Sam Donnellon: Torture a proven formula

Closer Jonathan Papelbon greets catcher Carlos Ruiz after the final out of the Phils’ 3-2 win over the Padres. David Maialetti / Staff Photographer
Closer Jonathan Papelbon greets catcher Carlos Ruiz after the final out of the Phils’ 3-2 win over the Padres. David Maialetti / Staff Photographer
Posted: May 15, 2012

THE PHRASE was coined after a particularly gruesome loss to the Padres in April 2010. The San Francisco Giants were defeated in the most inglorious fashion, allowing San Diego exactly one hit while losing, 1-0.

“Giants baseball,” Duane Kuiper, their longtime announcer, said on the air the next day. Then, pausing for effect: “Torture.”

The Phillies began the final game of a three-game series Sunday with the same sort of odor surrounding them. The previous night, facing a San Diego team with the second-worst record in baseball and its most tepid lineup, they had managed one hit in 10 opportunities with runners in scoring position, left 12 batters on base, and again wasted a winning effort by their ace, Roy Halladay, in a 2-1 loss.

It dropped them even deeper into the cellar of the National East Division they have presided over for the previous five seasons, made Sunday’s 3-2 victory a critical one.

“We have the confidence that we know we can do it because we’ve done it,” Cole Hamels said after holding the Padres to one run over seven innings. “It’s just a matter of going out and getting into that rhythm. Hopefully we can start it today. See where it can take it.”

The knee-jerk reaction, one much in line with our civic personality, is to say it will go nowhere, to see in the current 16-19 record the end of their minidynasty, despite a starting rotation that is still much envied in baseball. Such local prophets point to a lineup devoid of power or even a pivot man, and scoff at the notion that two of the men who have satisfied both criteria in the past can return to any semblance of their former selves before the season is forever lost. Or, given the lack of minor league chips or tradeable parts, that a savior can be found from beyond the roster.

But then there is that Giants example, and the one from St. Louis a year before and even the Phillies own struggles early in 2008. The National League has won three of the last four World Series with teams that struggled mightily well into the season, then righted themselves to finish 92-70 (2010 Giants) and 90-72 (2011 Cardinals). And while their stories are not identical, there is some common fabric to weave hope with, particularly in the case of those 2010 Giants.

That team was 41-40 after a loss on July 4, their pitchers receiving little or no run support. By then, though, Buster Posey had been promoted from the minor leagues and Pat Burrell, waived earlier in the season by the Tampa Bay Rays after an awful start, was providing late-game heroics. In late August, the Giants claimed Cody Ross off waivers to keep the first-place Padres from doing so, and well, we all know about Cody Ross. He knocked in some big runs against the Braves in the NL Division Series, then hit three home runs, three doubles and knocked in five runs in as the Giants beat the Phillies in six games to win the pennant.

Burrell will be a Phillie for a day next Saturday, but that ain’t going to do it. The Phillies are banking on Ryan Howard and Chase Utley returning to some semblance of form by July. It’s reasonable to hope for one, not both. A real optimist might mention Jim Thome, but he’s given you little reason for such happy thoughts.

The knee-jerk feel is that Ruben Amaro Jr. must find his Cody Ross out there somewhere, the way he injected Pedro Martinez to stabilize a pitching-depleted club back in 2009. The truth is that Cody may already be here, hiding in one of the current guys playing well below their resumes. Hunter Pence right now looks like a guy who will benefit from anyone else batting cleanup. Placido Polanco, John Mayberry, Shane Victorino have all hit better of late. Just not necessarily with runners in scoring position.

“We’re still a team that can go on a run,” contended Jimmy Rollins, after finally going yard in the first inning Sunday. “It just hasn’t happened yet.”

The Phillies actually knocked in two of their three runs Sunday with two outs. But there were still those black-comedy innings, like when Freddy Galvis and Carlos Ruiz reached base to start the seventh inning, then were stranded by Placido Polanco, Rollins and Juan Pierre.

Phillies baseball: Torture?

You bet.

“Not getting hits with runners in scoring position,” Rollins said. “Not driving guys in from third with less than two outs. All those things that are showing up that in the past it seemed like we were able to get away with. We’ll do it next time. We’re not getting that next time anymore.”

This was said after a win. After winning a series. To a man almost, the Giants of 2010 pointed back to these days after they had outlasted everyone to win that World Series. So did last year’s Cardinals, who overcame pitching and bullpen woes. And the ace of that 2008 Phillies team was Hamels, then an emotional 24-year-old.

Now he is their ace, or an ace, on a staff that still looks formidable enough to support that run Rollins believes in, that he believes is in them, too. “I think the type of mentality we have to have right now is to just get one game and move on to the next and play as best as we possibly can,” said Hamels. “Because if we dread or look back on the games and series we’ve already messed up on, we’re not going to get it going.”

Contact Sam Donnellon at donnels@phillynews.com.

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