PHOENIX - All that stood in the way of the Phillies building on the momentum of taking three out of four games in Los Angeles against one of baseball’s best teams was baseball’s worst team.
The Arizona Diamondbacks had lost 18 of their first 23 games this season before winning two in a row this week at Wrigley Field, the home of baseball’s third worst team. The Diamondbacks returned home on Friday hoping to collect their first win in Phoenix since April 1.
Arizona was 1-9 at home this season entering their series with the Phillies.
Arizona had a 5.39 ERA, the worst in baseball. Arizona pitchers had allowed 133 earned runs, 14 more than the next closest team. Arizona had four quality starts; no other National League team had fewer than nine.
And then there was Arizona’s offense, but, you get the point.
On Friday, in an attempt to save their season and put together their first winning streak of the season, the Arizona Diamondbacks sent Josh Collmenter to the mound for his third start of the season. Collmenter had a 6.30 ERA in his first two starts.
Collmenter threw six shutout innings and the Phillies couldn’t complete their rally when the bullpen took over as Arizona prevailed with a 5-4 victory.
"He made pitches, hit his spots," Ryan Howard said. "I had a couple of good swings on him, but I just couldn’t find any real estate."
Afterward, manager Ryne Sandberg had pointed criticism of his team’s base running, particularly the guy he inserted specifically for the purpose of running the bases.
After his team scored three runs in the seventh, cutting Arizona’s lead to 4-3, Sandberg saw an opportunity to tie the game when Howard collected a one-out single in the eighth. Sandberg pinch ran for Howard, putting John Mayberry Jr. in his place.
But when Marlon Byrd followed with a hard hit ball into the left field corner, Mayberry advanced only 90 feet, to second base. When the inning ended, Mayberry remained there, too.
"For me that’s still a first-to-third play," Sandberg said. "It might have even been a double for Byrd, really. With (left fielder Tony Campana’s) arm strength and it being out on the warning track, we have a pinch runner in there going first to third."
Byrd said he was thinking double when he reached first, but his path to second was blocked.
"If (Mayberry) took off," Byrd said, "I was going to keep going."
As for Mayberry…
"I took a break off first and was aggressive," Mayberry said. "I took a few steps past the bag. When I saw him cut it off and get it back toward the infield on a line is when I decided to stop."
It was the second straight inning that base running frustrated Sandberg. In the seventh, pinch hitter Tony Gwynn Jr.’s hard ground ball caromed off the shortstop into center field.
As with Mayberry, Cody Asche only advanced one base on the play, from first to second.
"That was another opportunity for a runner on third base with less than two outs," Sandberg said. "Those two plays there were potential runs we didn’t have a chance to get in. They came back to bite us."
While the offense outhit the Diamondbacks 11-9 only to fail to capitalize more on the scoreboard, Roberto Hernandez didn’t do much to help the Phillies, either.
After holding the D-Backs offense off the scoreboard in his first three innings, Hernandez went bad in his next two frames. Her served up a two-run home run to Aaron Hill in the fourth and gave up two more in the fifth on a walk and three hits.
Hernandez managed to send Arizona down in order in the sixth, facing the bottom three batters in the lineup, but the damage was done. The Phillies trailed 4-0 after the first two-thirds of the game.
"Hernandez hung in there," Sandberg said. "The walk hurt him before the home run."
Since taking a shutout into the sixth inning of his third start of the season - against Atlanta at Citizens Bank Park 11 days earlier - Hernandez has allowed 12 runs on 17 hits, including two home runs in his last 10 innings. He has walked five and struck out seven over that span.
Hernandez, who signed a one-year, $4.5 million contract as a free agent to join the Phillies rotation this winter, has a 5.81 ERA in five starts. Hernandez’s ERA ranks 100th out of the 111 starting pitchers that qualify.
Hernandez came out of the game when the Phillies mustered their only rally against Arizona pitching.
Joe Thatcher took over for Collmenter to begin the seventh. After striking out Ryan Howard, Thatcher allowed back-to-back singles to Byrd and Domonic Brown and then Randall Delgado took over and gave up the Phillies third straight single to Carlos Ruiz.
With the bases loaded, Delgado walked Asche to bring in the Phillies first run. With the bases still loaded, Sandberg sent Gwynn to hit for Hernandez, and Gwynn ripped a hard ground ball that shortstop Cliff Pennington couldn’t handle.
Two more runs came in. Suddenly the Phils’ deficit was 4-3.
But that’s where the rally stopped. Ben Revere grounded out and Jimmy Rollins flew out, stranding the game-tying and go-ahead runs on base.
Arizona’s pitching, the worst in baseball, posted zeroes onto the scoreboard in seven of nine innings on Friday night. Revere and Rollins put together back-to-back, two-out hits in an attempt to resuscitate the Phillies offense in the ninth, but Arizona closer Addison Reed escaped disaster by striking out Mayberry to end the game.