Phillies collapse in ninth inning of loss to Padres

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Phillies collapse in ninth inning of loss to Padres

BOX SCORE

SAN DIEGO -- If you hadn’t already given up on the 2013 Phillies, this one might have pushed you over the edge.

In what may have been the worst loss in a season that has already included way too many ugly defeats, the Phillies blew a three-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning and went on to lose 4-3 to the San Diego Padres in the bottom of the 10th inning Monday night (see Instant Replay).

Cliff Lee was masterful for eight innings, but his gem began to unravel in the span of three pitches in the ninth. In the blink of an eye, Jonathan Papelbon allowed a two-run single and hit a batter and Carlos Ruiz was charged with a game-tying passed ball with two outs. The ugliness continued in the bottom of the 10th when Justin De Fratus walked two batters and hit another to set up the game-winning hit by Kyle Blanks, the same guy who drove in two with a single against Papelbon in the ninth.

The loss dropped the Phillies to five games under .500, matching a season low, and left manager Charlie Manuel searching for answers as he nursed a monster head cold/ear infection that required medical attention earlier in the day.

“It’s tough,” he said. “That’s a tough one.”

Manuel’s voice, raspy and weak, trailed off.

“We’re supposed to win the game,” he said.

This one?

Yep.

Lee was at 109 pitches and Papelbon was warm in the bullpen when Manuel stuck with the left-hander to open the bottom of the ninth with his team up, 3-0. Three pitches in, the Padres had runners at second and third thanks to a single and a double and Manuel was on his way to the mound to get Lee.

It’s always a little easier for a reliever to enter a clean inning. Why didn’t Manuel go to Papelbon to start the frame?

“I wanted to send Lee back out there,” Manuel said. “Pap had a lot of work last week and Lee was pitching a good game. I was waging a lot of things. But evidently I didn’t make the right choice.”

Papelbon’s fourth blown save in eight days became official when Ruiz could not handle a 2-0 splitter with two outs and Mark Kotsay at the plate. The passed ball allowed Blanks to score the tying run from third.

Ruiz said the pitch was one he should have caught.

“(Bleep) happens,” said Papelbon, using an expression that might be a good title for this season’s highlight video.

The tying run was unearned.

“A blown save is a blown save no matter which way you look at it,” Papelbon said.

This one was particularly difficult because it came on a night when Lee pitched so well. He carried a shutout into the ninth and ended up allowing two runs and a walk while striking out seven.

Lee contributed to the ninth-inning unraveling by allowing a single and a double on the first three pitches he threw in the inning.

“I wanted to stay in the game and I’m glad I got the chance,” he said. “I felt like I made good pitches (in the ninth). They just put good swings on them.

“I don’t know what to say. I felt like I pitched a good game and gave us a chance to win. It just didn’t happen.”

The Phillies entered the game with the worst bullpen ERA (4.67) in the majors and lived up to it with Papelbon and De Fratus combining on three walks and two hit batsmen in 1 1/3 innings.

De Fratus called the loss “heartbreaking” because of the way Lee pitched.

“It just fell apart at the end,” De Fratus said. “It’s tough.”

A loss Tuesday night would put the Phils a season-high six games under .500. The Phils are 17-23 on the road with nine more games left on this trip.

It’s difficult to imagine this thing turning around, but Lee maintains hope.

“That’s the only way I can look at it,” he said. “I expect us to come in tomorrow and win, and the next day the same thing. That’s the only way to look at it.”

Phillies getting good reports on catching prospect Jorge Alfaro

Phillies getting good reports on catching prospect Jorge Alfaro

Jorge Alfaro, one of the Phillies' most highly regarded prospects, is off to a big start at Triple A Lehigh Valley.
 
He entered Wednesday night's game hitting .377 (23 for 61) with a 1.003 OPS in his first 15 games. He had a double, two triples, three homers and 10 RBIs. Team officials would surely like to see the strikeouts (17) come down and the walks (1) go up, but no one is complaining about the production.
 
"I just looked at his numbers," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He's doing very well — knocking the cover off the ball."
 
Alfaro, 23, is widely considered the Phillies' catcher of the future. He's an athletic talent with huge upside. Many scouts believe he could be an All-Star if he puts it all together.
 
Defense is the area where Alfaro needs the most work. Yes, he's got a "howitzer" for an arm, as Mackanin called it, so that doesn't need much work. But there's a lot more to catching than throwing. There's game-calling, receiving and blocking.
 
Alfaro made a cameo with the big club last September and did not impress club officials with his receiving or blocking. Instructors focused on improving those areas in spring training, and Mackanin reports that Alfaro has shown progress in the early season.
 
"We get a complete game report on what everyone does offensively and defensively," Mackanin said. "Apparently he looks very good defensively.
 
"He had some issues defensively. He wasn't getting down enough and he worked on that all spring. He's a big guy and it's a little more difficult for a big guy to get low.
 
"And we wanted him to just be a little more quiet behind the plate, less movement. He had a tendency to be moving while the pitcher was getting ready to pitch. We just want a guy sitting back there nice and quiet with a good target. That might seem pretty elementary, but if you're not concentrating on doing that you might not realize the importance of it.
 
"He's doing well blocking balls. He's doing everything well right now and hitting on top of it, so that's a nice sign."

Clay Buchholz optimistic he can still pitch in 2017 after surgery

Clay Buchholz optimistic he can still pitch in 2017 after surgery

Pitcher Clay Buchholz made his first appearance in the Phillies' clubhouse Wednesday since having surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right forearm last week.  

Many initially believed Buchholz would be out for the remainder of the season -- and he still might be -- but he expressed optimism and believes he can return to the mound in September.

"My goal right now is to let this heal," Buchholz said. "Get it well and if this team keeps playing like they're playing right now, we'll be playing in September, October, so that's my goal."

Buchholz said he wasn't feeling 100 percent leading up to the April 11 game against the New York Mets when manager Pete Mackanin pulled him in the third inning. 

"I told [general manager Matt Klentak] that I was sorry, and the guys in here," Buchholz said. "I was brought here for a reason. I wanted to pitch, I wanted to be good. I guess it's a good thing we have a good farm system here because they've been able to step up and fill in."

Buchholz had a similar issue with the Boston Red Sox in July 2015 and missed the rest of the season. 

In his two starts with the Phillies, Buchholz allowed 10 runs and 19 baserunners over just 7 1/3 innings. 
 
Buchholz, 32, will become a free agent at the end of the season. Given his age and the possibility that he won't return this season, the injury could significantly affect his value heading into the offseason. He's the second-highest paid player on the Phillies' roster at $13.5 million

But Buchholz wants to build the strength in his forearm and continue to pitch in MLB following this season.

"There's a lot of guys that come back," Buchholz said. "I have a lot of buddies that played this game that have come back from major surgeries and played for eight or nine more years. It's all about once I do get healthy, being prepared and building a strong foundation around my muscles."