Whither the homer in 2012? For the Phillies, alas, trapped on the disabled list isle of Ithaca, entranced by the siren song of Vin Scully reading Fifty Shades of Grey to the Epicurean Joe Blanton, who had surrendered homer after homer for eleven straight starts, they have been adrift on the the tides of the Aegean.
But sooner or later the orgy ends, and it's time to return to some kind of semblance of home, and order. Back pitching in one of his favorite West Coast ballparks with the big outfields, Blanton was wonderful, going eight innings, striking out seven and walking no one while giving up two runs on six hits, all of which stayed in the ballpark. For the Phillies, both Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard hit solo home runs for the Phils, and those runs combined with the irrepressible Hot Early Chooch-Fueled run were enough to beat the Dodgers.
And on the eve of Roy Halladay's return to the mound later tonight, the Phillies find themselves with a nice little three-game winning streak, their longest since May 25. The worm may be turning.
In the second, Howard led off with a long fly ball against Dodgers starter Nathan Eovaldi that made it to the warning track. Carlos "Hot at the Top" Ruiz doubled to the left-field corner before Juan Pierre punished yet another one of his former teams with a line single to right center field for the early 1-0 lead.
In the third, after Joe Blanton entertainingly sprayed the dugout with his sweet, kreme-filled foul balls, Jimmy Rollins walloped an Eovaldi fastball to right field to make it 2-0. After a Victorino single to center, Utley sent a sharp grounder to first baseman James Loney that looked for all the world like an inning-ending rundown. But the Dodgers infielders had yet to arrive in from the parking lot, so Victorino wound up at second. Victorino then re-gifted the out back to the Dodgers by getting caught stealing with Howard at the plate, clearly trying to kiss up to his prospective new employers. It nonetheless wound up in some entertaining body language from the Dodgers infield during their impromptu staff meeting in the dugout immediately after the inning.
Howard then led off the fourth inning with the home run to left field that he nearly hit his first time up before Victorino got thrown out, ensuring that both his first home run of 2012, like Chase Utley's, would be smudged with the sucky patina of the 2012 season. But welcome back, and thanks for swatting one out to left, which is always a Good Sign(TM).
Blanton was sharp at the beginning of the game, throwing an intriguing mix of strikeouts and Dodger-struck laser beam line drives to his infield through three innings, but only giving up one hit. Things got choppy in the fourth, as the Dodgers got wise to Blanton's strike parade and started hitting. After a one-out Mark Ellis single, Andre Ethier singled to right, putting runners on first and third. Juan Rivera then grounded to Placido Polanco, who quickly threw home. Ruiz chased Ellis back to third base, who danced out of the baseline and away from Ruiz's balless glove-tag to be called out by home plate umpire Bill Miller. James Loney was then caught looking to end the inning; crisis averted.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly lifted Eovaldi after five innings, stirring in the loins of Phillies fans the vague moist memory of strings of summer nights when opposing starters would yield first.
But the bottom of the sixth brought the Dodgers' middle of the lineup against Blanton. Jerry Hairston doubled down the line before Mark Ellis grounded to Utley. But Ryan Howard bobbled the ball, creating the second quick umpire conference and correct call (E-3) after Ellis had initially been ruled safe. With the scary Matt Kemp up at the plate, Blanton induced an around-the-horn double-play grounder to snuff out the threat, but put the Dodgers on the board with their first run.
The seventh saw more humdrum defense, as Blanton gave up singles to Rivera and Loney to lead off. Luis Cruz then sent a grounder to Blanton, who in turn threw to Jimmy Rollins. Rollins was unable to turn the double play (and replays showed he never touched the bag, a lucky break). With runners on first and third and one out, Blanton struck out A. J. Ellis on a curveball in the dirt. Thinking hard stuff on the ground would be his ticket out of the inning, Blanton then uncorked a wild pitch to Juan Rivera to tighten the score to 3-2 and put runners on second and third. Old buddy Bobby Abreu then came off the bench to pinch hit, and mercifully sent a fly ball to left.
The Phillies then went to work on lefty Scott Elbert in the eighth. Rollins walked, and Victorino singled. After Utley popped out to second, Ryan Howard then grounded into an inning-ending double play, reminding Phillies fans with stirred loins that late-inning lefties out of the pen are the unsexy cold water of having Utley and Howard back together in the lineup.
So, 3-2 lead, eighth inning, so - why the heck not put Blanton's eleven consecutive starts of giving up a home run on the line so he can face Matt Kemp with two outs? Well, without much of a bullpen and only a 0.4% chance at the playoffs, why the hell not? You might just get a strikeout. And then you do! The ball could even bounce halfway to the dugout on the third strike too, but Kemp, mind poisoned by the stat-padding Abreu, did not take his whiny hammie out of the box. Inning over.
Papelbon came in to do what he is paid so handsomely to do, striking out Andre Ethier before surrendering a "no doubles defense" single to third to Juan Rivera. Tony Gwynn Jr. came in to pinch run for Rivera, as Papelbon faced James Loney. Loney grounded out to Utley, moving Gwynn to second. Adam Kennedy came in and worked a 2-0 count (Gwynn taking third on defensive indifference), before Papelbon at long last induced a popup to Utley and win the game.
Yes, fans. Win the game. And Halladay tomorrow. Onward from 13 games back and a 0.4% chance!