It was only a matter of time until Dom Brown got a hold of one, manager Ryne Sandberg said before Monday night’s series opener against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park.
Whether Sandberg had a premonition or some sort of sixth sense, he could tell Brown was about to do something. His swing was there and the way the ball was bouncing off Brown’s bat in BP was telling, Sandberg offered.
It was simply a matter of getting the right pitch.
“His pop is there, he shows it all the time in batting practice,” Sandberg said. “I think he’s adjusting to pitching. I think right now he’s taking what is given to him.”
In the eighth inning with two on, one out and the Phillies trailing by two runs, Brown took what was offered to him from lefty Luis Avilan and ripped it into the seats in right field. The blast gave the Phillies a one-run lead and seemed to put the exclamation point on the end of an improbable comeback against a division rival.
For Brown, the timing was impeccable. If he was waiting for the right moment to hit his first home run since Aug. 14 in Atlanta, he could not have done better.
After all, the Phillies went into the eighth inning trailing by four runs after reliever B.J. Rosenberg became the first pitcher in at least 100 years to face three batters and allow three homers. When the top of the eighth ended and many of the fans cleared out thinking it was all but over, the Phillies pecked away.
Tony Gwynn Jr. opened the eighth with a six-pitch walk, followed by back-to-back singles from Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. For Utley the single gave him a fifth straight multi-hit game and brought up the heart of the order with no outs.
Were the Phillies really going to rally from four runs down in the eighth?
“For a fan it’s got to be a great game to watch, entertainment-wise,” said Marlon Byrd, who followed Ryan Howard’s bases-loaded strikeout with a two-run single to right.
Brown saw two pitches. Neither made it across the plate. Better yet, with five runs over a span of three pitches, the resiliency of the Phillies’ offense was impressive. Last year, the Phillies never would have made it close. They batted just .232 when trailing after seven innings in 2013 and .235 in the eighth and ninth innings all season.
Headed into Monday’s game, the Phillies were hitting .304 when trailing after seven innings.
“We showed a lot of character with five runs in the bottom of the eighth,” Sandberg said.
The range of emotions must have felt like a rollercoaster ride. Leading by a run for six innings after Howard’s third homer of the season and second in as many days, the Phillies gave up the lead on Evan Gattis’ two-run railing scraper to right. Gattis, Dan Uggla and Andrelton Simmons hit three straight solo shots off Rosenberg to seemingly seal the Phils’ fate.
But after the eighth-inning rally, the Phillies had no more miracles for the ninth. They were already spent after Uggla’s grand slam off Jake Diekman in the ninth (see game recap).
“That’s part of the game. We’re just fighting and battling and trying to do as best as we possibly can,” Brown said. “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.”
Then again, so did the Phillies. After 13 games they lead the league in on-base percentage and are second in batting average. At 6-7 the problem is they aren’t very good in games in which the pitching allows nine walks and five homers.
“We came out on the losing end, but that was a hell of a game,” Byrd said. “That’s what the fans come for, that excitement to go back and forth like that with nobody giving in. You have to tip your cap
“We’ve got to figure out a way to bounce back and make sure this doesn’t snowball and turn into something bad.”
Last season the Cardinals finished second in the league in batting and first in on-base percentage. They ended up going to the World Series with a bullpen that had the eighth-best ERA (3.45) in the National League.
If there was ever a blueprint for the Phillies, the 2013 Cardinals isn’t a bad place to start.