Tonight's on-field action at Citizens Bank Park began when the Phillies marched from the stands in left-center field onto a red runner, savoring visceral cheers and a final moment of the off-season following their World Series championship. It ended fewer than 21/2 hours later when a Raul Ibanez strikeout squashed a ninth-inning rally and sealed a 4-1 loss to Atlanta.
During the last week of spring training, manager Charlie Manuel complained that, because of injuries and the World Baseball Classic, too many of his hitters were not prepared for the season. "They did not get a typical amount of at-bats, and if you look at those guys, they are struggling," Manuel said yesterday of regulars like Shane Victorino and Pedro Feliz.
The offense began slowly tonight, although it gained energy during a ninth-inning rally, during which Jayson Werth singled in Eric Bruntlett for the season's first run.
Brett Myers was the losing pitcher, allowing eight hits and four runs in six innings. Starting for the Braves, Derek Lowe pitched eight innings, allowing only two hits and striking out four while walking none.
Five minutes after reality and the regular season resumed at 8:10 tonight, the Phillies were - at least temporarily - no longer able to enjoy their championship. Myers surrendered a two-out single to Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones, then threw a high, 2-0 change-up to catcher Brian McCann, who sent the pitch into the second deck of the right-field stands at 8:15.
Twelve minutes after that, at 8:27, rightfielder Jeff Francoeur hit Myers' first pitch of the second inning into the left-field stands. Some in the crowd, so boisterous during the pregame ceremonies, voiced the first boos of 2009.
At 8:30, centerfielder Jordan Shafer, in his first major-league plate appearance, hit a 3-1 pitch into the stands in left-center field, and the booing became louder and more widespread.
After allowing shortstop Yunel Escobar to double leading off the third, Myers settled down. He induced three straight outs to end that inning, pitched to four batters in a scoreless fourth, and did the same in the fifth. Myers allowed a single and intentionally walked a batter in the sixth, but ended that inning by striking out Lowe with a 3-2 count.
Lowe, 36, agreed to a four-year, $60 million contract with Atlanta during the off-season. The move, combined with the Braves acquisition of righty Javier Vazquez, transformed the top of the Braves' rotation and created the potential for the team to contend in the National League East.
Lowe retired the first seven Phillies before Carlos Ruiz hit a ground-rule-double with one out in the third inning. But a Myers popup and Jimmy Rollins groundout stranded Ruiz, and another nine Phillies batted before Rollins singled with two outs in the bottom of the sixth, the final hit off Lowe.