—Citizens Bank Park
Tired, bruised, battered, the Phillies were all of that. Yet, they didn’t let a little 19-inning game derail them from taking three of four from the Cincinnati Reds, winning going away on Thursday afternoon, 10-4.
For weeks, offensive production was lacking. Today, that was not the case as winning pitcher Cliff Lee knocked in three runs to help his own cause. The three runs were huge, too, as Lee struggled on a very warm day, giving up 10 hits and three runs in eight innings. As usual, Lee kept his pitch count low, and as usual, did enough to keep the Phillies in it to win it. They did just that.
For once, it wasn’t about the left arm of Cliff Lee, rather, the left-handed approach at the plate. It shouldn’t surprise you that Cliff Lee can hold his own with a bat – all of the Phillies starters are partaking in a contest to see who can hit the first home run. Lee nearly won the damn thing with a ground-rule double to dead center field that appeared to be aided by what Charlie Manuel calls “hittin’ weather.” With that sweet stroke, a 4-4, sixth-inning tie became a 6-4 Phillies advantage; one which they would never look back on.
Is it surprising? Not to Charlie Manuel.
“He likes to hit and he wants to be a good hitter,” Manuel said postgame. “When he gets in BP he likes to see how far he can hit the ball. He takes a very aggressive cut.”
Lee isn’t just about going out to the hill and letting his teammates do the rest. He wants to provide himself runs. That was part of the reason the Phillies were such an intriguing option this past offseason.
“That’s one of the reasons I came here [to the National League],” said Lee. “It makes you feel like a more of a baseball player than just a pitcher. I take that part seriously.”
For a time, one may have believed Lee’s teammates weren’t taking hitting as seriously as they should. Falling into a wicked team-wide slump, the Reds may have provided them a spark. With a 10-spot to start and finish the four-game series, the Phillies can almost forget about how awful May was as they near the start of June – beginning with a nine-game road trip against some lousy opponents.
As for Thursday’s matinee, the ball was certainly flying, as it so often does in South Philly when the weather heats up. Raul Ibanez mashed his sixth home run of the season, a three-run jack to right field, which gave Lee a nice four-run cushion to work with after just three innings.
Lee would relinquish that lead and be forced to get it back himself. Reds shortstop Paul Janish sent home two with a single in the fourth and newest Phillie killer Jay Bruce creamed a cutter that tailed too far over the plate for his league-leading 14th home run in the sixth. Add Bruce to the list with guys who make life miserable at Citizens Bank Park, like Matt Diaz, Chipper Jones, Rod Barajas, and Martin Prado have in recent years.
Bruce hit a robust .429 in the series, but today, Cliff Lee hit .500 with three RBI.
With the game in hand for the Phils, Chase Utley got in on the fun in the eighth inning, lofting what looked to be a fly ball that just entered the first row in right field, an estimated 350 feet from home plate. His struggles at the plate are to be expected, as this is still Utley’s spring training, in a sense. The home run is at least a positive change moving forward.
Utley was also one of the fresher Phillies after Wednesday night’s/Thursday morning’s 19-inning, six-hour, 11 minute slumber party. Manuel gave Placido Polanco, Jimmy Rollins, and Carlos Ruiz a day off and they didn’t skip a beat.
Ibanez didn’t have the opportunity to rest his 39-year old body, but he didn’t mind. On the ride to the park this morning, Ibanez hoped he’d be in the lineup after just four hours sleep. “You have to ignore what your body is telling you,” Ibanez said after 28 innings in under 24 hours. Ryan Howard said he too was pretty whipped, but knew he’d be on the lineup card.
“I just tried to mentally find a happy place and get ready to play.”
Right now, the Phillies are in the happiest of places – first place in the NL East at 31-19. If the offense can continue this recent onslaught of runs, that win total will continue to climb.
There is no rest for the weary, either. They might be tired, beat down, and ready for a reprieve – but they won’t get it. Tomorrow night is the start of a nine-game road trip through New York, Washington D.C., and Pittsburgh.