LATE LAST spring, Domonic Brown sent shock waves through South Philly on a nightly basis when he went on a home-run barrage that would make Babe Ruth blush.
From April 27 to June 8, Brown hit 17 home runs in a 39-game span. Eleven of those home runs came in a 2-week span at the end of that run.
Despite taking 23 home runs into his first All-Star Game last July, Brown would hit just four more. He entered last night homerless in 43 games.
"I think it's partly with how he's being pitched," manager Ryne Sandberg said before the game. "Because his pop is there, he shows it all the time in batting practice. I think he's adjusting to pitching. I think right now he's taking what is given to him . . . I think it's just a matter of time before he gets some pitches he can handle and drives them."
With two runners on and the Phillies down by two in the eighth inning last night, Brown got that pitch from Atlanta lefthanded reliever Luis Avilan. But the Phillies still couldn't match an Atlanta Braves collection of sluggers that would make the Gashouse Gorillas envious.
Brown hit his first home run in exactly 8 months to help the Phillies erase a four-run deficit in the eighth inning and give them the lead, too, but Dan Uggla launched a grand slam off Jake Diekman in the next half inning as Atlanta prevailed with a 9-6 win at Citizens Bank Park.
"I hung a slider," Diekman said of the grand slam pitch. "That was pretty much it, right?"
Diekman pitched the ninth inning in place of closer Jonathan Papelbon, who was unavailable after pitching in three straight games this weekend.
Uggla and Evan Gattis each hit a pair of home runs and combined for eight RBI. Thirteen of the 15 runs the two teams scored came courtesy of home runs.
The Braves hit five of the home runs, including three consecutive blasts to open the eighth inning, to put an end to the Phillies' modest three-game win streak. Afterward, the home clubhouse was as quiet as the ballpark was following Uggla's slam.
The Phillies managed to erase a four-run deficit in the eighth inning only to watch it disappear on one swing.
"That's part of the game," Brown said. "We're just fighting and battling and trying to do as best as we possibly can. I tip my hat to the Braves, they did well tonight. That's usually how they beat teams, with their bats. One through nine can hit the ball out of the ballpark at any given moment. They showed that tonight."
Ryan Howard got the long-ball party started with a solo shot to lead off the second inning. It was his second home run in as many days.
After throwing five shutout innings, Phillies starter Roberto Hernandez walked Freddie Freeman on four pitches to begin the sixth. He would give up the lead two batters later when Gattis ripped a two-run, go-ahead home run.
"I tried to sink the ball and it stayed on the plate," Hernandez said. "When it's up, the ball will go out."
Gattis his his second home run in the eighth, the first of three consecutive long balls to begin the inning against righthander B.J. Rosenberg. Uggla and Andrelton Simmons followed in the back-to-back-to-back hat trick of jacks.
Rosenberg was removed from the game after the hat trick. It was the first time in at least 100 years that a major league pitcher faced only three batters and all three batters hit home runs.
"He pitched behind in the count and was up with his breaking pitch," Sandberg said.
While it was easy to point a finger at Rosenberg or Diekman afterward as the guilty party, both relievers have seen more than their share of work.
Rosenberg was appearing in his third straight game; Sandberg said he would try to stay away from the reliever before the game. For Diekman, it was his eighth appearance in the Phillies' 13 games this season; no big-league pitcher has appeared in more games this month.
"I feel fine," Diekman said.
Both relievers were needed, again, because the starting pitcher couldn't pitch into the seventh inning.
Hernandez pitched five shutout innings before allowing two runs in the sixth, but he also needed 118 pitches to get through those six innings.
For all of the flack the beleaguered bullpen has received this season, the starting pitchers, supposedly a team strength when spring training began, have been largely ineffective. Sandberg has had to lean on his bullpen because his starting pitchers have pitched into the seventh inning just two times in the 13 games.
Phillies starting pitchers entered the night with 67 1/3 innings. Only three teams in baseball have gotten less work from starters.
"We'd like that to change just to help our bullpen out," Sandberg said of getting more innings out of his starters. "We've just been using the bullpen guys for quite a bit of innings, throwing a number of pitches. That would be an improvement for us [to get more from the starters]."
In the National League, the Phillies' rotation entered the game second-to-last in opponents' batting average (.302), OPS (.831) and OBP (.359). Only three NL teams' starting staffs had allowed more total bases (131) and only three teams had fewer quality starts (five).
Home runs killed the Phillies' winning streak last night, four of them accounting for seven runs in two innings of damage on the bullpen. But the relief corps was only called on again because the starting pitcher couldn't go more than the first two-thirds of the game. After having an effective weekend series against the Marlins - three earned runs in 12 2/3 innings - the bullpen ran out of gas.
"We'd had some good bullpen work," Sandberg said. "The last series we had good work out of the bullpen. So we'll get 'em tomorrow."