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By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Cole Hamels’ jersey sleeves fluttered like tiny white waves as the wind tunnel that was Citizens Bank Park kicked up dirt plumes behind home plate, floating hot dog wrappers in the outfield and anything else that wasn’t tied down Monday afternoon. Flyballs weren’t just flyballs, they were adventures.
Though the strong breeze wasn’t brawny enough to jump-start the Phillies offense. Or alter home plate umpire Chris Guccione’s expansive strike zone. Or slow down the Miami Marlins. Or wistfully place a healthy Ryan Howard and Chase Utley back into a hurting lineup. Nor was it going to sweep away the vile memory of this one.
Miami spoiled the Phillies’ home opener, behind the solid pitching of starter Anibal Sanchez and the power hitting of Omar Infante, with a 6-2 victory before sold out—and silent—Citizens Bank Park. The Marlins pounded out 11 hits, fueled by three hits from Emilio Bonifacio and two hits each from Jose Reyes, Gaby Sanchez and Infante.
The Phillies dropped to 1-3. It’s the first time they started a season 1-3 since 2009, when the Phils won the National League and lost to the New York Yankees in the World Series.
“We’re four games in and we haven’t hit the ball hard enough to score runs,” Phils’ manager Charlie Manuel said. “We have to move the ball better than that. We have a day tomorrow to work on it, and I still come up with the same names. We’ll stay at it. We’re just having a hard time getting out of the gate here. We’ll get better. Right now I’m trying to find the best lineup to put on the field. We haven’t been hitting the ball hard, that’s the bottom line. I have faith in our hitters. We have guys that are supposed to be able to hit. The bottom line is we have to hit better.”
Hamels took the loss in his first start of a contract year. The Marlins chipped away against Hamels for runs in the first, fourth, fifth and sixth as the lefty battled early issues with location, getting the ball up over the plate a little more than he would have liked. Hamels was pulled with one out in the sixth, after surrendering an RBI double to Gaby Sanchez.
“It’s a long season and I know we have to keep pressing and battling,” Hamels said. ”The division has gotten a lot tougher and it’s something where we have to keep fighting through it. It’s the motto we’ve always had as being the fightin’ Phils. You don’t want to have to do it too early, but unfortunately, that’s what we’re going to have to do. You have to keep plugging away and good things will happen. I felt my stuff was really good. I felt all four pitches were working really well, but unfortunately, there were a few pitches that got away.”
Hamels walked into the dugout after giving up eight hits, striking out nine on 96 pitches (66 for strikes). Hamels reverted back to his head-shaking, pouty side in the sixth when Bonifacio laid down a bunt, and John Mayberry came charging in when he should have been covering first base. Hamels threw the ball to no one enabling Bonifacio to reach third. Then Hamels circled the mound and moped for a moment, shaking his head. Not exactly an auspicious start considering he’s pitching for a contract.
“He pitched better than the score indicated,” Manuel said of Hamels’ start. “John has to read that better and get back to the bag. [Second baseman] Freddy Galvis has to come a long way to get there. That was a mistake.”
Said Hamels about the bunt play, “It’s obviously something we worked on in spring training. It’s a situation where you have a fast runner. You go down and grab it with your bare hand and turn and fire. Unfortunately, there was nobody there and you can’t really do too much about it. I thought I did everything we were taught to do in spring training.”
Anibal Sanchez, meanwhile, baffled the Phils and was in command until the seventh. He retired the Phillies in order in the second (needing 10 pitches), third (11 pitches) and fifth (five pitches) innings. During one stretch, from the first to the fourth, Sanchez knocked down nine-straight Phils before Hunter Pence broke that streak with a single to center with two outs in the fourth.
The Phillies continued their woes with runners in scoring position squandering chances in the first, fourth, sixth and seventh innings. Philadelphia is 5-for-27 with runners in scoring position this year (.185).
They entered the game with a Major League-low three extra-base hits, until Galvis’ two-run, opposite-field double upped that paltry figure to four in the seventh (his first major league hit after starting the season 0-for-12). The Galvis double chased Sanchez, who left with the lead and the victory after giving up six hits and striking out four over six-and-a-third innings.
“I think you sit here and everyone is trying to find an answer as to what’s going on,” Phils’ centerfielder Shane Victorino said. “I’m not trying to make excuses. We want to go out there and score 10 runs a game. Who doesn’t? We have not. It’s part of what it is, and staying focused is more important than anything. We talked all spring with the big boppers out about playing small ball, and played small ball and guys questioning guys about certain situations. We need to understand what’s going on. The night in Pittsburgh, we made mistakes and what we need to focus on is not giving teams extra outs. I circle back to all the parts about giving teams extra outs. Unfortunately right now, it’s kind of like a snowball and it’s things rolling down the hill. It’s what’s happening right now.”
The sea of red was the only tangible sign Phillies’ fans were even in the stands. Otherwise, Miami took their collective voice away with solo runs in six innings, including three solo homers. Adding more insult to a dreadful Phillies’ home opener was a smirking Reyes standing there at the top of the dugout steps in the seventh inning to congratulate Infante after his second solo homer (which was very impressive, considering both were hit into the wind).
Miami reliever Edward Mujica set the Phillies down in order for the fourth time in the eighth (using a mere eight pitches), and Steve Cishek closed the door on an utterly forgettable home opener. What else isn’t so good is the Phils have now scratched out eight runs in four games—six earned—and are averaging two runs a game.
“We don’t have much power right now,” Manuel admitted. “We just started the season and we should be a little more aggressive than we have been. We have to want to hit and we have to like to hit. We do have two of our top hitters out. We have veteran players, except for Freddie, why should they be tentative? If they’re tentative, we’re in trouble. If we don’t score runs, it will add pressure to our pitching. We have veterans there, too. It will take its wear and tear on [the starting pitching] if we don’t score runs.”
As Cishek struck out Carlos Ruiz for the final out, another smattering of boos mixed with the swirling wind and the only sound from the field came from the Marlins high-fiving each other walking off the field.