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Bullpen Breakdown; Nats Take Finale, 7-5

From Citizens Bank Park:

It was day of celebration at the ballyard.  Fresh off a 14-7 victory the previous night, the Phils accepted their 2009 National League Championship rings before a 45th sellout crowd.  They remembered a legend by sporting his retired number 42, but their bullpen forgot where the strike zone was as the Phils fell 7-5.

On Jackie Robinson Day, the Phillies relief crew was unable to honor the lead provided by J.A. Happ, although the lefty was anything but sharp.  Happ gave out six free passes, but was left with just one run of the unearned variety on his stat line. Washington was unable to pounce on the mistakes made by the Phils starter, and by home plate umpire Joe West, early on in the game. The same could not be said for Antonio Bastardo, Danys Baez, and Ryan Madson.

Bastardo allowed one run in the seventh with the brunt of the damage coming in the eighth as Baez crumbled. The first batter, mule-strong Adam Dunn, “bushwhacked” the ball into the right field bleachers, according to Charlie Manuel, giving the Nats some life.  The Phils skipper praised this Nats lineup after the game saying they have the ability to score runs, but it’s pitching that needs work.  Clearly.

Ryan Zimmerman then smacked a two-run, opposite field jack to give the Nats a 5-4 lead. Manuel said after the game, “we have a chance to have a good bullpen”, but on this night it was the downfall. Phils relievers had gone 29 1/3 innings wihtout giving up a home run until Dunn hit his first of the season.  So, the bullpen has been efficient, just not today, which of course will happen from time to time.  Offensively, there wasn’t enough juice left in the tank.

Chase Utley sparked the Phils in the bottom of the first inning with his fifth homer of the season, his third in five at-bats going back to the previous game.  Placido Polanco did his part with multiple hits in a game for the eighth time this season. As Polanco rakes, his glove continues to shine as well, as he made an acrobatic, over-the-shoulder grab in foul ground in the 4th inning. Shane Victorino did his best to rally the unit in the ninth as he led off with a monster home run deep into the power alley.

As for “Cowboy” Joe West, the same man who wanted a quicker game, he clearly was not concerned with calling strikes. Seventy-nine of the 188 combined pitches thrown by Happ, and Nats starter Scott Olsen, were called balls.  His remarks about speeding up the game backfired and the final two games of the series were played in a total of 6 hours, 46 minutes. No one ever thinks of West as Speed Racer, but the snails pace of this one may have had something to do with a tight zone.

But, as the story goes, it’s pitching that gets you to the promised land.  It will go down as another failed effort to close out a series with the lowly Nationals, although I’m sure the team wouldn’t mind seeing these guys more often.  They’ll have to wait until late July to do so.

On a day meant for enjoyment, the end result was anything but. Tomorrow, it’s Roy Halladay on the hill, which means enjoyment just took a quick off day.

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