FOR A COUPLE of innings, there was a palpable sense of anticipation in the air as Brett Myers calmly retired opposing batter after opposing batter, one and then seven and then 12 in a row.
Anytime a pitcher takes the mound in the seventh with no hits on the scoreboard, there is a general sense that something special might be unfolding. And as Myers threw two strikes by Joey Votto with two outs in the seventh, that anticipation grew to a crescendo as the crowd at Citizens Bank Park rose to its feet.
But as good a story as it would have been, particularly with the struggles Myers has endured throughout the first 2 months of the season, Votto quickly ended it, lacing a double to centerfield that scored Brandon Phillips and sent the Phillies on their way to a 2-0 loss.
"When Votto got that hit, I don't think there was frustration based on losing the no-hitter; it was based on, 'So now we're losing,' " catcher Chris Coste said. "That was really the biggest thing. If he throws a no-hitter, that's awesome. But more than anything, to go down 1-0 was what hurt the most."
For five of the first six innings, Myers was as dominant as he has been all season, retiring the first 13 batters he faced before walking Adam Dunn with one out in the fifth. He would issue two more walks in the inning, but Dunn was caught stealing with one out, and Myers struck out Paul Bako with two outs to escape the jam.
But thanks to an equally impressive performance from Edinson Volquez, there was little margin for error. The Phillies were well aware of the talent of the young righthander, who entered the game with a 1.46 ERA and 83 strikeouts. They faced him in spring training, then in early April, when he allowed just one run on five hits in the Reds' 8-2 win in Cincinnati.
Last night, he allowed his only two hits of the game in the fourth inning, when Ryan Howard singled through the right side of the infield and Geoff Jenkins singled to right. But the young ace, as he did all night, worked out of the jam.
The Phillies left men on base in five innings and went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. They had the bases loaded with two outs in the fifth when Volquez got Howard to fly out to leftfield.
"He was the same guy - he was fastball, changeup in spring training complemented with a slider and he was the same guy tonight, the same guy we saw in Cincy," said Shane Victorino, who went 0-for-3 with a walk. "He's definitely effective."
So was Myers, who pitched a perfect sixth but walked Phillips with one out in the seventh. After getting Dunn to fly out to left and throwing two strikes past Votto, Myers and Coste met in front of the mound.
Coste whispered, "Split, split," calling for two split-fingered fastballs with the hope that Votto would chase one.
But Myers left the first splitter a little too high and Votto hit it into centerfield, scoring Phillips from second.
"The kid pitched good tonight," Myers said of his opponent. "I knew it was going to come down to who would make the first mistake tonight, and I happened to make it."
One could argue that Myers' performance, at least in terms of what it could indicate, outweighs the negatives of a loss. After all, this is a pitcher who 4 weeks ago bottomed out in a loss to the Braves, allowing eight runs in just 4 1/3 innings, propelling his ERA to a ghastly 5.91.
Since then, he has resembled much more the pitcher who won 50 games as a starter from 2002 through '06. And the Phillies, who lost for just the second time in the last 10 games to fall to 35-26, could certainly use that.
"He was pretty dominant for most of the time," Coste said. "Even the ball that Votto hit, he didn't square it up. I think there was a line drive for an out, other than that, there weren't many hard-hit balls in there. He was as dominant or more dominant than Volquez was, it just happened to be they got that one big hit." *