PHILADELPHIA -- The Millville (N.J.) High marching band will provide the sound track before Tuesday's game at Citizens Bank Park, the first of 16 in a 19-game stretch for the Phillies. Thousands from Mike Trout's South Jersey birthplace will flock to celebrate a homecoming.
"He's one of the freaks of the game," said Phillies reliever Mike Adams, issuing one of the highest compliments a baseball player can lend to another.
There could be a few Phillies fans to extend a warm greeting. Trout, who was one of them as a kid, cannot sign with another team until after the 2020 season. A little politicking never hurt; Mike Santiago, Millville's mayor, will throw out the first pitch.
The immediate future -- not a dream of No. 27 in red pinstripes -- is most pressing for these Phillies. They are 7-9 since April 23, the day Cole Hamels returned to the rotation and made a healthy roster whole. Injuries, eventually, will come. Until then, the Phillies must disprove their mediocrity.
That is what made Sunday's 5-4 loss in 11 innings to New York most concerning. The bullpen squandered a three-run lead. Jonathan Papelbon, the team's $50 million closer, complained of general soreness.
The Phillies and Mets dueled for 12 hours, 17 minutes over the weekend; the results said the Phillies were one run better than New York, a most flawed team. A sweep would have masked the ugliness.
"It would've ended a tough start of a road trip and ended on a great note," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "With the three-run lead, it was a tough pill to swallow. The guys battled the whole series and they battled again (Sunday)."
The Phillies will face tougher challenges. Los Angeles and Cincinnati are two talented rosters that have underperformed. A trip to Miami to face the majors' best home team precedes another long homestand with the Dodgers, Rockies and Mets.
Sandberg has not yet been forced to mix and match his lineup because of injury. Still, the Phillies were outscored by 30 runs over their first 36 games.
"If we can get everyone going at the same time," Ryan Howard said, "it would be a force to be reckoned with."
Howard and his veteran teammates have produced their share. The team's top five players in OPS are Chase Utley (.945), Marlon Byrd (.865), Carlos Ruiz (.813), Jimmy Rollins (.811) and Howard (.782). The National League average is .701. The Phillies have lacked everywhere else -- most notably, in the bullpen and two-thirds of the outfield.
Domonic Brown's .571 OPS ranked 168th among 179 qualified hitters after the weekend. He altered his approach in Sunday's loss, which resulted in an 0-for-5 afternoon. Brown grounded out five times -- four to the right side -- and hit into two double plays. The lefthanded hitter has not rediscovered his power stroke. Most of his hits in 2014 are to the opposite field.
The Angels will start Matt Shoemaker, a 27-year-old righthander who has pitched in four major-league games, on Tuesday. He began the season in Los Angeles' bullpen but was demoted to be a starter at triple-A Salt Lake. He posted a 6.31 ERA in five minor-league starts.
He will oppose Cliff Lee. That sort of mismatch is the kind the healthy Phillies must exploit. They will, at least, have their first live look at Trout.
"We're all fans of each other," Howard said. "All we've been able to do is hear about him because we never play against them. ... The way he's handled himself with all the attention and the hype, just the way he's carried himself, it's impressive. I'm not one to throw the age thing around, but for being so young, he's handled everything like a true veteran with a lot of maturity."
Trout enters the game batting .273 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs.
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