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.

United States blanks Puerto Rico to win its first World Baseball Classic

United States blanks Puerto Rico to win its first World Baseball Classic

LOS ANGELES -- The eagle has landed on top.

The United States routed Puerto Rico 8-0 to win its first World Baseball Classic in four tries on Wednesday night behind six hitless innings from Marcus Stroman.

The Americans planted their eagle statue mascot on the mound in celebration, a blue cap jauntily hanging from one of its large wings.

"It's a different feeling when the USA is on your chest," first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "We wanted to get the U.S. back on top of the baseball world, and we did that."

For a sport known as America's pastime, the U.S. had struggled since the WBC began in 2006. Twice, the Americans lost in the second round and they went out in the semifinals in 2009.

This time was different.

"These guys were here to do their best," Team USA general manager Joe Torre said. "The thing I marveled at was how quickly they came together, and Jimmy (Leyland) deserves a lot of that credit. They're just a great group who understood what this event is all about."

Accepting the gleaming silver trophy from baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, Leyland told the crowd, "This is for the men and women who serve our country."

After the final out, the Americans massed on the mound, hugging and high-fiving while fireworks exploded in center field. Some of them grabbed a U.S. flag and circled the warning track, waving it in celebration with fans in the stands.

Puerto Rico's fans saluted their team with a standing ovation and the players responded by clapping.

Puerto Rico lost for the first time in eight games after outscoring the opposition 55-26. The U.S. territory finished runner-up for the second time, having lost to the Dominican Republic in the 2013 final.

Tournament MVP Stroman avenged his shakiness in the Americans' 6-5 loss to Puerto Rico during pool play. The right-hander from the Toronto Blue Jays gave up one hit in six-plus innings, struck out three and walked one on 73 pitches.

He allowed just three balls past the infield until Angel Pagan's double in the left-field corner leading off the seventh, when Stroman departed to a standing ovation, having staked the Americans to a 7-0 lead with the help of Ian Kinsler's two-run homer.

Stroman walked Carlos Beltran leading off the second, but the defense helped him out. Yadier Molina hit the ball to shortstop Brandon Crawford, who started a double play before Stroman struck out Javier Baez to end the inning.

The U.S. pounded out 13 hits and finished with a 6-2 record while making the final for the first time in front of 51,565 at Dodger Stadium.

Kinsler homered off an 0-1 pitch from Seth Lugo into left-center field in the third, scoring Jonathan Lucroy, who singled leading off.

Lugo of the New York Mets allowed four runs and five hits, struck out seven and walked four in four innings. The right-hander won his first two starts of the tournament, including in the second round against Stroman and the U.S.

Stroman gave up six consecutive singles in a four-run first inning and took the loss against Puerto Rico last Friday in San Diego.

The Americans made it 4-0 in the fifth on RBI singles by Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen.

Fans wore flags of both countries as capes and decorated their faces in team colors. Puerto Rico boosters pounded cowbells, tooted horns and blew whistles early on before their team fell behind 4-0.

Fans were on their feet chanting "U-S-A" when the Americans loaded the bases in the seventh with two outs. They were rewarded with Crawford's two-run single that chased J.C. Romero, extending the lead to 6-0.

The U.S. tacked on another run on Giancarlo Stanton's RBI single off Hiram Burgos past diving shortstop Francisco Lindor.

The Americans defeated two-time champion Japan, while Puerto Rico beat the Netherlands to reach the final.

The three games at Dodger Stadium drew 109,892.

Dallas Green did it his way -- driving the Phillies mad, but to the top

Dallas Green did it his way -- driving the Phillies mad, but to the top

Whenever I think of Dallas Green, I think of that night. It was Oct. 21, 1980, the night the Phillies won their first World Series. Green was the manager, the old-school baseball lifer who dragged the Phillies through that summer like a father tugging a whining toddler to the dentist's office. He called them out and cussed them out and challenged them to be the best team in baseball.

On this South Philadelphia night, they finally were. They beat the Kansas City Royals, 4-1, to close out the series, four games to two.

Green was standing in his Veterans Stadium office, his head tilted to one side, his eyes closed, the phone pressed against his ear. He had one hand on the World Series trophy, the other on a freshly opened bottle of Great Western champagne. Flashbulbs were popping all around him. His wife Sylvia and their four children were wiping away tears. Suddenly, the manager's weary eyes snapped to attention.

"Thank you, Mr. President," Green said hearing the voice of Jimmy Carter calling from the White House. "Yes, we're all thrilled. The City of Philadelphia has waited a long time for this moment and we're all enjoying it. There were a lot of people who said we couldn't do it but I think we proved ourselves in this series. We played our hearts out to win this thing."

Green's conversation with the President lasted just a few minutes then he excused himself to rejoin the celebration in the clubhouse. He hugged general manager Paul Owens then went from locker to locker embracing each player, even the ones he feuded with during the season. The sweet taste of autumn champagne washed away the bruised feelings of summer.

"Along the way, I made a few guys unhappy," Green said. "I probably made a few guys miserable. But it was all for a reason."

He nodded toward the celebration.

"This is the reason," he said.

Green drove the Phillies that season, lashing them with his bullwhip tongue, benching veterans for rookies down the stretch, ignoring the grumbling and dirty looks. When Green said, "We're going to do this thing my way," he meant it. Many of the players who were used to the gentle hand of the previous manager Danny Ozark resented Green and made no attempt to hide it. In September they still were sniping at each other. Then, somehow, it all came together.

It was as if the team -- which had fallen short in other years and underachieved in the postseason -- won it all that year just so it could have the satisfaction of throwing that World Series confetti in its manager's face. If that's what it took -- and believe me, that was part of it -- it was fine with Green.

"I'm proud of all these guys, every one of them," Green said that night. "I'm including guys like Larry Bowa and Garry Maddox, guys I had my differences with during the season. When we needed them down the stretch, they busted their butts for this team. I told them in spring training we had the talent to go all the way. I said, 'Hey, we've got the personnel to win this thing but we're gonna do it my way.' There were some doubters in the group, there were those who resisted, but look where we are now."

To get some idea of what that season was like, picture this scene: It is Sunday, Aug. 11, a sweltering hot day in Pittsburgh. The Phillies have just lost the first game of a doubleheader, 7-1, to the Pirates. Green orders the clubhouse doors locked so the reporters are standing in the hallway. The manager launches into a profane rant that is so loud we can hear every word.

"You guys have got to stop being so (expletive) cool," Green bellowed. "Get that through your (expletive) heads. Get the (expletive) off your asses. You're a good (expletive) baseball team but you're not now and you can't look in the (expletive) mirror and tell me that you are. You tell me you can do it but you (expletive) give up.

"If you don't want to (expletive) play, come in my office and (expletive) tell me because I don't want to (expletive) play you."

When the clubhouse door opened, the reporters tiptoed in expecting to find the walls scorched and furniture broken. Instead, Green was sitting behind his desk, his jaw clenched but his voice calm.

"I'm not gonna let these guys quit on themselves," he said. "If I have to yell at them to get them going, I'll yell good and loud. I may not be doing this (leading the club) the right way but I'm doing it the only way I know how."

The Phillies went on to Chicago where they won two of three from the Cubs then to New York where they swept the Mets. The Phils rolled to the Eastern Division title then defeated Houston in a dramatic National League Championship Series and put away the Royals to claim their first world championship. The players had Big D's voice ringing in their ears every step of the way.

The night they won it, the night they finally reached the top of the mountain, Dallas Green enjoyed it more than anyone else. He grew up in Delaware, he was like family to the Carpenters who owned the team. He was a pitcher on the Phillies team that folded down the stretch in 1964. He carried those scars into a career in the front office and finally the dugout. Then came 1980 and the wild ride to the top.

"I know the players are happy and I'm happy as hell for them," Green said leaning against the clubhouse wall. "But they can't appreciate this the way I can. I've been a Phillie forever. I made a stop at every level in the organization: player, coach, manager, farm director. I have a feel for what this (win) means for all the people behind the scenes like the secretaries and the front office staff. I know how they feel right now.

"What do I feel? I feel drained. I feel as if I've given everything I've got to give. But, goddam, it feels good to be on top."