Those weren’t boos coming off Ryan Braun’s bat.
They were booms.
Braun put on a one-man show in ruining the Phillies’ home opener Tuesday. He belted three home runs, had seven RBIs and made the defensive play of the game in lifting the Milwaukee Brewers to a 10-4 win at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay).
“We didn’t have an answer for him,” Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said after Braun’s power display. “It was a heck of a game for him.”
Braun put together his big day with the sound of boos ringing in his ears. He is one of the new poster children of baseball’s PED era. He vehemently denied PED use after his National League MVP season of 2011 only to concede to wrongdoing and a 65-game suspension as part of last summer’s Biogenesis scandal.
Phillies fans were justifiably tough on Braun.
But he was tougher on the Phillies, running his career numbers against them to .392 (69 for 176) with 17 home runs and 37 RBIs (see story).
The Phillies, 3-4 after seven games, were also pretty tough on themselves in losing their second straight game.
They made three errors, failed to turn a double play, failed to get a bunt down and left 11 men on base.
“It was not a good way to have opening day,” Sandberg said. “We were sloppy.”
Sandberg is a very even-tempered guy who seldom shows outward frustration. But this loss, and particularly the Phillies’ sloppy play, had to eat him up inside. Playing the game right and playing it fundamentally sound has become his mantra, and the Phillies did not do that.
As a team, the Phillies really don’t have that one standout strength that can consistently equal wins. They have to play perfect fundamental baseball to win. That’s why Sandberg stressed fundamentals and had the team work on them all spring.
The dedication did not show in this game.
“That’s the game of baseball,” Ryan Howard said. “There’s going to be mistakes. We had been playing well. Today we made mistakes and they made us pay.”
Starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick too often missed with pitches up in the strike zone and was hit hard. Kendrick also failed to execute a sacrifice bunt.
In the field, Kendrick and third baseman Cody Asche both made errors in the third inning. The Brewers scored four times in that inning (three on Braun’s first homer) and two of the runs were unearned.
Even with Kendrick struggling, the Phillies managed to hang around. Asche’s single made it a 6-3 game in the fifth. The Phils left two runners on base in that inning when pinch-hitter John Mayberry Jr. struck out against Kyle Lohse to retire the side.
An inning later, the Phils cut the Brewers’ lead to 6-4 on a triple by Ben Revere and a single by Jimmy Rollins.
But in the top of the seventh, Revere dropped a two-out fly ball at the centerfield wall with a runner on first. That pushed the Brewers’ lead to three runs, and there was no coming back.
“That was a big run at that time,” Sandberg said.
Team officials were very concerned about this club’s outfield defense over the winter and in spring training. A week into the season, it remains a concern. Rightfielder Marlon Byrd has played well, but leftfielder Domonic Brown is still a question mark and Revere has made costly drops two games in a row.
“I felt the fence coming and took my eye off the ball,” Revere said of his drop on Mark Reynolds’ drive to the wall. “It went in and out of my glove.”
An inning after Revere’s drop, Braun hit his second three-run homer on a first-pitch breaking ball from reliever Brad Lincoln.
Braun, who has been bothered by a sore thumb, entered the game with just three hits and none for extra bases in the first five games. He got right against the Phillies.
“Braun had a great game,” Howard said. “When a guy catches fire like that, it’s tough."
Even before he unfurled his menacing right-handed bat, Braun helped to change the game with his glove when he saved one, maybe two, runs with a diving catch on Carlos Ruiz’s sinking line drive to right field in the second inning.
“That was a big momentum changer,” Sandberg said. “He kept a crooked number off the board.”
The Phillies are 3-8 in openers at Citizens Bank Park. This one drew an announced crowd of 45,061. It could be significantly smaller when Roberto Hernandez faces Matt Garza on Wednesday night. Garza is 2-1 with a 1.30 ERA in five career starts against the Phillies.
“It’s opening day and we lost,” Howard said. “All we can do is put this one in our back pocket and come back tomorrow.”
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Those weren’t boos coming off Ryan Braun’s bat.