Heading into the series with the rival Mets, the opening game of the three-game set looked like it would be the most difficult for the Phillies to win. Phils' starter J.A. Happ has been pitching well, but the Mets would send their ace, future HOFer Johan Santana, to the mound. All signs pointed to a pitcher's duel, at pitcher-friendly Citi Field. Naturally, both hurlers struggled, the teams combined for seven homers (four off of Santana!), and the key hit was a double by... Johan Santana. It was an exciting game, a game that the Phillies could have stolen, but lost, 6-5.
The Phillies' offense knocked Santana around for eight hits, and five runs, but the Phillies' pitchers were unable to do their part. J.A. Happ allowed the Mets to jump to a 3-0 lead in the third, and was responsible for four of the Mets' runs. He was touched up for six hits and four walks, in his five and a third innings. Happ threw 106 (!) pitches, in obtaining those sixteen outs. Clay Condrey and Chad Durbin struggled out of the pen, while Mets' relievers Pedro Feliciano and Francisco Rodriguez silenced the Phils' bats in the final innings.
The Phillies came back from a 3-0 third-inning deficit, to take a 4-3 lead in the sixth. They fell behind 6-4, after the seventh, and failed in their opportunities to tie the game. All of their runs came on home runs, back-to-back solo blasts by Howard and Ibanez in the fourth, a two-run shot by six-hole hitter Jimmy Rollins in the sixth, and an eighth-inning tater by Chase Utley. Jimmy Rollins had an outstanding game, which included three hits (raising his average to .230), and a game-saving baserunning play, where he broke up a potential game-ending double play in the ninth. Raul Ibanez also continued to be good at defense, despite all of the .GIF and UZR evidence to the contrary, gunning down a runner at second base.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Phillies attempted to improve their bench, by replacing injured reliever Brad Lidge on the roster, with backup catcher Paul Bako. This personnel move was intended to free up right-handed hitting backup catcher Chris Coste to be utilized as a pinch-hitter. The days of Eric Bruntlett, and his .152 average, being the top right-handed pinch-hitter were over. The roster adjustment bore fruit in the seventh inning, when a pinch-hitter for the pitcher (Condrey) was needed. With the left-handed/tiring Santana on the mound, Manuel was able to call upon...Eric Bruntlett. (Yep. I totally lied about the fruit-bearing.) Why, Manuel, why? The Gnome did manage a walk, but why wasn't Coste used here? The Phillies are only likely to pinch-hit a right-handed batter for the eighth and ninth-place batters. Those spots in the lineup weren't likely to come up again, until the ninth inning. The ninth inning is the domain of the Mets' right-handed closer, Francisco Rodriguez, so the Phils would use their lefty pinch-hitters, Greg Dobbs and Matt Stairs, at that point. An extra-base hit by Coste in the seventh, and the preceding paragraph might have detailed a Ryan Madson save.
The Phillies' bench was further exposed, as the game concluded with the tying run on first base, in the bulky form of Matt Stairs. In the end it didn't matter, but it was an obvious position in which to pinch-run for the lead-footed Stairs. Unfortunately, the only remaining position players, backup catchers Coste and Bako, are two of the few MLBers who might not be a baserunning upgrade over Stairs. A pitcher could have been used to run, but Manuel could have been concerned about a potential injury on the basepaths. If Coste had pinch-hit in the seventh, Bruntlett could have pinch-run in the ninth. But the real issue might not be Manuel's management of his players, but the limitations of the players he is managing. Hopefully, the Phils can reinforce the bench with some more versatile players, through the trade market.
The Phillies take on the Mets in the second game of the series, with ace Cole Hamels getting the start. The Mets send Mike Pelfrey to the mound. With Hamels on the mound, the Phillies should be able to even the series.