Phillies hold on to edge Blue Jays
Toronto loaded the bases against Brett Myers in the ninth. The game ended on a close play at first.
The Phillies had three hits in one inning - and none the rest of the night.
Yet, they began interleague play last night with a 5-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays before 34,723 at cold and windy Citizens Bank Park.
They were able to survive because Jon Lieber pitched seven solid innings, because they scored all five runs on those three hits in the fifth inning, and because Brett Myers squirmed out of a bases-loaded, ninth-inning jam to get the Phils back to the .500 mark.
And, so, interleague play - which probably cost the Phillies a wild-card berth last season - started on a winning note.
Lieber downplayed the significance.
"Every game is important," he said after seven-plus innings in which he allowed three runs while striking out a season-high seven and walking none. "I don't care if we're playing the Bad News Bears."
If manager Charlie Manuel had any input, he would like to do the same thing to the interleague schedule that Tony Soprano did to his nephew.
Interleague play brings too many inequities to the schedule - and takes away from the World Series, Manuel said. Eliminating it "would make the season more fair," he said.
Trailing by 5-3, the Blue Jays threatened as they loaded the bases off Myers with two outs in the ninth. But Myers retired Alex Rios on a slow tapper to third baseman Abraham Nunez to end the suspense. First baseman Wes Helms barely held the bag as he fielded Nunez's wide, off-balance throw.
Lieber was a walking trade rumor in the off-season, but keeping him may turn out to be the best move general manager Pat Gillick has made.
"He wants to prove to everyone what he can do," Manuel said.
In six starts after leaving a place he detested, the bullpen, Lieber has a 2.50 ERA.
"In some ways, it was hard for me to accept Lieber in the bullpen because he hadn't been there before and he didn't feel comfortable there," Manuel said.
The Phils, who notched their seventh win in their last nine games, thus took a step toward erasing the memories of last year's interleague competition, when they went 5-13 against American League teams.
"I'm not crying because of that," Manuel said, "but if other teams had played the same schedule, would it have been the same?"
There may not be a need to cry this year. You see, the Phillies' interleague schedule appears much friendlier than those being played by their main division rivals, the Mets and Braves.
"It's a lot better playing them in our park, because it takes the DH out of their lineup," Myers said after escaping with his fifth save. "But it's still all about making quality pitches, and we've been getting great starting pitching the entire homestand."
The Phils play 15 interleague games - three each against Toronto, Kansas City, the White Sox, Detroit and Cleveland.
The Mets, meanwhile, play the Yankees six times, along with three-game series against Detroit, Minnesota and Oakland. Atlanta plays six games against the powerful Red Sox - a fact that has Chipper Jones complaining - and three games each against Cleveland, Detroit and Minnesota.
"I don't think it's fair, but I don't think Major League Baseball is concerned with fair," Jones told reporters earlier in the week.
The Phils probably didn't think it was fair to face Toronto's Dustin McGowan in the early innings last night. The 6-foot-3 righthander, his fastball hitting as high as 96 m.p.h. on the radar gun, held the Phillies hitless until Greg Dobbs grounded a 2-2 pitch into right field for a single with no outs in the fifth. The single sent Pat Burrell, who had walked, to second.
McGowan, who had a 7.59 ERA in his first two starts, then walked Helms to load the bases. After Carlos Ruiz struck out swinging at a 94 m.p.h. fastball, Lieber drew a walk on a close 3-2 pitch - the count had been 3-0 - to force in the game's first run.
"I gave him the take at 3-0 and he was taking at 3-1," said Manuel with a smile. "And at 3-2, I just hoped the pitcher missed when he was taking."
Actually, Lieber had fouled off a 3-2 pitch before drawing the walk, an at-bat Manuel called the key to the win.
"That kid's a very good pitcher, and I just tried to put the ball in play and stay alive as long as I could," Lieber said.
After Lieber's walk, Aaron Rowand and Shane Victorino delivered run-scoring singles to make it 3-0 and keep the bases loaded. McGowan then uncorked a wild pitch, enabling Lieber to score and the other runners to advance. Jimmy Rollins' sacrifice fly to center made it 5-0 and sent McGowan to an early exit.
"He was rolling along and one inning got away from him," Toronto manager John Gibbons said.
Toronto, which had won three straight, cut the deficit to 5-2 when second baseman Aaron Hill drilled a two-run homer to left in the seventh. Pinch-hitter Matt Stairs homered to start the eighth, slicing the lead to 5-3 and causing Manuel to bring in Antonio Alfonseca.
The Phils managed just the three hits, all in the fifth. But the four-walk, three-hit inning - combined with the effectiveness of Lieber and walk-the-tightrope work by Alfonseca and Myers - was enough to hold off the Blue Jays.
Joe Carter wasn't around to bail them out.