Do not adjust your browser, this is not a duplicate game recap. Charlie Manuel mismanaged his bullpen and led the Phillies to lose what was otherwise a very winnable game. The Braves won in the eleventh inning on a Chipper Jones walk-off two-run home run to deep center field off of recent call-up Brian Sanchez, in his third inning of work. $50 million man Jonathan Papelbon sat in the bullpen, once again unused.
The game, as you can tell from the FanGraphs win probability chart on the right, was topsy-turvy. The Phillies chased Tommy Hanson out of the game in the fourth inning after taking a 6-0 lead, but Roy Halladay broke down in the fifth. Brian McCann had the key hit with a game-tying grand slam, resetting the game at six apiece. That should have ended Halladay’s night as he was ineffective and laboring heavily, sweating profusely. However, Manuel allowed Halladay to take the mound for a sixth inning. After a single and a double, Jayson Heyward drove both runners in with a line drive single to right field, putting the Braves ahead 8-6. Halladay left the game and Joe Savery entered, and the lefty finished the inning with no further damage.
The Phillies stormed right back in the top of the seventh against lefty Eric O’Flaherty. A Ty Wigginton walk and a John Mayberry single brought Carlos Ruiz to the plate with runners on first and second and no outs. After taking a first-pitch sinker for a ball, Ruiz turned around a slider and crushed a fly ball well beyond the left field fence for a three-run home run, putting the Phillies ahead 9-8. Antonio Bastardo got through the bottom of the seventh with no damage, thanks to two rather interesting plays on fly balls to left field by John Mayberry — neither of them graceful, but exciting nonetheless.
Ruiz put the team on his back once again in the top of the eighth. The Phillies managed to load the bases with two outs on two seeing-eye singles and a walk, bringing up their beloved catcher. Ruiz offered at a first-pitch Kris Medlen fastball and sent it down the right field line, clearing the bases and staking the Phillies to a 12-8 lead. Manuel called upon veteran Jose Contreras to start the eighth. The skeptical among us simply hoped Contreras could manage a clean inning to avoid any leverage-related misuse of relievers. Unfortunately, that was not the case tonight.
Dan Uggla led off with a single to right, bringing up switch-hitter Chipper Jones. Jones hit a ground ball up the middle, but within range of Jimmy Rollins for at least one out. Rollins, in a shocking turn of events, bobbled the ball and no outs were recorded, putting runners on first and second with no outs. Despite baseball orthodoxy, which states that you cannot use your closer on the road, this is when Jonathan Papelbon should have started warming up. The next batter, Matt Diaz, struck out and it looked like Contreras might have been able to see his way out of the inning. Unfortunately, the light-hitting Tyler Pastornicky smoked a line drive to center field, driving in Uggla and moving Jones to second base. If not after Jones’ at-bat, Papelbon should have been warming up after Pastornicky’s single. Contreras walked Jason Heyward to load the bases and was finally taken out of the game. And replaced by Michael Schwimer.
With the bases loaded with one out and a three-run lead, you want a pitcher that misses bats — a strikeout guy. Sure, you can bring in a ground ball pitcher and hope for a double play, but ground balls become hits 23 percent of the time on average. Besides, with David Herndon on the disabled list and Chad Qualls theoretically unavailable, the Phillies didn’t have any such pitchers. Papelbon has posted a double-digit K/9 in each of the past five seasons and was averaging a strikeout per inning so far in 2012. Additionally, Papelbon has excellent control, averaging 2.4 walks per nine innings. Schwimer, on the other hand, has 16.2 Major League innings to his name with a 4.08 xFIP. While he has shown an ability to miss bats, he hasn’t been fooling hitters as he entered the game with a 5.40 ERA and a 4.3 BB/9. Schwimer was absolutely the wrong choice, but he was the only choice, per baseball orthodoxy.
Unsurprisingly, Schwimer walked Michael Bourn on four pitches, forcing in a run and bringing the Braves to within two runs at 12-10. Next, Martin Prado singled on a sharp line drive to right field to drive in two, tying the game at 12-all. Freddie Freeman put the cherry on top with a sacrifice fly to left field, ending the inning with his team having overcome a four-run deficit. Schwimer induced one swing-and-miss out of 15 pitches.
With their backs against the wall against All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel, the Phillies small-balled their way to a tie. Juan Pierre walked to lead off the inning, then stole second base. After Jimmy Rollins struck out on a very questionable called strike three, Pierre moved to third when Placido Polanco hit a slow grounder to shortstop for the second out. On his team’s last legs, Shane Victorino hit a sharp ground ball up the middle, gloved by the slick-fielding Jack Wilson. Victorino’s speed was too much, however, as he barely beat the throw. The Phillies were back at 13-13.
A tie game on the road in extra innings. We’ve been here before. Twice, actually: April 7 in Pittsburgh and April 18 in San Francisco. The Phillies lost both games and in both games Papelbon went unused. They also lost on April 8 in nine innings, but Papelbon should have been called upon in that game as well. There’s a connection here. Tie game on the road, adhere to baseball orthodoxy, lose the game as your inferior reliever surrenders predictable runs while your best reliever rots on his seat in the bullpen.
Brian Sanches was Charlie’s man for the tenth inning. Who is that, you ask? He was in the slop section of the Phillies’ bullpen back in 2006-07 and spent his last three seasons with the Florida Marlins. He hadn’t thrown an inning in the Majors until tonight, having spent all of his time with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. That’s not to say Sanches is bad; he is patently quite capable as a reliever. However, if you are in a tight game against a division rival on May 3, I will go with my $50 million reliever pitching in his third consecutive game than Triple-A filler who had yet to face a Major League hitter. What’s the point of paying a reliever $50 million if you are not going to use him in the most important spots, right?
Sanches beat the odds, though, holding the Braves scoreless not just in the bottom of the ninth, but the tenth as well. Shows what we know! The Phillies, meanwhile, could not scrape any more offense together, going into the bottom of the eleventh still knotted at 13-13. Sanches took the mound for his third inning of work. The Phillies still had Papelbon and Kyle Kendrick available, so Manuel must have thought this game was destined to reach the 19th inning, perhaps still gun-shy from last year’s debacle.
Dan Uggla swung at Sanches’ first pitch of the eleventh, an 89-MPH four-seam fastball, sending a ground ball past Polanco at third base and into left field for a single. 40-year-old Chipper Jones came to the plate, looking to go home before the clock struck midnight. He, too, swung at Sanches’ first pitch, this time an 88-MPH two-seam fastball. Jones took an obvious home run cut and missed wildly. Jones worked the count back to 2-2 before striking fear into the hearts of Phillies fans, striking a foul ball just to the right of the right-field foul pole. It was mere foreshadowing. Jones worked the count full, then sent an 88-MPH two-seam fastball deep into the center field seats for a walk-off two-run home run, pinning the Braves to a 15-13 victory.
The Phillies came into the game averaging fewer than 3.5 runs per game, yet lost a game (started by Roy Halladay no less) in which their offense managed 13 runs. It, like the three aforementioned April games, were salvageable with better bullpen management. Unfortunately, the Phillies do not have such a tactician at the helm and have paid for it with four preventable losses in 25 games.
Game graph courtesy FanGraphs.