Papelbon blows it for Phils in tough loss to Texas

ap-papelbon-phillies-rangers.jpg

Papelbon blows it for Phils in tough loss to Texas

BOX SCORE

ARLINGTON, Tex. – After being beaten down by all the losing in 2013, Jonathan Papelbon came back this season with a new, positive, upbeat attitude.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, he has the same tired fastball, and the team still has the same haunting questions at the closer position.

Three outs were all that stood between Papelbon and his first save of the new season Wednesday night. More importantly, three outs were all that stood between the Phillies and a season-opening series win against the Texas Rangers.

Once upon a time, Papelbon would have stuffed those three outs into his back pocket and the Phillies would have boarded their charter flight to Chicago in the highest of spirits.

Instead, that flight to Chicago must have been miserable.

Papelbon couldn’t get the three outs the team needed. In his first save chance of the new season, he failed to protect a two-run lead in the ninth inning. The Rangers rallied for three runs against Papelbon and danced off the field with a 4-3 win, their second walk-off victory against the Phillies’ bullpen in 24 hours (see Instant Replay).

“That was a tough one,” Carlos Ruiz sighed in the somber losing clubhouse, moments after Papelbon walked in the winning run with the bases loaded.

It was a tough loss and an alarming one, as well, because the Phillies are counting on the highly-paid Papelbon -- $13 million this season and next –- to nail down wins. However, when he was called on to nail down this one, he looked no better than the guy he was last year when he blew seven saves and had a career-worst 81 percent save percentage while striking out a career-low 8.3 batters per nine innings.

Papelbon faced seven batters in the game and retired just one. He allowed four hits and walked two. His best fastball was between 90 and 92 mph. In his prime, it was 95.

After the game, the 33-year-old closer blamed his problems on a mechanical flaw.

“I was definitely flying open a little and coming out of my delivery,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a disappointment.”

Without the pop he once had, Papelbon now has to mix pitches and, for the first time in his career, concede to some contact. In this game, he relied on his low-octane fastball and left it up in the strike zone, where hitters feasted.

“They were on his fastball and he was elevating it,” manager Ryne Sandberg said. “He can’t rely on contact up in the zone. He needs his secondary pitches and he needs to be down.”

Papelbon allowed hits to three of the first four batters he faced in the ninth. The third hit was an infield squibber by Jim Adduci that scored a run and put runners on the corners with one out.

With the pressure building and the Phils’ lead down to one, pitching coach Bob McClure visited Papelbon and told him to get a ground ball. Papelbon did get Leonys Martin to hit a ground ball to the first-base side of the second base bag, but it got by Chase Utley, who was playing about three steps off the grass because his priority was to cut the tying run at the plate. The middle infield would have only gone for a double play on a sharply hit ball right at the second baseman or shortstop. The Phillies call that “Three Depth.” The defense is called from the bench.

Papelbon did not appear to be thrilled with the defensive call. In fact, he threw his arms up in the air when Martin’s hit traveled into center field, driving in the tying run.

“Obviously I don’t know whether that’s called from the bench or by the middle infielders,” Papelbon said. “But less than two outs, I’m thinking ground ball and I’m thinking let’s get this double play and go home.

“Obviously I’m not going to second-guess my teammates or my coach. Whatever they decide, I’ve got to run with it and go with it and do my best to do my job. But it’s just one of those weird innings, man.”

Sandberg did his best not to look worried about Papelbon. He mentioned how he was pleased with the offense during the series. He praised reliever Mario Hollands for bouncing back after taking the loss Tuesday night and pitching a scoreless eighth inning Wednesday night.

But when the conversation turned back to Papelbon and whether he thought his closer was trending downward, all Sandberg could say was, “We’ll see how it goes.”

So far, it doesn’t look good.

The Phillies are 1-2 and they have the same old haunting questions at the closer position.

The stench of recent losses prompts a Phillies team meeting

The stench of recent losses prompts a Phillies team meeting

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA – After every Phillies road game, it’s customary for reporters to enter the clubhouse and stop into the manager’s office to collect a few observations from the ol' skipper.
 
On Wednesday night, Pete Mackanin, still in his uniform pants and red undershirt, took the unusual step of leaving the visiting clubhouse at Turner Field and approaching a group of reporters as they waited in the hallway outside the room.
 
What gives?
 
Did the toilets overflow or something?
 
Well, in a sense, yes.
 
The stink of a 12-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves led some of the team’s elder statesmen to call a players-only team meeting (see Instant Replay). That meant Mackanin had to do his postmortems outside in the hallway.
 
“I don't know who called it, but it’s nice to see,” Mackanin said. “Somebody cares.”
 
Catcher Cameron Rupp revealed that the meeting was called by veterans Ryan Howard and A.J. Ellis. The Phillies have lost five of their last six games and given up a ridiculous 63 runs over that span. They lost, 17-0, Sunday in New York and blew a 6-0 lead in losing, 7-6, Tuesday night in Atlanta. Losing by a 10-spot on Wednesday night added to the embarrassment and dropped the Phillies to 70-88 with four games remaining in the season.
 
“We have some older guys, Howie and A.J. that have been around and they don’t want to see guys stumble to the finish line,” Rupp said. “Finish hard, finish strong. We’ve had a good year in a lot of guys’ eyes. We’ve improved on last year. There has been a lot of good things we can build off and that’s what the message was – continue to work and get better.
 
“There are four games left – don’t quit,” Rupp said. “Come to the ballpark expecting to win and see where it takes you. We got pushed around the last couple of nights and in New York. Stuff happens. It’s part of the game. But with four games left, there’s a lot that each player can prove.
 
“A lot can happen in four days. We can ruin somebody else’s season.”
 
The Phillies play their final game at Turner Field on Thursday night – the Braves will open a new stadium next year – then return home Friday night to play the Mets, who are locked in a tight race for the National League wild card.
 
The weekend series against the Mets will mark Howard’s last three days in a Phillies uniform.
 
He has swung the bat lately like a man who still has pride. His part in the team meeting reflected that pride.
 
“A.J. and I felt like having a quick meeting and that we did,” Howard said. “We need to refocus on these last four games. We got beat up tonight. We have to put a halt to that momentum and refocus on the last four games.
 
“It’s important to finish strong. It would be easy to cash it in, but we want to go out on a high note and we have four games to try to do that.”

Mackanin admitted the series in New York – three losses in four games to the Mets – “took the life out of everybody” and the malaise followed the Phillies to Atlanta.
 
“It's all about pitching,” Mackanin said. “Pitching keeps you in games. That's why we won 70 games. Now we're not getting the pitching.”
 
The Phillies have struggled to score runs all season. In fact, they are the only team in the majors not to reach 600 runs. (They have 599.) But recently, the pitching has gone downhill, especially in the bullpen.
 
Mackanin tried to give the bullpen a break on Wednesday night. That’s why he had Adam Morgan suck up five innings on a night when he didn’t have it. The lefty allowed 10 hits and nine runs in his final start of the season.
 
“It’s pretty bad,” Morgan said. “It’s not the way that I wanted to go out.”
 
Morgan made strides recently as he picked up a two-seam fastball and used his changeup more. But he is 2-11 with a 6.04 ERA.
 
“Below average,” said Mackanin, assessing Morgan’s season. “It wasn't a successful season for him. He has ability, but the numbers matter. If you want to go by the numbers, they're not good. It doesn't mean I don't like him. It doesn't mean he doesn't have a future. At some point, you have to put up numbers.”
 
Speaking of numbers, the Phillies have put up some awful numbers against the NL East. They are 16-35 against the NL East in their last 51 divisional games.
 
“I look at the team statistics,” Mackanin said. “When you're 13th, 14th and 15th in 10 of those categories, that tells you all you need to know.
 
“We're down at the bottom in hitting. We're sinking fast in pitching.
 
“As far as a yardstick to measure, I look at those stats. Numbers matter. They tell you the story.”
 
In four days, the story of the 2016 Phillies will be over. Maybe Wednesday night’s players-only meeting will inspire a couple of final wins.

Find great deals on Philadelphia Phillies tickets with TicketIQ. Buy cheap Phillies tickets with no hidden fees for all games on their 2016 schedule. 

Best of MLB: Hyun Soo Kim's pinch HR gives Orioles win

Best of MLB: Hyun Soo Kim's pinch HR gives Orioles win

TORONTO -- Hyun Soo Kim hit a pinch-hit, two-run homer in the ninth inning off Roberto Osuna, and the Baltimore Orioles beat Toronto 3-2 on Wednesday night to move within one game of the AL wild card-leading Blue Jays.

With Toronto ahead 2-1, Jonathan Schoop singled with one out, pinch-runner Michael Bourn stole second and Kim homered on a 3-2 pitch into the visiting bullpen in right, causing the Orioles relievers to jump in celebration.

Osuna (3-3) has five blown save chances, including two in his last three appearances.

Mark Trumbo hit his major league-leading 46th home run, a solo drive off Jason Grilli in the eighth.

Brian Duensing (1-0) got one out, and Zach Britton finished for his 47th save in as many tries (see full recap).

Mets win to keep grip on wild-card spot
MIAMI -- The Marlins walked half a block alongside a hearse carrying their ace away from Marlins Park at the start of a funeral motorcade Wednesday, and then peeled away with watery eyes to go back inside and play a game.

Drained by four days of grieving, they didn't have much left for the New York Mets.

Jay Bruce hit his 32nd home run, James Loney also homered and the Mets helped their NL wild-card chances by beating Miami 5-2.

New York began the night leading the Giants by half a game and the Cardinals by 1 1/2 games in the race for the two wild-card spots. The Mets conclude the regular season with three games at Philadelphia starting Friday.

The Marlins' loss in their home finale eliminated them from playoff contention. Despite high hopes this year, they still haven't been to the postseason since 2003.

Set Lugo (5-2) went 5 1/3 innings and allowed two runs.

Jose Urena (4-9) allowed five runs in five innings (see full recap).

Cano's HR boosts Mariners' playoff hopes
HOUSTON -- Robinson Cano hit a three-run homer in the first inning, and the Seattle Mariners beat the Houston Astros 12-4 Wednesday to keep pressure on the other AL wild-card contenders.

Kyle Seager added another three-run drive in the eighth, his 30th home run this season, as Seattle pulled within 1 games of Baltimore for the second AL wild card. Houston dropped three games back as its magic number for elimination was cut to two. The Orioles were at Toronto on Wednesday night.

Cano's career-best 36th home run, a drive off Doug Fister (12-13), landed in the first row of the Crawford Boxes in left field. Cano has nine homers and 25 RBIs in 19 games against Houston this season (see full recap).

Find great deals on Philadelphia Phillies tickets with TicketIQ. Buy cheap Phillies tickets with no hidden fees for all games on their 2016 schedule.