Friday, August 12, 2016

Howard's grand slam propels Phils in opener

The Phillies got a little nostalgic Friday night.
Prior to their series-opening 10-6 win over the Rockies at Citizens Bank Park, the Phils inducted Jim Thome into the club's Wall of Fame. Not three hours later, the man who took Thome's job back in 2005, Ryan Howard, looked like his old self and hammered a grand slam into the Rockies' bullpen, 455 feet away per Statcast™, to break a tie for good.
"You want to go out there and try to get a win on a special night like this," Howard said. "Being able to get something to hit and having it land on the other side of the fence -- it's the bonus."
After circling the bases, Howard re-emerged from the dugout for a curtain call. He couldn't remember the last time he'd done so.
"It's been a while," Howard said. "Felt great. I mean, to be able to do it in that situation in a night like tonight, it was pretty cool."
Howard's slam, the 14th of his career and first since 2014, continued the Rockies' downward spiral. Colorado had pulled a game over .500 and three games back of a Wild Card spot, but the Rockies have lost seven of nine games since.
Friday's pitching matchup was anything but nostalgic, featuring a pair of rookies in the Rockies' slumping Jon Gray and the Phils' Jake Thompson, making his second MLB start.
Thompson bounced back nicely from a 4 1/3-inning, six-run debut to toss five innings of three-run ball, though not without the red-hot Charlie Blackmon touching him for a home run. The Rockies' center fielder added two more big flies in the seventh and ninth for his first career three-home run game. Over the last week, Blackmon is 19-for-33 (.576) with six home runs.
"I felt pretty good -- I imagine that's what it's like to be Nolan Arenado on a day-to-day basis -- that's as close as I get," said Blackmon, referring to the Rockies' third baseman, who has 30 homers this season.
But with Gray throwing 111 pitches and lasting just 4 1/3 innings, the Rockies didn't get the starting pitching a team that was coming off a 4-hour, 3-minute game in 100-plus degree heat needed to keep up its energy level.
"No question, you're already a little bit low and then you're standing around out there on defense, it doesn't help," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said.
Speed kills: After a 13-pitch at-bat to lead off the first, Cesar Hernandez ripped a ball into the right-center gap. As Gerardo Parra scrambled to field it, Hernandez was wheeling around the bases and landed on third for his MLB-leading ninth triple of the season. Odubel Herrera poked a fastball into left the next play, scoring Hernandez to give the Phillies an early 1-0 lead, and followed it by swiping his 19th bag of the season. Hernandez matched Herrera on the bases the next inning, stealing his 12th base after an eight-pitch walk.
Gray days: In his first four starts out of the All-Star break, Gray compiled a 0.69 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings. But his last two have been rocky. Against the Marlins on Sunday, he gave up four first-inning runs, and when he had a chance to keep the team in the game, he gave up four more and was removed after 3 2/3. Friday, Gray gave up three runs (two earned) the first two innings. But it was Howard's slam on the right-hander's 111th pitch with one down in the fifth that was the difference between a nice recovery and another messy final line.
Gray said the 95.2 mph fastball to Howard was poorly located.
"If I wanted to throw a fastball to him, it should've been up," Gray said. "It was in, but down, and it should've been in but up. I probably shouldn't have thrown a fastball anyway. I tried to go in there once. It wasn't smart for me."
No. 44 fans four: David Dahl led off the second inning by reaching first. To extend his career-opening hit streak to an MLB record 18 games? No, he struck out on a curveball in the dirt that got past Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp and hustled to first. But he would be a part of another feat. Parra and Nick Hundley reached, driving Dahl home. But they were followed by back-to-back-to-back strikeouts, giving Thompson four in the frame. He became the second Phillie in history to accomplish one of baseball's best oddities: a 4-K inning. The last Phillies pitcher to accomplish the feat was Doc White, who whiffed four Brooklyn Dodgers in the fifth inning on July 21, 1902.
Win or lose, Blackmon on fire: Since June 20, Blackmon has hit safely in 41 of 48 games. In his last eight, Blackmon is hitting .576 (19-for-33) with six home runs, two doubles, a triple and 11 RBIs.
"He's in some kind of zone, playing really well, and he goes to the post every day," Weiss said.
Hernandez had plate appearances of 13, eight and 13 pitches against Gray. He tripled, walked and struck out in those and saw 34 of Gray's 111 pitches (30.6 percent).
The Rockies hoped to erase a baserunner and possibly make the fifth easier on Gray when they challenged a safe call at second base on Maikel Franco's fielder's choice grounder with one out. But after 2 minutes, 25 seconds, the replay official ruled that there was no angle that showed definitively that shortstop Daniel Descalso's right foot was on second base when he received DJ LeMahieu's throw in an atempt to retire Aaron Altherr. The call stood, Gray faced Howard with nowhere to put him, and Howard smashed the Rockies -- again.
Rockies: Left-hander Tyler Anderson (4-3, 3.04 ERA), who has the lowest ERA through his first 11 starts of any pitcher in franchise history, will start Saturday night against the Phillies at 5:05 p.m. MT. On July 9, Anderson held the Phillies to two runs in six innings and homered, while also earning his first win.
Phillies: Jerad Eickhoff (7-12, 3.78 ERA) looks to avenge his last start against the Rockies on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. ET. In his first meeting vs. Colorado at Coors Field, the Rockies put up a six-spot in the sixth, en route to a season-high eight runs allowed by Eickhoff in 5 1/3 innings.

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