“As Ryan Howard’s two-run home run began its descent toward the macadam of Sheffield Avenue, everything about the Phillies’ world seemed right. They entered the second half of the season looking to return to the days when they smashed their way through the National League, and that is exactly what they appeared to get with their first baseman’s brutal display of power in the first inning.
It was a script they’d followed many times. Jump on an opponent early, give Jamie Moyer enough cushion to cruise, and return to the ballpark the next day with a freshly extended, five-game winning streak.
Except this time, it didn’t play out as planned. Howard’s first-inning home run off Ryan Dempster had barely finished bouncing when the Cubs stole whatever momentum the Phillies had and sent them dovetailing toward a 12-6 loss.
“That’s not a good way to set a tone to start the second half, in my opinion,” said Moyer, who allowed a two-run double to Aramis Ramirez in the first inning and a two-run home run to Derrek Lee in the third as the Cubs scored six straight runs to take a 6-2 lead. “And I’ll wear it. That’s my responsibility. I can’t look at anybody else in this clubhouse except myself.”
The second half of the season might present something of a clean slate for a team like the Phillies. But by the end of last night’s rout, with their record at 47-41 and their deficit behind the Braves at 5 1/2 games, the questions were as big and bold as ever.
They started, as usual, with pitching. Moyer lasted just three innings, allowing six runs to a Cubs team that entered the night with a 39-50 record. He hit two batters in the first inning to set up Ramirez’ double that tied the game at 2-2. He allowed a triple to Starlin Castro in the second, then threw a wild pitch to Dempster that turned an attempted squeeze play into a straight steal of home. In the third, he allowed home runs to Lee and Alfonso Soriano that put the Cubs ahead, 6-2. From there, the Phillies flatlined.
After Howard’s home run, they managed just four more hits off Dempster. They rallied for four runs in the ninth – two more coming on another two-run shot by Howard – but entered the frame with a 12-2 deficit.
“We walked back out there and they took the momentum and play right back away from us,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “That’s kind of how the game went.”
Moyer has allowed 13 runs in his last two starts. Relievers Jose Contreras and Danys Baez combined to allow six runs on nine hits in the seventh and eighth.
The rotation was not the problem in the first half of the season. And the bullpen didn’t pitch enough times with a lead to factor heavily one way or another. But with 74 games remaining, that is no longer enough from Manuel’s view. Both must be a big part of the solution.
“Let me put it to you like this: If you look where we’ve got to go, we’ve got to play pretty good baseball,” Manuel said. “We’ve got to play in the high .500s or .600s. That means our pitching has to be very consistent. That’s what it means.””
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