PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies converged at the mound in the seventh inning of a 4-3 loss Tuesday night, and Cody Asche was the loneliest man inside Citizens Bank Park. Mike Trout, the superstar an entire South Jersey town came to ogle, chopped a grounder at Asche. The 23-year-old third baseman backpedaled and lunged for the ball, which trickled past him.
Now Asche stood on the slope of the mound, a few steps away from his teammates. Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure motivated Cliff Lee, pushed to the brink because of Asche's sloppy fielding.
It was a cringe-worthy moment for Asche, who committed three errors in the span of eight Angels batters. His mistakes led to four Los Angeles runs in the sixth. Lee pitched around further trouble in the seventh. He departed with no earned runs but an abundance of emptiness.
The Phillies are three games under .500, tying their low point of this young season. They are 7-10 since April 23, the night Cole Hamels returned to the rotation and made a $189 million roster whole.
They need results with a healthy team, and they must arrive soon.
Manager Ryne Sandberg began a weekend series in New York with a team meeting. He stressed fundamentals, which he believes are the difference between a winning and a losing team. The margin for error, even with a massive payroll, is thin for these Phillies.
Asche participates in more pregame fielding drills than any other player. Bench coach Larry Bowa attached himself to Asche soon after spring training started, and the 23-year-old third baseman embraced the extra work. He committed few egregious errors during a 50-game tryout in 2013.
But he has failed this season, on numerous occasions, to convert routine grounders into outs. It forced Sandberg to bench Asche for a period in April. On Tuesday, Asche became the first Phillies third baseman with three errors in a game since David Bell in 2005. A cruel nightmare unfolded in the sixth.
Albert Pujols bounced one to Asche's left. He met the ball, but it skipped right past him. That put runners at the corners. Howie Kendrick worked a six-pitch walk. Lee jumped ahead of Chris Iannetta with two strikes. He threw a high curveball that Iannetta tapped to third.
A leaping Asche snared it. But his throw home bounced once and pulled Carlos Ruiz's left foot off the plate. Sandberg challenged the call, which was upheld by a 1-minute, 35-second replay review.
The misery worsened. A Grant Green sacrifice fly tied the game. Luis Jimenez, playing in his third game this season, took three balls from Lee. Angels manager Mike Scioscia afforded his third baseman the green light. He pelted a two-run double past a diving Asche and into the left-field corner. Iannetta, the catcher, scored standing up from first base on a double.
Lee completed seven innings. He was the first Phillies starter to allow four or more runs but none earned since Bruce Chen in 2001.
The largest home crowd since the opener came to watch Trout. The Phillies were most excited to see Matt Shoemaker, a 27-year-old righthander who was promoted to the majors despite a 6.31 ERA at triple-A Salt Lake. He retired the first nine batters he faced Tuesday on a mere 22 pitches.
The Phillies exercised patience in the fourth. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, once again, ignited a rally. Utley tripled to right to score Ben Revere. It marked his third triple, which leads the National League. So do his 15 doubles. Utley is slugging .559 in 2014; his slugging percentage was .446 from 2010-13. Howard scored him with a single.
A 2-0 lead with Lee throwing once felt invincible. The Phillies, though, have held leads in 26 of their 37 games this season. They have 17 wins to show for it. Asche assumed the blame for this particular failure.
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