Ben Lively could have used a crisp, efficient start against the Reds tonight. Ben Lively could have really benefited from putting the Reds down in order a couple of times. Ben Lively, at the very least, should have avoided walking in a run in the first inning.
Ben Lively did not do this.
Not a lot of fans here tonight but the booing has already started as Ben Lively just walked Duval with the bags full. Only the 4th batter of the game.— Zach Gelb (@ZachGelb) April 9, 2018
Starting the game with three straight singles and a walk did not set the tone Gabe Kapler and the Phillies were hoping for in this series opener. Lively managed to pitch his way out of the first after only allowing the one run, but this was an evening when it never really felt like he was out of the woods.
It was a typical performance for the lower levels of the Phillies rotation, but Lively survived despite being in trouble almost every inning thanks to his offense managing to keep pace with the last-place Reds. Adam Morgan relieved him and, despite allowing two walks, got out of the sixth, thanks in part to an incredible defensive recovery by Jorge Alfaro as Billy Hamilton raced home from second base. Yacksel Rios and Luis Garcia covered the rest of the space between Lively and Hector Neris, allowing only one hit and one walk between them.
The Phillies had matched the Reds in the game’s early innings to get to a 5-5 tie in the sixth. Earlier in the first, Carlos Santana managed to outrun a Scooter Gennett throwing error, and Rhys Hoskins smashed his second home run of the season off Cincinnati starter Cody Reed to give the Phillies a 2-1 lead. The next frame, Scott Kingery cracked a low and inside pitch for his first major league home run, and after some lengthy negotiations with the fan who caught it, seemed likely to have the trophy returned to him. The blast guaranteed that he would be bellowed and hooted at all throughout his post game interview. Which he was.
Tucker Barnhart homered in the third after Joey Votto had wormed his way on base and traumatized a generation of Phillies fans to make it a 3-3 game. But Santana doubled in Cesar Hernandez in the bottom half of the inning, and Maikel Franco brought him in with a sacrifice fly. Once more, the Phillies leaped ahead by two runs, 5-3, only for some Reds player to close the gap. It was only the next inning when Scooter Gennett used an RBI double to make it 5-4.
When Votto isn’t drawing walks and getting on base, he’s providing solid defense at first and shaking Philadelphia-area children’s trust in humanity by pretending to toss them foul balls and then not doing it. When playing the Reds, regardless of the quality of the roster surrounding him, the trick is to neutralize Votto first. Votto slapped a couple of singles in his first two at-bats on the evening, but in the end, he wasn’t the source of the trouble. Lively was nearing 100 pitches before the end of the sixth inning, having given up nine hits (including a two-run blast from Barnhart) and two walks, as well as seven strikeouts. Having allowed a hit and a walk, Lively got the double play he needed, but a runner remained on third. Billy Hamilton was the next batter, and he squared around to bunt, surprising no one.
“The guy can’t hit at all,” Larry Andersen informed us on the radio broadcast. The bunted ball glanced off the fingers of Lively’s throwing hand, allowing it to harmlessly trickle to shortstop and give the runner on third the time to score the tying run. Lively, 100 pitches deep, was then pulled.
After a week of clubhouse drama based on some very light managerial criticisms by Nick Williams, it was Williams who was dispatch from the bench to break the tie in the eighth inning, which he did by clobbering an absolute bomb to center field for his first home run of the year (Waiting for him on the steps with a big smile and an outstretched hand was his manager). The Phillies seemed okay with it.
Baseball, as we all know, doesn’t just end. First, with a 6-5 lead, Hector Neris has to strike out Jose Peraza. Then Cesar Hernandez, shifted perfectly, has to pick off a Votto line drive, and Neris has to try to stifle Adam Duval with a quick pitch, but Duval has to single through the teeth of the shift and become a two-out base runner. Then, just to make sure the game never ends, Bryan Price emerges from the Reds dugout to point at Neris and ask the umpire who he is, or whatever he was contesting in the ninth inning.
In any case, Neris finally managed to paint the outside corner with two strikes and lock down the save in his 100th appearance at Citizens Bank Park. Along with Kingery’s blast, it was a night of milestones: Ben Lively may have struggled through his five and two thirds, but in those frames he became the first Phillies pitcher this season to throw 100 pitches in a start.