Even after watching lefthander Ted Lilly hush the Phillies' bats for eight innings with a variety of soft servings yesterday, the big Mother's Day crowd at Citizens Bank Park remained hopeful that this would be the day the home team pulled off its first sweep of 2007.
It was a one-run game after eight. What better way to send the largest crowd (45,129) of the season home than with a rally in the bottom of the ninth?
It didn't happen. Cubs closer Ryan Dempster got the first two outs of the frame on ground balls before leftfielder Alfonso Soriano, the guy Pat Gillick dreamed of having bat fifth for the Phillies this season, threw out Chase Utley trying to stretch a single into a double to end the game.
The ending would have been difficult to swallow had it still been a one-run game. But the Phils' bullpen, namely Antonio Alfonseca and Fabio Castro, was tagged for a pair of deflating runs in the top of the ninth, putting the team down by what seemed like a mountainous three runs heading into the home half.
"That part gets frustrating," Jimmy Rollins said of the Cubs' tag-on runs. ". . . [You] come back and make the game close and you look up and the lead has jumped back up there.
"But [the Cubs] get paid to hit, too. Sometimes you have to give credit to the other team."
That was about the only credit Rollins gave the Cubs after they beat the Phils, 4-1.
Rollins prides himself in speaking his mind, and when it was suggested to him that Lilly (three hits, one run, six strikeouts) pitched well, the 28-year-old shortstop made it clear that he did not completely share that opinion.
Rollins acknowledged that Lilly did his job and the results were good.
Then the truth serum started flowing.
"It was mostly us," Rollins said. "He threw fastballs down the middle and everybody missed them. Truth is the truth. Sometimes a guy has nasty stuff and you beat him. Sometimes he has regular stuff, nothing special, and you can't find a way to get it done.
"He had nothing special. His fastball topped out at 88 [m.p.h.]. He was leaving pitches over the plate, but we took the fastballs down the middle, and we swung at the ones a little up, and he had his curveball working."
Not surprisingly, Cubs manager Lou Piniella's take on Lilly's pitching was opposite to Rollins'.
"I thought he had exceptional stuff," Piniella said. "He mixed his pitches well, threw his fastball to both sides of the plate and had his curveball and change-up going. It was a really good performance."
Indeed, it was. That much was indisputable.
So was this: In his first career start against the Phillies, Lilly pitched a smart game. He worked with a 17-m.p.h. wind at his back and the Phillies played right into his hands by swinging at his high fastball. He got 15 outs on balls in the air, three on the ground and six by strikeout. The Phils are now 5-10 against lefthanded starters and the Brewers are thinking of bringing Teddy Higuera out of retirement as they come to town tonight.
"I don't know if I had my best stuff," Lilly said. "But it was fun."
Lilly was one of the beneficiaries of baseball's most recent salary explosion. Despite being just 59-58 with a 4.60 ERA in his career, he scored a four-year, $40 million contract from the high-spending Cubs over the winter.
Many around baseball scoffed when the Cubs gave him that much. Ditto for the Cubs' paying Jason Marquis (14-16, 6.02 ERA in 2007) $21 million over three years. Six weeks into the season, Lilly has seven quality starts (at least six innings, no more than three earned runs) and a 2.53 ERA. Marquis is 5-1 with a 1.70 ERA. Meanwhile, the Phillies' two off-season starting pitching acquisitions, Freddy Garcia and Adam Eaton, have a combined ERA of 6.43 in 13 starts.
"Trying to justify the money has nothing to do with the way I'm pitching," Lilly said. "That's not the reason you play."
Lilly's last out of the game came with a runner on second after the Phils had cut the lead to 2-1 in the eighth. He got Rollins to swing at a curveball and line out to left.
Then, from the dugout, Lilly watched his mates pad the lead with two in the ninth, turning a one-run game into a three-run game.
So much for those hopes of a ninth-inning rally. The big crowd began heading for the exits. It had seen enough of Ted Lilly, and the Phillies' bullpen, too.