PITTSBURGH -- Framed by the Allegheny River and the Pittsburgh skyline, PNC Park is one of the most beautiful in baseball.
But for the Phillies it has become a house of horrors. They havent won a series in the home of the Pirates since 2008, and they have no one to blame but themselves for their latest series loss.
The Phils wrapped up their opening series of the new season with an ugly 5-4 loss Sunday afternoon (see Instant Replay). It dropped them to 1-2.
Phillies starting pitchers allowed just two runs in 20 innings in the series, but the offense could muster only six runs. That type of weak offense will lose you a lot of ballgames.
Its really not surprising that the Phils have scuffled for runs. Their offense took a step backward last season and the lineup has been weakened by injuries to Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. With fewer offensive weapons, the Phils must play clean baseball in all other areas. That didnt happen Sunday. The defense was sloppy and the bullpen could not protect a late three-run lead as the Pirates rallied for four two-out runs in the final three innings.
Ultimately, the Phils lost it when Andrew McCutchen lined a full-count pitch from David Herndon off the centerfield wall with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. McCutchens blast scored Josh Harrison from third base.
As the Pirates danced on the field, manager Charlie Manuels decision to pitch to the Pirates best player was questioned from New Jersey to California. Manuel said he thought about walking McCutchen. He also said he thought about walking the bases full. Ultimately, he said he decided against walking McCutchen because the next batter was left-handed-hitting Neil Walker and lefties lit up Herndon to the tune of .354 last season. Manuel was also mindful that Phillies killer Rod Barajas, who won Saturday nights game for the Pirates, was on the bench.
I thought about walking McCutchen and then walking Walker to load the bases and they had Barajas left, Manuel said. I didnt want to load the bases and I didnt want him to pitch against a lefty.
Manuel was working with a weakened bullpen (see story). Chad Qualls, who on paper is the Phils top setup man, was unavailable because of a sore heel.
Hunter Pence (first-inning double, fourth-inning homer) drove in the Phillies first two runs. The Phils parlayed some sloppy Pittsburgh defense into a 4-1 lead when Juan Pierre roped a two-run single to right in the seventh.
Playing sloppy defense themselves, the Phils began to let the lead slip away in the seventh. Ty Wigginton, who moved from third base to first for defensive reasons in the inning, dropped a throw from catcher Brian Schneider on a strikeout. Two batters later, Casey McGehee doubled in a run to make it 4-2. Alex Presley followed with a single to make it 4-3.
Still, the Phils had a one-run lead in the eighth. Alas, Kyle Kendrick and Antonio Bastardo could not hold it. Matt Hague tied the game with a two-out RBI single, his first big-league hit.
McGehee preceded McCutchens game-winning hit with a leadoff double in the ninth.
The play that hurt the most might have been Wiggintons drop at first in the seventh. If he hangs onto Schneiders throw which was wide of the bag there would have been two outs and nobody on base and McGehee may not have batted in the inning.
I reached for the ball and it hit the top of my glove as I was trying to hold the bag, Wigginton said.
A team that is hurting for runs cant make errors.
Unfortunately we held a lead and gave it up, Shane Victorino said. Yeah, we have to minimize errors and not give teams chances and outs and unfortunately we did that.
The Phils hit .204 (20 for 98) in the series. The Pirates hit just .196 (19 for 97), but won two games.
I cant say weve played good, Manuel said. The starting pitching was outstanding. But weve got to play better. Were definitely lacking the power we had in the past. We definitely have to play right.
I believe we will hit. Its just a matter of getting a couple guys hot. It comes down to our hitters hitting better. Weve got guys capable of hitting singles and doubles. Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco. Weve got to string them together. A lineup has to complement each other.
The Phils play their home opener Monday. They have a losing record for the first time since April 2009.
Its three games, Victorino said. Theres no reason to sit here and panic.
E-mail Jim Salisbury firstname.lastname@example.org