Tonight the Phillies head to Washington, DC for a weekend series with the Nationals. Before the opening of the four-game series tomorrow night, they'll head to the White House for a congratulatory meeting with President Barack Obama, who won The Big One just six days after they did last fall.
Maybe then, at last, this team will put 2008 behind them and start to find a rhythm and some consistency in a 2009 season that they've begun in underwhelming fashion. The Phillies fell back to .500 and dropped their 12th game in 20 tries at home against the Dodgers on Thursday, wasting a strong start (7 IP, 1 ER, 9 K) from Cole Hamels and a thrilling ninth-inning rally off heretofore-unhittable LA closer Jonathan Broxton in the process. They have won just one of seven series at Citizens Bank Park, and now head into a long stretch of road games that includes the first part of the always-painful interleague portion of the schedule.
For six innings, Hamels and Dodger starter Chad Billingsley locked up in a pitchers' duel punctuated by mistakes in the field and on the bases. After the Phils took a 1-0 first-inning lead, LA tied it in the third when Jimmy Rollins couldn't handle a Rafael Furcal grounder and Casey Blake, who had reached on a bloop double, scored from second base. The Phils wasted a great opportunity in the sixth after Carlos Ruiz walked and Billingsley fumbled a Hamels bunt to start the inning, as Rollins and Shane Victorino both struck out on pitches out of the strike zone. As Victorino swung over strike three, Hamels wandered off first base and got caught in a rundown, and Ruiz was subsequently thrown out trying to score from third.
The next man to bat was Dodger first baseman James Loney, who hit his second home run of the season in as many days to put his team ahead 2-1. The visitors added a run against Brad Lidge in the 9th when Raul Ibanez misplayed a Matt Kemp hit into a triple and Casey Blake scored him with a sacrifice fly. Broxton struck out Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth--who fanned four times on the day--to start the bottom of the inning, but Ibanez singled and pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs walked. Ruiz fell behind 0-2, fouled off a couple tough pitches, and then ripped a double into the gap in right field to tie the game and bring the crowd to its feet. But Broxton recovered to strike out Eric Bruntlett and send the game into extras.
In the 10th, Chad Durbin retired the first two Dodger hitters and seemed to have Andre Ethier rung up. But home plate ump Jeff Nelson gave the close calls to the batter, and Ethier walked. Russell Martin followed with a double to nearly the same spot as Ruiz's hit, scoring Ethier, and he came in on Kemp's double. Ramon Troncaso set the Phils down in the bottom of the inning to earn his second save.
To be fair, the Dodgers are among the league's better teams, even without Manny Ramirez, and they got great starts from Randy Wolf last night and Billingsley this afternoon. But the Phils' top five hitters went a combined 1 for 20 today--the one hit being Rollins' first-inning double--after a collective 2 for 22 performance last night. Even Carlos Ruiz can't save a lineup when its stars are struggling that badly.