Game Notes are our occasional summary/commentary on a particular recent MLB contest
May has been a month of struggles for the Phillies. The game of inches has not been kind to them this month, as their 4-15 record portends. As the month winds its way towards its conclusion they have to try and figure things out in the presence of one of the hottest teams in baseball. The Colorado Rockies enter the ballpark with a May record of 13-7 and an offense averaging over five runs per contest. With the Phillies struggling to develop any kind of traction they hand the ball once again to young right-hander Zach Eflin. Eflin is the type of pitcher that when he is right can be an absolute joy to watch. There is a simple poignancy to the way he goes about his business. The tall, lanky Florida native works quickly, rocking into an almost effortless delivery that can add life to his 92-95 MPH fastball. When his four-seam is right it can be exciting to watch as runs away from left-handed hitters and shears off bats. But Eflin is still very much learning on the job, having just turned 23 and with only seventeen big league starts to his name. His counterpart this evening is another touted arm named German Marquez. Marquez himself is less than ten starts into his Major League career, but those ten starts reveal a world of potential. His fastball is his calling card, touching speeds of 96-98 MPH, and delivered with a motion that is very much the opposite of Eflin’s. So the scene is set for two possible storylines on a Tuesday night in South Philadelphia: whether or not the Phillies bats can stand toe-to-toe with the mighty Rockies, and which of the two young righties will be the first to falter.
The chances are there early: the Phils load the bases in the 2nd on an opposite field single by Tommy Joseph, a hard hit double on the wall by Odubel Herrera, and an intentional walk to Andrew Knapp. But with two outs and the pitcher batting, the ducks are left to die on the pond as Marquez is able to rear back and get the punchout he needs using his 96 MPH heater. Eflin meanwhile works his way efficiently through the first two frames before encountering his first serious test in the 3rd. The Rox young catcher Tony Wolters fouls off several pitches before working a walk in a 10-pitch at bat. Two batters later, centerfielder Charlie Blackmon rises to meet a hanging curveball. He had missed one in his first at bat. Fooled him once, shame on Charlie – but he would not miss the second. 420 some odd feet later, the game stands at 2-0 Colorado.
In the bottom half of the inning, the Phillies once again show signs of life. Cesar Hernandez hits a sharp bouncer back at Marquez. The righty, his momentum taking him towards the first base side of the field, reaches back wildly and somehow puts leather on the baseball. But it's hit too sharply and caroms away, taking Marquez's glove with it and giving the Phillies their 3rd hit of the day. Aaron Altherr hits a rocket that bounces off the glove of Amarista at Short, Joseph is hit by a slider that gets away from Marquez, and Andres Blanco walks to close the gap to 2-1. You can almost feel the pendulum begin to swing, but Herrera hits a grounder to Amarista, and this time he comes up with it clean. Two outs later and the rally is over. Twice the Phillies flirt with Madam Opportunity, and twice they come up short. And as it would turn out, this is where the wheels fall off for Eflin. In the top of the 4th the Rockies flex their offensive muscle and bang four straight hits and tack on three more runs before Blackmon takes his third turn at the dish. This time Eflin does not throw the curve, but with the memory of his 3rd inning home run fresh in mind Blackmon launches the third fastball he sees over the wall to nearly the exact same spot. Colorado 7, Philadelphia 1.
In the top of the 6th, some insurance. Another hanging breaking ball and another Rockies roundtripper, this one to Gerardo Parra, stretching their lead to seven. The Phillies continue to court Madam Opportunity in the bottom of the 6th, but when a team is struggling she is not so easily wooed. For the third time in five innings the Phillies find themselves in a bases loaded scenario, and once again come away with empty pockets. Three times the game of inches dangles intention in front of them, and three times it is just out of reach of their grasp.
This night, the simple poignancy gives way to returns that are anything but. Eflin’s line is ugly, although his six innings of toil are helpful to the coaching staff and a bullpen that has found themselves overworked far too often. On the other side, Marquez was anything but dominant in his outing, but was able to do enough to keep Phillies off the scoreboard before ceding way to a bullpen that has shaped themselves into a force. Mark Leiter Jr and Hector Neris are able to stop the bleeding over the final three innings, and Andrew Knapp’s 9th inning home run is a nice moment for him and the few fans left in the ballpark. But little victories do little to mollify a frustrated clubhouse and fan base. Madam Opportunity has already slipped off into the night on the arm of another. All you can do is hope to win her affections next time.
Spanning an entire continent, lifelong fans Chris Kubak and Tom Baird take you on a magical, sabermetrically enhanced journey through Major League Baseball.