Nationals stage comeback, top Phillies in 10th

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Nationals stage comeback, top Phillies in 10th

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WASHINGTON Brad Lidge stopped and stared trying, it seemed, to wish the moment away. Instead, when he realized that it was all too real, Lidge cast his eyes forward and moved silently from the mound and into the Phillies dugout at Nationals Park.

Certainly it was a familiar feeling for Lidge and the Phillies, only not so much during the 2011 season where everything has been going so well. Actually, chances are in a couple of days, a week or even when the regular season is over with, no one will remember much about this past week or the three-game series in Washington where the Phillies picked up three blown saves and two walk-off defeats over the course of 20 innings.

The latest batch of weirdness came Sunday afternoon where Lidge got his first loss of the season in the 5-4 extra-inning defeat. Lidge fell into a short trance moments after he plunked Jonny Gomes on the left elbow with a pitch to force in the game-winning run with one out and the bases loaded.

Afterwards, Lidge said he wasnt so much stunned by the way the game ended as he was by the fact that his slider got away from him.

Normally thats a pitch for me that when I release it I know what its going to do, Lidge said. That one didnt go where I thought it was going to go. I throw that pitch a lot and it didnt go the way I was hoping.

Gomes, apparently, was just as stunned as Lidge about how the game ended.

I don't know if it slipped out of his hand or what, but I definitely didn't roll into it by any means, Gomes said. Getting hit was last on my to-do list in that at-bat. But it worked out.

Then again, with the way things shook out over the past few days for the Phillies, a walk-off hit by pitch should have been predictable. Sure, it was a rare and unique way to decide a game, but it is odder still for the Phillies to in such a predicament.

The Phillies had blown a ninth-inning lead just once all season until last Tuesday when Sundays starter Roy Halladay, 52-0 in such circumstances, lost a one-run lead in the last inning during a defeat to the Diamondbacks.

From there, closer Ryan Madson suffered his second blown save of the season on Friday night in Washington when he coughed up a two-run lead in the ninth inning on a walk-off grand slam to Ryan Zimmerman. The strange part about Madsons defeat was that he routinely got ahead of hitters and consistently threw strikes, but still couldnt get the final three outs.

Flash to Sunday when lights out lefty Antonio Bastardo, closing because Madson was unavailable, was one strike away from ending the game and notching his ninth save of the season only to see his two-strike slider disappear over the left field fence for a game-tying, two-out homer for Ian Desmond.

Strangely, the homer came on a slider, which Bastardo says is a pitch he says hes used on Desmond often in the past.

I dont think it was that good of a pitch. It was a little bit up in the zone, said Bastardo, who had allowed one run in his last 11 games and had held the opposition hitless in the previous five outings. I made that pitch a couple of times to him before, but he made the adjustment.

So wouldnt you know it that Bastardo recovered to strikeout the side on the next hitter?

Just to make it all a little extra strange has been the unpredictable weather the Phillies also have contended with. With three rain delays in the past four days totaling five hours, 55-minutes, the Phillies have had outings cut short, starters flip-flop games after warm ups had been completed and a guy in his major league debut (Michael Schwimer) pushed to eat up some innings for the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner.

Worse for the Phillies, the Nats two walk-off wins this weekend came after delays that cost the Phillies their starting pitcher. In Fridays loss Roy Oswalt never got to take the mound when it was decided to flip-flop his scheduled start with Kyle Kendrick after a two hour, 22-minute rain delay three batters into the game.

This time the Phillies lost Halladay after just five innings and with a one-run lead.

Its definitely frustrating, said Halladay, who gave up two runs in the first inning. You can't really map it out. It's not ideal. It kind of messed us up for about a week here. We'll be glad when the weather moves out. As a starter, to be stuck going five innings is never fun.

Neither, of course, is blowing late leads.

Headed into the series in Washington, the Phillies had just one blown save in the ninth inning and just two losses when carrying a lead into the ninth inning. In three games against the Nats they doubled that total and even had a pair of blown saves in Sundays loss.

For whatever reason they tend to come in spurts, Lidge said of the teams failure to close them out in Washington. You go back and you make adjustments and realize that you dont need to adjust too much because we have been throwing the ball really well, doing a good job. When something like this happens, the last thing you need to do is think you need to change a whole lot. I think were all feeling very good about what were doing and the pitching staff as a whole has done a great job. Theyre hot right now and theyre hot late in the game and they gave it to us again today.

In other words, the Phillies are just chalking up the weekend as one of those things that happens during the course of the season.

After all, closers and the weather are never predictable.

E-mail John R. Finger at jfinger@comcastsportsnet.com

Best of MLB: Jackie Bradley Jr. extends hitting streak to 28 games

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Best of MLB: Jackie Bradley Jr. extends hitting streak to 28 games

BOSTON -- David Price scattered five hits over seven innings and Jackie Bradley Jr. had a pair of hits to extend his streak to 28 games as the Boston Red Sox beat the Colorado Rockies 8-3 on Tuesday night.

David Ortiz had a two-run double and a two-run single, and Dustin Pedroia added three hits to help Boston win its third straight game. Price (7-1) allowed three runs, walking one and striking out six to earn his third consecutive win.

Colorado lost for the fifth time in six games.

Jorge De La Rosa (1-4) made his first start after spending almost a month on the disabled list with a left groin strain. He gave up two runs in the first, two more in the second and left with one out in the fourth with two on and one run already in (see full recap).

Polanco, Pirates crush Diamondbacks
PITTSBURGH -- Gregory Polanco hit a three-run homer and drove in a career-best five runs as the Pittsburgh Pirates rolled by the Arizona Diamondbacks 12-1 on Tuesday night.

Polanco's shot to the concourse in right-center field off Shelby Miller (1-6) in the first inning gave Pittsburgh an early boost. Francisco Liriano (4-3) scattered two hits in 5 2/3 innings and added an RBI single as the Pirates improved to 6-2 during a 10-game homestand.

After a short adjustment period, Polanco has thrived batting third in the lineup, hitting .317 (20 of 63) with three home runs and 13 RBIs in 15 games. The Pirates spread their 17 hits among 11 batters.

Miller's recent recovery from a miserable start with the Diamondbacks took a step backward. Less than a year removed from an All-Star appearance with Atlanta, Miller's ERA ballooned to 7.09 after surrendering six runs in five innings (see full recap).

Strasburg strikes out 11 in Nationals' win
WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg remained unbeaten with an 11-strikeout performance, and the Washington Nationals hit three of their season-high five home runs off struggling Matt Harvey in a 7-4 victory over the New York Mets on Tuesday night.

Strasburg (8-0) gave up two runs and four hits over 6 2/3 innings in defeating Harvey and the Mets for the second time in six days. Strasburg has five games this season with at least 10 strikeouts and 26 over his seven-year career.

Harvey (3-7) stumbled through a third straight ineffective start, allowing five runs and eight hits over five rocky innings. The right-hander has yielded 16 earned runs and 31 hits over his last three outings.

Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon hit successive solo shots to put Washington ahead in the fourth inning, and Daniel Murphy added a two-run drive off his former teammate in the fifth for a 5-1 lead (see full recap).

Justin Verlander powers his way through Phillies' weak lineup

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Justin Verlander powers his way through Phillies' weak lineup

BOX SCORE

DETROIT – Back on March 26, the Detroit Tigers made the trip to Clearwater to play the Phillies during the final week of the Grapefruit League schedule.
 
Justin Verlander was the Tigers’ starting pitcher that day at Bright House Field. The Phillies ended up losing that game by a run when their bullpen came undone in the late innings. But earlier in the game, the Phils had pretty good success against Verlander. They knocked him around for three runs in five innings. They had seven hits against him, four for extra bases.
 
Two months later, the Phillies came face to face with Verlander again on a warm Tuesday night in Detroit.
 
This time, the Phils had no chance.
 
They were manhandled by the 2011 American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner in suffering a 3-1 loss to the Tigers (see Instant Replay).
 
“Verlander pitched well,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He had a good fastball and we weren’t catching up to it.”
 
Yes, Verlander had good fastball and he knew it. Sixty-five of his 108 pitches were fastballs. He averaged 94 mph with the pitch and topped out at 97. That’s how hard his final pitch of night was. He blew it by the Phillies’ best hitter, Odubel Herrera, for his 10th strikeout of the night.
 
In all, Verlander pitched eight shutout innings and gave up just three hits against one of baseball’s worst offenses; the Phils entered the game averaging just 3.24 runs per game.
 
The loss was the Phillies’ fourth in the last five games and it dropped them to 25-21. They have opened this challenging road trip, which finishes with three against the Chicago Cubs, owners of the best record in the game, with two straight losses heading into Wednesday’s series finale against the Tigers. Aaron Nola will get the ball against Anibal Sanchez.
 
Can Nola be a stopper? The Phillies could really use a victory. To get it, they will need some offense. They got just about none until Verlander left the game Tuesday night.
 
“We just couldn’t get enough going,” Mackanin said. “Verlander really relied on his fastball and we couldn’t capitalize.”
 
Jeremy Hellickson pitched well for the third straight time for the Phillies. (He has allowed just five earned runs over 20 innings in his last three starts. He has walked just three batters and struck out 20 over that span.) But with no run support, Hellickson couldn’t afford to make any mistakes and he needed excellent defensive support – which he did not get.
 
Hellickson served up a down-the-middle fastball to Miguel Cabrera in the first inning and Cabrera swatted it for an RBI double. He has four RBIs in the first two games against the Phillies.
 
In the third inning, Hellickson struck Cabrera out on a nasty changeup for the third out. The pitch was so good that Cabrera flashed Hellickson a thumbs-up before spiking his helmet to the ground.
 
Hellickson’s changeup has been very good lately.
 
“I really feel comfortable with it right now and I’m throwing it for a lot of strikes,” he said.
 
In a close game with not much offense going against Verlander, Hellickson needed strong defense behind him. He did not get it from third baseman Maikel Franco in the fifth inning. With a runner on first and no outs, J.D. Martinez hit a bounding ball to Franco’s right. Franco tried to backhand the ball with a quick snap of his glove. Fielded cleanly, Franco probably could have started a double play. Instead, the ball got by him, was generously scored a double and led to a run. The Tigers scored twice in the inning to take a 3-1 lead.
 
“Yes, it’s makeable,” Mackanin said of the ball that got by Franco. “He got to a certain spot and then he stopped and tried to snag it instead of taking one more step toward it. I don’t think he could have gotten in front of the ball but he could have gone through it instead of stopping and trying to snag it. I thought he could have done that.
 
“It’s a potential double-play ball. He needed to take one more step instead of reaching for it.”
 
Tommy Joseph had the best at-bats against Verlander. He lined out twice to the pull side and had a base hit in the seventh. In the ninth, the Phillies rallied for a couple of hits against Francisco Rodriguez. Joseph scorched a liner to left for a sacrifice fly and the Phillies’ only run.
 
“He hit the ball on the nose four times, really good at bats,” Mackanin said of Joseph. “If that ball he hits in the ninth inning finds a gap, we have the tying run at second.”
 
Joseph has seven hits in his first 23 at-bats and has made some hard outs. He will start at first base again Wednesday and also on Friday as the Cubs will start lefty Jon Lester. After that, he could get starts against right-handers because he’s simply out-hitting Ryan Howard, who went 1 for 4 and saw his average climb to .159.
 
Before the game, Mackanin said Joseph could take playing time away from Howard if he continues to hit.

Instant Replay: Tigers 3, Phillies 1

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Instant Replay: Tigers 3, Phillies 1

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DETROIT — What figures to be the Phillies’ most challenging road trip so far is not off to a good start.
 
The Phillies lost for the second time in as many nights to the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday. Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander manhandled the Phillies in leading his team to a 3-1 victory.
 
The Phillies were held to just three hits in the first eight innings. They rallied for a run on two hits and a sacrifice fly by Tommy Joseph after Verlander had exited in the ninth.
 
The Phils have lost four out of their last five games and are 25-21 on the season.
 
After a slow start, the Tigers have come alive. They have won eight of their last nine.
 
The series ends Wednesday afternoon. The Phillies open a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs on Friday. They have the best record in the majors.
 
Starting pitching report
Jeremy Hellickson delivered a very solid start of seven innings and three runs, but received no run support. He walked just one and struck out seven.
 
Hellickson has allowed just five earned runs over 20 innings in his last three starts. He has walked just three batters and struck out 20 over that span.
 
Verlander gave up just two singles and a double over eight shutout innings. He walked two and struck out 10.
 
Verlander’s 108th and final pitch of the game was a 97 mph fastball past Odubel Herrera.
 
Bullpen report
Detroit closer Francisco Rodriguez survived a shaky ninth for the save. He squandered his team’s shutout bid by allowing the Phillies’ only run.
 
The save was Francisco’s 400th. He is the sixth pitcher in big-league history to reach that milestone.
 
At the plate
Ryan Howard entered the night hitting .083 (4 for 48) in the month of May. Three of those hits were homers and the other was a double. Howard had not had a single since April 29, a span of 19 games. He ended the singles drought with a base hit against Verlander in the second inning.
 
Howard popped out, struck out and grounded out in his next three at-bats as his average actually climbed to .159.
 
Howard batted fifth and Joseph hit fourth. Joseph, who had a homer and a double in Monday night’s game, stung the ball right at the shortstop and leftfielder, respectively, in his first two at-bats before singling in his third at-bat. He lined a sacrifice fly to left for the Phils’ only run in the ninth.
 
Freddy Galvis doubled twice for the Phils.
 
Miguel Cabrera, who had two homers and a double on Monday night, continued to scorch the Phils. He doubled home a run in the first inning and plated another with a groundout in the sixth. Victor Martinez, who drove in the go-ahead run Monday night, drove in the Tigers’ third run with a single in the sixth.
 
In the field
Catcher Carlos Ruiz threw out two runners trying to steal second.
 
Third baseman Maikel Franco unsuccessfully tried to backhand a bounding ball from J.D. Martinez in the sixth inning. If Franco makes the play, he probably starts an around-the-horn double play. Instead, it got by him, was generously scored a double and led to the Tigers’ second run of the game.
 
Minor matters
Cody Asche, rehabbing from an oblique strain with the Double A Reading club, hit a two-run home run Tuesday night.
 
Up next
The series concludes Wednesday afternoon. Aaron Nola (3-3, 2.85) starts for the Phillies against Detroit right-hander Anibal Sanchez (3-5, 6.23).