The runs were there, the rest of it wasn't. As a result, the Phillies dropped two-out-of-three to the National League’s worst team in an ugly weekend of baseball.
Well, the good news is they avoided a rainout. The bad news is they avoided a rainout. For the second straight day, the Phillies blew a big lead. Cushioned by a 4-0 advantage, Kyle Lohse cruised through his first six frames. Then in the seventh, the right-hander fell victim to the Revenge of Matt Kata. Yes, that Matt Kata, whom Phillies’ scouts once eyed for some reason. The utility something-or-other roped a three-run double into left-center. What looked like an effortless win was starting to unravel.
Charlie Manuel’s decision to leave Lohse in for Kata – a .132 hitter against lefthanders – would prove costly, but the reinforcements fared even worse. With the score 4-3 Phillies, J.C. Romero surrendered a tying double to left-handed hitter Nate McLouth. Righthander Antonio Alfonseca replaced Romero and walked Jack Wilson, gave up an RBI double to Freddy Sanchez and, after an intentional walk to Adam LaRoche, allowed a two-run hit by Xavier Nady.
And just like that, the Pirates picked the series win from the Phillies’ back pocket. With the loss, coupled by the Mets’ sweep in Washington, the Phils fell to five back of the division and one back of the NL Wild Card.
So, what have we learned this weekend? When it comes to middle relief, less is more. You don’t want the ball in the hands of guys like Alfonseca, Romero and Jose Mesa more than absolutely necessary. That makes it tricky because you never, ever want it in the hands of the rookies. Ideally, Mike Zagurski and his replacement, Yoel Hernandez, would be in Triple-A.
As for the rotation, we saw a 44-year-old junkballer get lit up. That’s to be expected from time to time. Lohse carries a reputation for blow-up innings, and we saw it yesterday.
Turning to the offense, we learned that Abraham Nunez has no business starting games this late in the season. There are no less than three others who can hold their own at third. Nunez murdered Saturday night's affair at bat and in the field. As for Ryan Howard, the off day couldn't have come any sooner.