Samuel said.

There was some question as to whether Samuel's stop sign went up too late, but Herrera dismissed that. He said he was simply running with his head down.

"I was playing aggressive," he said. "I wanted to win the game. So when I was rounding third, I put my head down. I kept going to home plate. I saw [the stop sign]. But I saw it late. I put my head down. That's my mistake."

Making a mistake didn't make Herrera unique Wednesday night.

"The mistakes we're making are giving the other team too many pitches to hit," Mackanin said. "Those are our mistakes. Especially late in the game."