Hamels, Phils avoid sweep from Dodgers
Thankfully, the 40,336 fans who paid good money to get into Citizens Bank Park yesterday were spared from seeing the game come down to Michael Martinez.
The light-hitting Martinez was standing in the on-deck circle when Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly made the decision to intentionally walk Jimmy Rollins with one out in the ninth inning. With the game tied and the potential winning run 90 feet away, new Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg countered his fellow perennial 1980s All-Star by sending another pinch-hitter to the plate.
Instead of letting the game's fate rest on the bat of Martinez, already hitless in four at-bats, with two strikeouts and not one batted ball hit beyond the infield, Sandberg called for Michael Young.
Young also didn't hit a ball out of the infield. But he hit it to the right infielder.
Young hit a would-be, inning-ending doubleplay grounder to Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez, but Ramirez couldn't handle the ball allowing Casper Wells to trot home from third to give the Phillies a 3-2 walkoff win.
The error was the second of the inning for Ramirez. Wells began the ninth-inning rally by reaching on Ramirez' first error, a low throw to first base.
"We capitalized on a couple of miscues by the Dodgers and ended up in a walkoff win," said Sandberg of beating a team that had won 10 straight and 25 of 28 since the All-Star break. "[Our] guys battled. Doing it against the Dodgers, the way they are going, is big."
The victory prevented the red-hot Dodgers from handing the Phillies their fourth three-game sweep in as many weekends. It also gave Sandberg his first career managerial win since taking over for Charlie Manuel on Friday.
"I achieved a couple of firsts, personally," Sandberg said. "I got my first run on [Darin] Ruf's home run, which broke an ice streak there."
Ruf's two-out, solo home run off Ricky Nolasco in the fourth inning ended a 21-inning scoreless streak since Sandberg took over. Before the home run, the Phillies hadn't scored since Wednesday in Atlanta.
Ruf's eighth home run came in his 35th game with the Phillies. Ruf has six home runs in 16 games this month.
"Changeup," Ruf said. "He had struck me out on it and he had thrown it a couple of times before that, so I just wanted to see it up. It was a pretty good pitch, down, but I made good contact with it and luckily I hit it pretty hard."
While Ruf's homer came with the bases unoccupied, the Phillies' other two runs both came on at-bats with the bases loaded, a situation where the team has failed miserably this season.
Entering yesterday, the Phillies were hitting a major league-worst .164 with the bases loaded. The next worst team was in the opposite dugout; the Dodgers were hitting .200 with the bases loaded. The Phillies' bases-loaded average was the third worst from any major league team since 1969. Thankfully for Sandberg, he pinch-hit with a guy who hit a two-run double in his only other at-bat with the bases loaded this season.
"You have to approach the at-bat that way, I always figure that I'm the one with the bat in my hand; I'm the one in charge," Young said. "I'm the one who's going to dictate the action. As a hitter, you have to have that mentality no matter what the situation, but especially when they're guys on base."
Oddly enough, the Phillies' bases-loaded average didn't increase yesterday despite finding a way to score twice. The second, with Young at the plate, came as a result of Ramirez' second fumble in as many groundballs in the ninth.
The first was a result of good baserunning on the part of both Chase Utley and Cody Asche.
The Phillies tied the game in the sixth inning after Utley advanced from first to third on a single to right from Domonic Brown, beating out a bazooka of a throw from Dodgers rightfielder Yasiel Puig. Two batters later, Asche hit into a potential doubleplay ball but beat out Ramirez' throw from second to first to allow Utley to score and knot the game, 2-2.
"A bases-loaded situation is all about the hitter relaxing and putting the pressure on the pitcher rather than the hitter," said Sandberg, a Hall of Fame hitter. "That takes practice, it take some experience. But that's the biggest key: The defense and the pitcher are the one that has his back against the wall."
Even if it wasn't pretty, the Phils executed with the bases juiced. They failed, however, to take advantage when Carlos Ruiz (4-for-4) got his first three hits with less than two outs in the game's first seven innings.
On three separate occasions, Sandberg followed singles from Ruiz, his eight-hole hitter, by calling for pitcher Cole Hamels to sacrifice bunt. The problem here was Sandberg had Martinez in the leadoff spot.
The results were predictable: Martinez, a career .186 hitter with more strikeouts (eight) than hits (five) this season, failed to come through in all three spots, striking out in two.
Penciling in Martinez into leadoff spot - and sacrificing an out to count on him coming through not once, not twice, but three times - isn't exactly the best way to stop the losses from piling up. But at least Sandberg had an ace in the hole in the form of a former batting champ and career .300 hitter when he needed it most.
"We don't care how they come," Young said. "We'll take them any way we can get them."
The win was just the Phillies' sixth since the All-Star break.
"I think there's a point for us where we have to really move on," Young said. "It's been a tough feeling for us since the break. We haven't been playing good baseball. We've been getting beat a lot. So at some point we have to really dig deep and find out what we really love about playing baseball. And if we do that, we'll put ourselves in a better position to go out and play better ball. The wins will follow after that."