It seems to happen every season: At least one player appears in the team photograph because he was on the roster the day it was taken, only to leave shortly thereafter and become a distant memory by the fall.
Because of the impending arrival of Pedro Martinez, Rodrigo Lopez will have a difficult time remaining a Phillie, despite being captured in the group picture earlier this month. But he continued to serve as a helpful stopgap last night, protecting a blowout lead for the second time in three starts.
The Phillies defeated the Chicago Cubs, 10-1, at Citizens Bank Park behind six effective innings from Lopez and homers by Raul Ibanez, Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Howard. It was their ninth consecutive victory, the team's best streak since May 2006.
But barring injury to another pitcher, Lopez will remain in the rotation only until Martinez is prepared to join the Phils. "There still has got to be a couple weeks until Pedro gets ready," Lopez said. "It's something I can't control. . . . As long as I'm doing my job and everything, there is going to be a spot for me somewhere."
The righthander left his previous start, on July 8, with a shoulder strain after his fastball dropped from 89 to 82 m.p.h. in the fifth inning.
Last night, he was relieved to see the pitch once again peaking in the high 80s. "That's no problem at all," he said of his shoulder.
Having recovered his strength, Lopez reprised his first appearance with the Phils, when he used guile and sharp command to defeat the New York Mets on July 3 after the Phillies gave him a large, early lead.
Lopez was more crafty than dominant last night, allowing five hits and walking three. He stranded baserunners in every inning but the second. "Sometimes I didn't know where the ball was going," he conceded. "But at least I was able to make one good pitch per at-bat."
"Lopez did a heck of a job," said manager Charlie Manuel. "Moved the ball around, good sinker, good command."
The pitcher's night was made easier by an offensive explosion in the early innings. Capped by Ibanez's 25th home run, the Phillies scored three runs in the first inning and dominated the night. They added to their lead in the second when the badly slumping Ruiz, whose average had fallen from .299 on June 9 to .226 entering last night, poked a ball over the left-field wall to make the score 5-0. A four-run fourth, which included Ruiz's RBI double, gave the Phils a nine-run lead.
Ruiz said that he had taken extra swings before the game and sensed progress. "I told myself: This is a day when I'll pick it up a little bit," he said.
Standing on second base after hitting the double, Ruiz clapped several times. "It was a great moment," said the catcher. "It was a big hit, but also, I was happy."
Happy is a word that defines the team as the Phils breeze through July and build a lead in a mediocre division. "It becomes a feeling where you expect to win," Ibanez said. "We're playing well, everybody is intense, everybody prepares the same way, and no one takes anything for granted."