Phillies rally to take opener

John Mayberry Jr. became the first shaving cream pie victim of the season after his walk-off hit. (Steven M. Falk/staff photographer)

So how do you like this small ball?



A little of both? Or way too much of both?

The Phillies rallied to win their home opener with a string of six seeing-eye singles that started from the middle of their lineup, scoring three ninth inning runs against Houston closer Brandon Lyon for a 5-4 victory over the Astros. John Mayberry’s pinch-hit single to center brought home Ben Francisco – the early goat with a two-base error – to seal the unlikely victory and send the sellout crowd of 45, 237 home extremely happy…

And convinced that maybe this small ball might work after all.

The rally erased a day of frustration at the plate at the hands of Houston starter Brett Myers, who outdueled Roy Halladay, leaving after seven innings with a 4-2 lead. Never known for his economical work in Philadelphia, Myers needed just 45 pitches to get through five innings and didn’t need more than 12 pitches in an inning until the Phillies finally scratched out a pair of runs – one of them unearned – in the seventh.

Only three times over the first six innings did a Phillies at-bat extend more than four pitches. Four hits, one for extra bases, a caught stealing and one earned run over eight innings – this was not the small ball we had in mind.

As for their ace among aces, early on, it looked as if Roy Halladay would carry over the dominance of a spring in which he recorded a 0.45 ERA in five spring training starts. He struck out four of the first six batters he faced, leading each with a first-pitch strike – five called.

While less spectacular, Myers matched Halladay’s zeroes and first-pitch strikes, allowing only Ryan Howard’s centerfield single in retiring the front of the Phillies new-look lineup the first time around. Not once in that span did a Phillie batter swing and miss. Indeed, until Jimmy Rollins fouled one off in the seventh, every batted ball off Myers was in the field of play.

Halladay - who is known for his economy - needed 57 pitches over the first four innings. The quick strikeouts that marked his first two innings became lengthy, fouled-off at-bats the second time through the order. Much to the delight of his Houston teammates, Myers flared a 1-2 pitch up the middle for the Astros first hit in the third inning. Ryan Howard’s outstanding snare of Michael Bourne’s line drive prevented that from becoming more than a footnote. With Bill Hall on second and two outs in the fifth, Myers poked a single between first and second. Hall stopped at third as Francisco – whose error put him on second – threw a perfect strike to the plate.

Bourne flew out to deep right, but when the fifth was over, Halladay was up to 79 pitches.

He finally allowed a run in the sixth, but it could have been much worse. The Astros had two runners in scoring position with no outs after Phillie-killer Hunter Pence doubled off the rightfield wall. But Carlos Lee hit a soft fly to second, Halladay induced an RBI ground out by Bill Hall and retired Chris Johnson on a fly out – his 101st pitch.

Had the Phillies played the infield in, he may have even escaped the jam.

Pete Orr pinch-hit for the Phillies ace in the bottom of the inning. In 33 starts last season, Halladay failed to pitch into the seventh inning just four times.

It’s one reason he won the Cy Young award. Another is the 21 victories he recorded, which required at least a little run support. There were 34 games last season in which the Phillies scored one run or less, and they still won 97 games.

They had 10 hits today - one for extra bases. But they also didn’t strike out once, the first time that’s happened since May 7, 2009 against the Mets. That team scored a lot of runs. This team scored enough today.