The Phillies had plenty of chances to win on Friday night, but their five-hit, twenty-strikeout "offense" did not do enough to earn the victory. The team wasn't helped by some questionable decisions by Manager Charlie Manuel, and the umpiring crew. Over thirteen innings, and four interminable hours, the Phillies transitioned from losers in a pitcher's duel, to walk-off winners, to inevitable, brutal defeat. The Phillies tied, won, and lost on Friday night, but only the 5-2 loss will count in the standings.
Phillies' starter Joe Blanton had a tremendous outing, limiting the powerful Red Sox' offense to a pair of solo homers, over seven innings. But the Red Sox' starter, Jon Lester, was even better. Lester allowed only one run (on two hits), in his seven innings, striking out eleven Phillies in the process.
The Phillies have a good bullpen, but it pales in comparison to the Boston bullpen, which is likely MLB's best. Ace Closer Jonathan Papelbon was not available to close out the 2-1 Sox win, so Boston was "forced" to go to reliever Ramon Ramirez (1.89 ERA, .173 opponents' batting average) to end the Phils' hopes. However, with one out in the ninth, the Phillies came up with yet another late-inning miracle. Ryan Howard, who finished the game with one hit (and four strikeouts) in six plate appearances, made that one hit count. His solo homer tied the game at 2, sending the Phils into extra innings, once again.
The two bullpens matched zeroes, as play entered the bottom of the eleventh. With two outs, and two on, the Phillies called upon Greg Dobbs to pinch-hit. Dobbs responded by slamming a game-winning, walk-off homer directly over the foul pole...which was called a foul ball.
With the other major sports having adopted the use of instant replay, it is certainly time that MLB followed suit. Available technology should be utilized to make sure that the correct calls are made, at least in boundary calls such as this one. Wait. MLB does have instant replay available, for this exact type of situation. Why didn't they use it, especially considering the importance of this particular call? Why didn't the umpires at least try to see if a helpful replay angle was available? A reversal of the call would have given the Phillies an immediate win. Dobbs proceeded to go down on strikes, and play entered the twelfth inning.
Earlier in the day, Kyle Kendrick was recalled from AAA, as a bullpen reinforcement. Kendrick can have some value as a reliever in two scenarios. If the starting pitcher is knocked out early, Kendrick can pitch multiple innings. In those multiple innings, Kendrick will strike out no one, and surrender a handful of hits and runs. But he could help save the other relievers from being used. The other scenario he can help is as the last man out of the pen. Again, he will pitch multiple innings, at the cost of multiple runs. But that multiple innings part could be valuable.
When Kendrick was called into a tie game, in the twelfth inning, it was neither of these scenarios. Jack Taschner was available, and could have been used for at least an inning, before Kendrick entered the game. It was just a question of how soon Kendrick's propensity for giving up hits would lead to runs, and how many runs he would cost them. Kendrick pitched a scoreless twelfth, but the three runs he allowed in the thirteenth were too much for the Phils to overcome.
Kendrick was the most obvious goat in Friday's loss, but he had some company. The top four batters (Rollins, Utley, Werth, and Howard) in the Phillies' lineup went a combined 1 for 21, with ten strikeouts. Manuel's usage of Kendrick was situationally-questionable, but even more questionable was his use of the Phils' five-man bench. In the eighth inning, Manuel (correctly) double-switched, so he could use reliever J.C. Romero for multiple innings. However, he chose to use offensively-inept Eric Bruntlett at 3B, instead of Greg Dobbs. (Given just how bad Bruntlett has been at the plate, Dobbs is a better choice at this point, no matter the handed-ness of the opposing pitcher.) Bruntlett wound up coming to the plate three times in the game, twice before Dobbs had his single plate appearance. With Paul Bako available as an emergency catcher, right-handed backup catcher Chris Coste was available to pinch-hit, but Manuel never used him. Given that Bako's presence hasn't really freed up Coste, maybe the Phils would be better-served by reverting to their "Plus Eight" bullpen format, and replacing Bako with reliever Sergio Escalona.
Friday night's tough loss is best forgotten. Saturday night brings an interesting pitching matchup, with rookie southpaw Antonio Bastardo making his third start for the Phillies. Against the patient Red Sox, Bastardo could be in for a tough, and short, day. The Red Sox send Daisuke Matsuzaka to the mound. Matsuzaka, typically, throws 100 pitches by about the fifth inning, while surrendering many hits, walks, and runs. Especially, the walks (4.33 BB/9). Matsuzaka has a remarkably unlucky .453 BABIP in 2009. Hopefully, luck will continue to work against him. It could very well be another battle of bullpens on Saturday night. Until then, I'll be monitoring the Twittersphere, hoping to read that Escalona is replacing Kendrick on the Phils. (And that IronPigs reliever Tyler Walker is replacing Gabor Paul Bako II.)