Phillies limp into break with 4-loss string

Reliever Raul Valdez can only watch as Braves catcher Brian McCann rounds the bases after his seventh-inning homer nailed down the Phillies' fourth straight loss. RON CORTES / Staff Photographer
Reliever Raul Valdez can only watch as Braves catcher Brian McCann rounds the bases after his seventh-inning homer nailed down the Phillies' fourth straight loss. RON CORTES / Staff Photographer
Posted: July 10, 2012

Now comes a breather, a step back, a chance to regroup. After the last two weeks, a short reprieve seems to be the Phillies' only solution. They hope it is, at least.

Sunday's 4-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park was the Phillies' fourth consecutive defeat, their second in a row after taking early leads, and the 10th in their last 11 overall.

This one was decided in the top of the seventh inning, when Brian McCann drove a Raul Valdes fastball into the ivy that coats the brick wall behind center field. The solo home run gave Atlanta a one-run lead, and the Phillies couldn't climb back. Again.

The Phillies are 37-50 - their worst mark at the all-star break since 1997. With the exception of Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz, and Jonathan Papelbon, the Phils won't have to look at a baseball until Friday, when they visit the Colorado Rockies.

The results, and his own performance, have weighed on centerfielder Shane Victorino, whom manager Charlie Manuel pulled out of Sunday's lineup.

Standing in the middle of an empty clubhouse after the loss, pitcher Vance Worley spoke softly. He looked forward to the time away.

"I think it will help," he said. "We're around each other every day, and we can finally get some time to ourselves and kind of get away from the game. I think it will help clear the mind."

On Sunday, two-out hits spoiled Worley's effort. The Phillies were leading, 2-0, in the fourth, and the pitcher needed one out to end the inning. But Atlanta's Freddie Freeman drove a double down the left-field line, and Dan Uggla pounced on a 2-1 slider, sending the ball to almost the same spot where McCann's home-run ball later landed. Uggla's shot tied the game, 2-2.

Thanks to an RBI double by Jason Pridie, Victorino's replacement, the Phillies were clinging to a one-run lead when Worley surrendered another score. Leading by one in the top of the fifth, Worley gave up back-to-back one-out singles to Martin Prado and Jason Heyward before McCann tied it with an RBI single to center field.

McCann, who entered Sunday's game batting just .235, seemed to discover a magnetic pull between the ball and his bat this weekend. In three games, the catcher went 5 for 12 with eight RBIs and three home runs.

His third homer of the series came against Valdes, who relieved Worley in the seventh. Valdes was ahead in the count, 1-2, but he left a fastball over the plate, and McCann pounded it.

"Yeah, he's been hot," Manuel said. "But at the same time, we had two strikes on him when he hit the home run [Sunday]. That was kind of a mistake."

With Valdes taking the loss, the Phillies' bullpen fell to 9-16 in games it has decided. As a group, the unit holds an ERA of 4.76 through the first half of the season - second worst in the National League.

In the first six innings, Worley pitched much better than he had in his last start, Tuesday, when the righthander gave up six earned runs on 10 hits in four innings. On Sunday, Worley allowed three earned runs on seven hits.

But the effort wasn't strong enough for a win. The Phillies' offense managed only three runs, none of which came after the fourth inning. And of the little life shown by the offense, none of it leaped from the bats of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.

No, the duo, whose recent returns brought hope for a second-half comeback, hit a combined 1 for 8. Instead, the unassuming Pridie boosted the Phillies.

About an hour before the game, Pridie learned he would replace Victorino, whom Manuel had scratched from the lineup after determining that the centerfielder seemed frustrated because of hitting woes.

Pridie, who carried only two at-bats this season into Sunday's game, responded. With a runner on first in the second inning, Pridie pulled a Jair Jurrjens fastball over the right-field fence. In the fourth, he delivered the RBI double.

The second hit gave the Phillies a 3-2 lead, and fans treated the late replacement with chants of "Ja-son Pri-die." But soon after, Worley gave up the lead, Valdes gave up the game, and nobody in the Phillies' lineup could save the day.

By the end of the game, the low bass of boos swallowed the Pridie cheers. This season, even the fans could use a four-day break.


Contact Tyler Jett at 215-854-4550 or tjett@philly.com.

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