Phillies come up big in small ways

Posted: April 02, 2011

THE BOOS WERE first heard a little before 3 p.m. The heckling followed soon after.

"We had a couple of fans jump on us right on top of our dugout," Jimmy Rollins was saying after yesterday's improbable, 5-4, Opening-Day win over the Astros. "Going on about American Legion ball and how his team would have done better than that."

The man had a point. Only three times over the first six innings did a Phillies at-bat extend more than four pitches against Houston starter Brett Myers. Four hits, one for extra bases. One earned run over eight innings, two overall, a 4-2 deficit entering the ninth.

This was was not the small ball we had in mind. Ben Francisco dropped a ball, although it did not lead to a run. J.C. Romero and David Herndon allowed three runs before they got three outs.

This was not exciting. This was excruciating.

Myers, a man not known for his economy, was breezing through innings. He threw 12 pitches or less in each of his first six innings. Not once did a Phillie swing and miss, and just once did they even foul one off. Even when Myers was finally nicked for a couple of hits in the seventh, it had more to do with sudden wildness than any sudden Phillies patience.

And so the fans, at least some of the 45,237, booed. A little at first, momentum mounting as the Phillies went down feebly in the eighth.

"I don't know, maybe it inspired us," Rollins said. "The next inning we came out, only made one out, and we found a way to win."

They found a way to win in a manner that may have to be their offensive M.O. for 2011. Six singles in seven at-bats, the crowd's angst evolving into exuberance each time an infielder waved in futility as a batted ball passed into the outfield. Rollins singled. Ryan Howard singled. Raul Ibanez popped up and Rollins stole third.

Loud. Louder.

Francisco singled and Rollins scored. Four to three. Carlos Ruiz singled to load the bases. Wilson Valdez singled and the game was tied. John Mayberry fouled off a couple of nasty pitches and ripped a fly ball over Michael Bourn's head in center, and a dugout so glum-looking just an inning before poured onto the field and over each of them.

"Those guys want to be in those situations," Howard said. "When I walked past Mayberry after I scored, he looked like he wanted to be in that situation. I think those at-bats don't take place when

you're at the plate. They take place when you're on the on-deck circle. You're thinking, the game could come down to me so I've got to be ready. And he was right."

Francisco, Valdez, Mayberry. These are not your 2008 Phillies. Then again, neither was the guy who took the hill in 41-degree weather yesterday.

"I was just starting to ice when it started," said Roy Halladay. "I wish I was out there. I really wanted to run out on the field."

Halladay was out of this game after the sixth inning, after 101 pitches, after surrendering the game's first run. In 33 starts last season, he failed to pitch into the seventh just four times, and if Myers wasn't pitching so well and Halladay's place in the order didn't come up in the bottom of the inning, he might have talked his way into one more yesterday.

But as he said afterward, "As much as they talk about our pitching, we have to win as a team. That's the only way we're going to achieve the goals we really want to achieve. Today was a great example of that.

"It's true of any team that wants to go deep. You're not going to do it with one part of your team. You have to be well-rounded. Pitching, defense and offensively you have to somehow make things work to win games. It's not a matter of hitting a ton of home runs or things like that. It's just doing the little things and scoring runs and making the plays and getting the outs when you need them."

They did that yesterday. They did what they practiced throughout the spring, Rollins said, especially in the first 3 weeks in Clearwater.

"We got drilled all the time," Rollins said. "Every second round of batting practice was a situation. Runner on second base, less than two outs, get him over. Drive him in, runner on second base. Even though it was just batting practice . . . you put pressure on yourself to make sure you get the job done so, hopefully, when it happens in the game, it just happens."

For eight innings yesterday, not much happened. Four hits, one double, one guy left on third.

Until the ninth.

"We were determined to play 27 outs," Howard said. "We've still got a breath. Take it. Play all nine."

Exciting. Excruciating. A little of both, or maybe even a lot of both.

Welcome to Phillies baseball, 2011.

Send email to donnels@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to

www.philly.com/SamDonnellon.

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