Phillies sweep Astros behind Ryan Howard slam

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Phillies sweep Astros behind Ryan Howard slam

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The last two weeks have been filled with highs and lows for Ryan Howard.

This was most definitely a high.

Howard capped a terrific at-bat -- “A battling at-bat,” manager Ryne Sandberg said -- with a grand slam in the bottom of the eighth inning to lift the Phillies to a 6-5 win over the Houston Astros at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday night (see Instant Replay).

Howard’s 18th homer of the season and team-record 13th grand slam came with two outs in the inning against lefty Tony Sipp. It capped a five-run rally, got emergency starter Sean O’Sullivan off the hook as he was staring at a loss, and gave the Phillies a three-game sweep of the Astros.

“Howie comes through huge like that and it’s a happy clubhouse at the end of the night,” said O’Sullivan, who earlier in the day was summoned from Toledo, Ohio, where he was with the Triple A Lehigh Valley club, to make the start after Roberto Hernandez was traded to the Dodgers (see story). “At the end of the day, all that matters is that we got the W.”

The clubhouse wasn’t the only happy place.

In the seats, 26,609 fans were also pretty happy when Howard connected off Sipp. They pushed Howard around the bases with a standing ovation then lured him from the dugout with a curtain call, quite a different scene than the boos Howard heard when he was struggling in June and landed on Sandberg’s bench for three days.

“It is what it is,” Howard said of the polar opposite reactions. “I mean, it’s unfortunate. I’ll be honest with you, it’s unfortunate that’s what happens. But I’ll go out there and continue to play. I understand what it takes to play the game.”

As Howard reached home plate after his grand slam, he pointed toward the stands.

“I was pointing at my family,” he said. “It wasn’t an I-showed-you.”

Howard was hitless in his first three at-bats with a pair of strikeouts against Houston starter Collin McHugh, who pitched seven innings of one-run ball.

One at-bat turned his and the Phillies’ night around.

“I understand it wasn’t there early, but it only had to be there once,” Howard said of his swing. “It was there with me and I’ll try to build off that.”

Howard was 5 for 14 with two home runs in the series against the Astros. He had come into the series in an 0-for-14 slump that was part of a 1-for-25 road trip.

Howard’s decisive grand slam finished off an at-bat in which he saw eight pitches, laid off two two-strike breaking balls in the dirt and fouled off four pitches. Eventually, Howard powered a full-count, 93 mph fastball over the wall just to the left of center field.

“He was real aggressive (in that at-bat),” Sandberg said. “He had really good swings. It looked like he wanted to do damage. That was a battling at-bat for him. He actually laid off some breaking balls down and that was the whole key, laying off of those pitches and making him come with a strike.”

Howard is just 9 for 47 (.191) in 12 games since his benching, but he does have three homers and 11 RBIs. His four RBIs on Thursday night moved him to third in the league with 71, just three behind NL leader Giancarlo Stanton.

“He’s been making better contact,” Sandberg said. “Even his outs on the road trip -- he was stinging the ball, putting the ball in play. He wasn’t quite lifting them to the gaps, but he was making a lot of contact and cutting down on his strikeouts, so that was really a step in the right direction. This series, he was able to connect on some balls and really gain a lot of confidence with the production and the hits.

“I just know he can be a big bat for us and if he gets rolling like he is he can help us sweep a series. A sweep at home, that’s pretty big for us this year. He was a big part of that.”

All of the Astros’ runs came on three home runs in the first three innings against O’Sullivan. The right-hander finished with three scoreless innings and reliever Mario Hollands added two scoreless frames to keep the game close for the Phillies’ eighth-inning rally.

O’Sullivan was summoned to Philadelphia about 1 p.m. He scurried to get on a flight and landed in Philadelphia at 5:30 p.m. He did not know he was pitching until he landed and turned on his phone. He arrived at the park at 6 p.m. and an hour later was on the mound.

O’Sullivan didn’t get the win, but, thanks to Ryan Howard, didn’t get the loss, either.

Mets hand Jeremy Hellickson, Phillies 'embarrassing' 12-1 loss

Mets hand Jeremy Hellickson, Phillies 'embarrassing' 12-1 loss

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NEW YORK – Pete Mackanin didn’t nibble around the edges in summing up this one.

He threw it right down the middle.

“Tonight was embarrassing,” the Phillies manager said after his team was knocked around like a ragdoll in a 12-1 loss to the New York Mets at Citi Field on Saturday night (see Instant Replay).

The Phillies have lost the first two games of the series by a combined score of 21-5.

“Bad pitching,” Mackanin said.

And no real offense in this one. The Phils had just three hits.

But Mackanin was right. The pitching has been awful in the first two games. Phillies pitching has given up eight home runs – good for 18 runs – in the two games.

“The Mets seem to know what's coming,” Mackanin said. “They just seem to feast on our pitching. We've just got to regroup.”

In this game, the Mets feasted on Jeremy Hellickson, who had been the Phillies’ most consistent pitcher for weeks.

The right-hander was tagged for five runs, the most he’d given up in a start since June 10, in just four innings of work. All the runs came on a pair of homers.

“They’re an aggressive lineup and they’re hot right now,” Hellickson said of the Mets, winners of seven of their last eight. “They’re not missing mistakes. They’re grinding out at-bats and making us work.”

Hellickson entered the game with a 2.60 ERA in his previous 11 starts.

“He just didn’t have the command he usually has,” Mackanin said. “He's allowed to have a bad start. He's been so good for us. But it wasn't one of his better ones.”

Hellickson’s recent success made him attractive to at least one other team this month. According to sources, he was claimed on waivers recently, but the Phillies pulled him back. That makes him ineligible for a trade, so he will stay for the rest of the season and head off to free agency this winter. The Phillies will be awarded a compensation draft pick if they extend Hellickson a qualifying offer for 2017 and he rejects it.

Hellickson gave up a two-run homer to Asdrubal Cabrera in the third inning and a three-run shot on a full-count fastball to Yoenis Cespedes in the fourth.

Hellickson walked three, his most in a game since June 15.

“When I got ahead, I couldn’t put them away,” he said. “And I had three walks. That can’t happen.”

Phillies starting pitchers have had a poor month of August. They have allowed 92 earned runs in 114 innings for a 7.26 ERA and given up a majors-high 33 homers.

And yet, amazingly, the club is 11-11 in the month.

“From what we've seen over the last couple of weeks it hasn't been the same as it was the first four months of the season,” Mackanin said of the pitching. “We've just got to regroup and put these two games behind us.”

The Phillies have been manhandled by Mets pitching in these two games. Bartolo Colon got them on Friday and Noah Syndergaard in this one. The gas-throwing right-hander reached 100 mph on his heater. He held the Phils to two hits in seven innings and struck out seven. He gave up a solo homer to Freddy Galvis in the third inning for the Phillies’ only run.

The Phillies problems on the mound continued after Hellickson departed. Reliever Michael Mariot was tagged for six runs in the seventh inning, four on Kelly Johnson’s pinch-hit grand slam.

The Phils have lost 13 of their last 17 at Citi Field. They are 9-21 against the Mets the last two seasons.

The series concludes Sunday afternoon. Vince Velasquez will try to stop the skid. He'd better keep that fastball out of the heart of the plate because these Mets hitters are locked in.

Instant Replay: Mets 12, Phillies 1

Instant Replay: Mets 12, Phillies 1

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NEW YORK – Jeremy Hellickson’s string of strong starts ended Saturday night in the Phillies’ 12-1 loss to the New York Mets.

The Phillies had just three hits and were overpowered by Mets starter Noah Syndergaard.

Hellickson was tagged for five runs, the most he’d given up in a start since June 10, in just four innings. All the runs came on a pair of homers.

The Mets have clubbed eight homers – good for 18 runs – in the first two games of the series.

Phillies starting pitchers have had a poor month of August. They have allowed 92 earned runs in 114 innings for a 7.26 ERA and given up a majors-high 33 homers.

The Phils have lost 13 of their last 17 at Citi Field. They are 9-21 against the Mets the last two seasons.

Starting pitching report 
Hellickson entered the game with a 2.60 ERA in his previous 11 starts. He was victimized by the long ball in this one. All five of the runs he allowed over four innings came on home runs, a two-run shot and a three-run shot.

Hellickson is 10-8 with a 3.80 ERA in 26 starts this season.

By the way, Hellickson is staying for the remainder of the season. According to a baseball source, he was claimed on waivers this month and pulled back, making him ineligible for a trade.

Syndergaard’s fastball reached triple digits. He held the Phillies to two hits and a run over seven innings. He struck out seven. He is 12-7 with a 2.55 ERA.

Bullpen report 
David Hernandez relieved Hellickson and pitched two scoreless innings, but Michael Mariot was tagged for six runs in the seventh, four when he served up a grand slam.

At the plate
Freddy Galvis’ solo homer in the third inning was the Phillies’ offense.

Asdrubal Cabrera belted a two-run homer for the Mets in the third inning. Yoenis Cespedes smacked a three-run homer on a full-count pitch in the fourth. Cabrera has three homers in the first two games of the series.

Kelly Johnson cracked a pinch-hit grand slam to give the Mets a 10-run lead in the seventh. Neil Walker homered in the eighth.

Ellis arrives
A.J. Ellis, acquired from the Dodgers in the Carlos Ruiz trade, joined the club before the game. The veteran catcher is ready to offer some wisdom to the Phillies’ young pitchers (see story).

Up next
The series concludes on Sunday afternoon. Vince Velasquez (8-6, 4.31) pitches against Mets right-hander Robert Gsellman (1-0, 0.00). Gsellman will be making his first big-league start.

A.J. Ellis still adjusting, learning names as he joins the Phillies

A.J. Ellis still adjusting, learning names as he joins the Phillies

NEW YORK – It wasn’t easy leaving the only professional organization he’d ever been part of, but new Phillie A.J. Ellis, acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Carlos Ruiz trade Thursday, is coming to terms with it.

“To find out that the trade went down, it was hard,” Ellis said upon reporting to his new club Saturday. “It was so immediate and sudden, really hard to say goodbye to a lot of relationships I had been blessed to forge for more than a decade.

“But the waves of emotion are getting farther and farther apart, which is a good thing.”

Ellis, 35, was drafted by the Dodgers in 2003 and rose to the majors with them in 2008. With the Phillies, he will serve a similar role to the one he played with the Dodgers – backup catcher. Ellis wasted no time getting to know the pitching staff he will now work with. He arrived at Citi Field early Saturday afternoon and caught Jake Thompson and Jerad Eickhoff in their between-starts bullpen sessions.

Ellis said “Eichorn” when referring to Eickhoff. He’s forgiven. It’s been a whirlwind week.

“See?” he said. “I’m still learning names.”

Ellis, who served as the personal catcher for Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw, was blindsided by the trade.

“When I was summoned to the ballpark, that’s never really a good thing, especially when the front office wants to meet with you as far as where you’re at with the club, you know some kind of transition is happening,” he said. “The first 12 hours were definitely the hardest.

“But to arrive here and arrive in the clubhouse, meeting the staff, I’m starting to feel re-energized, refilled with a sense of purpose as to why I’ve been placed here, and why this is where I need to be at this time. I’m excited about that.

"I know I have huge shoes to fill. Carlos Ruiz is such a fixture in the Phillies organization. The work that he’s done here behind the plate, you can’t fill. This guy is a world champion catcher who has been back there for so many great baseball memories. So it’s up to me to do my part to fill the void.”

Manager Pete Mackanin thought about putting Ellis in the lineup Saturday night then had some mercy when he figured facing hard-throwing Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard might not be the best indoctrination for a guy who just flew cross-country. Ellis is likely to start Sunday afternoon’s series finale and catch Vince Velasquez.

That doesn’t mean he wasn’t asked to make a contribution to Saturday night’s game. Mackanin said he wanted Ellis to speak with the Phillies hitters about the weaknesses the Dodger pitchers tried to exploit.

“We talk to them about this stuff all the time, but it might help to hear it from an outside source,” Mackanin said.

Ellis left a first-place club for a rebuilding team. That’s not easy. He has come to terms with that. He likes the young talent on the Phillies’ roster and hopes to help it come to flower.

“Guys are playing for their careers,” he said. “Guys are playing to make their mark in this game and create a winning franchise once again in Philadelphia. 

"You see the talent, you see their desire to learn, their desire to get better. You just know the youth on this staff, the talent level on this staff. And if I can in some short time here impact some wisdom on those guys, share some of the wisdom along the way that I’ve picked up from some great mentors I’ve had in my time in the game, I need to pay it back, from what all has been given to me.”

Ellis hit just .197 with a .285 on-base percentage in 53 games for the Dodgers this season. That’s one of the reasons the Dodgers acquired Ruiz – to get more production from their right-handed-hitting backup catcher. Ruiz had a .369 on-base percentage at the time of the trade.

Phillies’ general manager Matt Klentak was “adamant” that Ellis come back on the deal because he wanted someone who could fill Ruiz’ void on (behind the plate) and off (with clubhouse leadership) the field. Ellis’ time with the Phillies might be short. He will be a free agent at the end of the season and his playing time might be scant as September unfolds. The Phils will probably add prospect Jorge Alfaro to the catching mix sometime during that month. Management seems eager to get a look at him while still getting No. 1 catcher Cameron Rupp the game reps he needs.