Braun and Brewers spoil Phillies' home opener

Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun dives after Phillie Carlos Ruiz's second-inning line drive. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun dives after Phillie Carlos Ruiz's second-inning line drive. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 10, 2014

The Phillies paraded into Citizens Bank Park, down a removable staircase in center field and across a red carpet, just as they do to inaugurate every new season at this ballpark. They marched Tuesday afternoon with a new leader, a man who knows the margin between contention and irrelevancy is thinner than ever.

The denizens of this decade-old stadium understand that, and it is why these Phillies must generate weeks of goodwill to convince their skeptics. When daytime turned to dusk during a 10-4 loss to Milwaukee, this crowd departed with a familiar bitterness.

The fans' foil, Ryan Braun, smashed three home runs - his first three since a 65-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs last season - and emptied the building in the eighth inning. The play was sloppy. The chances were squandered. The pitching was mediocre.

This was an inauspicious 2014 debut for baseball in South Philadelphia.

"It's an exciting day," Ryne Sandberg said. "It was short-lived."

Sandberg preached fundamentals from the moment he was hired as Phillies manager, and he tries to instill those virtues with relentless drills. Practice has its limits. The Phillies committed three errors and misjudged other balls. They have allowed seven unearned runs in two straight games, both losses.

As if Braun's assault was not enough.

The Brewers slugger tied a franchise record with seven RBIs. He was the first opposing player to swat three homers in Philadelphia since Jason Giambi in 2011. He homered in the third, the fourth, and the eighth innings. "When a guy catches fire like that," Ryan Howard said, "it's tough." Each time, fans booed Braun before he swung, and he said he thrived as the villain.

The Phillies played without their own cornerstone, Chase Utley, who was ordered home with the flu. His name was not read in the pregame team introductions, and Led Zeppelin never blasted through the stadium's speakers. It represented a huge loss; Utley led the team in almost every offensive category through one week of action.

The team's lack of depth was exposed by the fifth inning. With the tying run at the plate, Sandberg picked John Mayberry Jr. to pinch-hit for Kyle Kendrick. That pitted Mayberry, a righthanded bat, against Milwaukee righty Kyle Lohse because the Phillies did not have a credible lefthanded power threat on the bench. Mayberry struck out on five pitches to strand two runners.

"We were one guy short," Sandberg said. "We had some different choices to make."

The Phillies crept within two runs in the sixth, but the heart of the lineup faltered against Brewers lefty Zach Duke. In the seventh, light-hitting Jayson Nix pinch-hit, representing the tying run, and lined out to third.

Ben Revere committed two defensive gaffes that resulted in two runs. Kendrick allowed six runs (four earned) and failed to field a bunt ahead of Braun's first homer. He could not execute a sacrifice bunt himself in the second inning. The Brewers lashed nine hits in five innings as Kendrick lost a home opener for the second straight season.

"I was up," Kendrick said. "Usually when you're up in the zone a lot, you're going to have a chance of getting hit."

There were early opportunities for the Phillies. Lohse issued four walks in the first two innings and needed 52 pitches to record the first six outs. But they scored just once, on a Marlon Byrd single in the first. The Phillies left the bases loaded when Cesar Hernandez, Utley's replacement, fanned.

Braun, of course, prevented further damage with a diving catch to end the second inning. It saved at least one run. The vilified 30-year-old outfielder pounded the grass with his right hand in celebration. Half an inning later, Braun struck with his bat, and Sandberg had to contemplate what could have been.

"A huge momentum change," Sandberg said, "all within two sides of an inning."


mgelb@phillynews.com

@magelb inquirer.com/phillieszone

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