Too many lows at Phillies home opener

Posted: April 06, 2013

Back when the world was young and all things were possible - this would be somewhere around the second inning of the 2013 home opener on Friday - leftfielder Domonic Brown was one of the reasons the Phillies will be able to bridge the gap between their yesterdays and their tomorrows.

Everyone in the stands would have agreed with that as Brown trotted around the bases following a leadoff home run in the second, having deposited a fastball from Kansas City starter into the stands. They stood, they cheered and they believed as Brown's homer and some other early offense added up to a 4-0 lead as the game chugged into the fifth inning.

Brown, having won the job in left this season with a strong spring that included seven home runs and 17 RBIs, is one of several maybes that have to come through for the Phils if they are to compete this season. Whatever eventually happens in right field is another, and then there is the development of a young bullpen and the reliability of the starting pitchers.

The uplifting start to the home portion of the season didn't last long for either Brown or the Phillies, unfortunately. The team went flat at the plate just as the Royals appeared to figure out Kyle Kendrick and the succession of relievers who followed him. As for Brown, he was hitless in his last three at-bats and had a line drive get past him in left during a four-run Kansas City seventh inning that pretty much sealed the outcome.

It would get worse - 13-4 by the time the last scattered, towel-waving satirists left the park - but it was a done deal when Brown dived and missed the bases-loaded liner and a 6-4 game became 9-4.

The world was no longer young and many things had become impossible by then. If the worries about Brown's fielding, of which there are many, come true, then the rickety lattice that holds together the team's plan for the season begins to splinter. The fans didn't put it that way, of course. They just booed.

"That's fine. There's nothing wrong with that," Brown said as he reviewed his high-and-low afternoon. "That's part of the game. He hit it, and I thought I had a good chance at it, and if I had it to do over again, I'd do the same thing. They're already up by two runs. The bases are loaded. I'm trying to catch that. It's a do-or-die play right there, and I'm trying to make a play for my pitcher."

From that standpoint, he's got a good argument. If he takes a deeper line and takes the ball on a hop, two runs are going to score anyway, and it's an 8-4 game. If he makes the diving catch, he has a chance to keep the score within reason.

"I told him to go for it, and then at the last second it seemed to sink down quickly," centerfielder Ben Revere said. "It just tipped off his glove. It's one of those things. He made a good effort, and he'll make those catches lots of times. It's part of the learning curve and the next time that happens, I guarantee he catches that."

Manager Charlie Manuel was not in as forgiving a mood after the game, not about any aspect of it, to tell the truth. Asked what happened to Kendrick after the fourth inning, Manuel essentially said that what happened was the Royals hitters were able to bat against him more than once. As for the bullpen pitchers, who allowed 11 of Kansas City's 19 hits, he observed they couldn't get anyone out. And he didn't mention the learning curve when he talked about the ball that got past Brown.

"That's a play where you can't let the ball get behind you," Manuel said. "Once it gets behind you, the game is about over. He's got to really try to keep the ball in front of him."

In front of him or behind him, the game was pretty much done by then, but Brown became a scapegoat for the disappointing turn of the afternoon, and particularly because his fielding is such a focal point this spring.

"It's a bad feeling," Brown said. "I was trying to catch it or at least knock it down, but once I dove sometimes that's going to happen."

It happened this time, in any case, as Brown played his first-ever April game in Citizens Bank Park. There are plenty of games left and many opportunities to both make amends and to mend the fraying plan for the season.

The home opener was a day for highs and lows, and it might be that way all year. Brown needs more of the former to stay where he is. The whole team needs a few more, too, just to stay with that plan.


Contact Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com, read his blog at www.philly.com/postpatterns, and follow on Twitter @bobfordsports

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