Phillies roll on Sandberg's return to Wrigley

After hitting a two run home-run, Philadelphia Phillies John Mayberry Jr., right, high fives Domonic Brown, who scored, during the eighth inning. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)
After hitting a two run home-run, Philadelphia Phillies John Mayberry Jr., right, high fives Domonic Brown, who scored, during the eighth inning. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles) (AP)
Posted: April 06, 2014

CHICAGO - The "SANDBERG 23" flag whipped atop Wrigley Field's right-field foul pole, and its namesake predicted a fine day for hitting at the brick ballpark that celebrated its 100th birthday. Ryne Sandberg would know. He remembered the bitter April games when the vicious wind would thwart teams from hitting homers in batting practice.

But the stiff breeze during Friday's 7-2 Phillies win blew in a favorable direction for lefthanded hitters; it reminded Sandberg of May conditions, minus the 28-degree wind chill. So Sandberg stacked his lineup with five lefties even though Travis Wood, tenacious against lefties, pitched for the Cubs.

Chase Utley shot a fifth-inning pitch into the air. The ball floated and floated and floated until it landed in the bleachers for a two-run homer. The Phillies never trailed again.

"I was screaming, 'Get in the basket!'" Sandberg said. "It got in the second row, so it carried a little bit further than what I was thinking."

Sandberg's players executed for their manager, who oversaw the season's fourth game with boldness. He yanked his cruising starter, Roberto Hernandez, at 73 pitches. He asked a shaky bullpen to record 11 outs. He trusted the lefthanded hitters.

Through four games, the Phillies are hitting .300 with a .360 on-base percentage.

"I like what I've seen so far," Utley said, "but I think definitely we can get better."

This day was a celebration of Wrigley Field's vitality - Sandberg, as the opposing manager, tossed a ceremonial first pitch with Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins and described it as "slightly awkward" but the somber reality was not escapable. One Cubs fan seated near the dugout waved a sign that said, "There's Always Next Year." Chicago is destined for another exhausting summer.

The Phillies, under the former Cubs great Sandberg, require a quick start to avoid an avalanche of doubt. For one day, Sandberg could do no wrong.

Hernandez retired the final six batters he faced, but Sandberg yanked him with 73 pitches. The manager wanted Jake Diekman, who has pitched in three of the team's first four games, for lefthanded hitters Anthony Rizzo and Nate Schierholtz. Diekman conquered them on 12 pitches.

"Almost like an early type of save situation right there," Sandberg said.

It was an aggressive decision considering Hernandez pitched economically and avoided trouble. Rizzo and Schierholtz were hitless in their four at-bats earlier against Hernandez. And the Phillies bullpen, which permitted runs in each of the season's first three games, was handed a daunting task.

Sandberg said Hernandez was not his strongest because he hadn't faced hitters in 12 days. His velocity, though, stayed steady through the outing. He made one mistake, an elevated sinker that Wellington Castillo crushed for a solo blast.

"It slipped middle of the plate and up," Hernandez said. "After that, I just said, 'Keep the ball down.' I tried not to overthrow."

After Diekman, Justin De Fratus pitched without drama in his season debut. Antonio Bastardo danced around two walks with a double-play grounder. There was no need for closer Jonathan Papelbon.

The pressure was lessened in the eighth, when Sandberg found another sensible spot for John Mayberry Jr. This time, against lefthander Wesley Wright, Mayberry smashed an inside fastball deep to left for a pinch-hit, two-run homer. Mayberry, exposed as an everyday player but valuable vs. lefties, has four pinch-hit RBIs in four games.

Three lefthanded hitters - Utley, Domonic Brown and Ben Revere - combined for eight hits. The biggest challenge, Utley said, was the weather.

"It's trying not to let the wind and the cold get into your head," Utley said. "It's tough at times, but you try not to let it affect you."

The temperature at first pitch was 38 degrees. The wind blew at 23 m.p.h. The stadium emptied by the ninth inning, when reasonable people abandoned hope for warmth. The conditions suited Sandberg and his Phillies just fine.


mgelb@phillynews.com

@magelb

www.inquirer.com/

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