PHILADELPHIA -- It was not until Colorado forgot how to catch a baseball when the path toward a Phillies victory emerged Wednesday night. The home team, playing in a near-empty Citizens Bank Park, stared at another lifeless defeat. Then the Rockies dropped two balls.
Chase Utley tied the game, and Ryan Howard provided the exclamation point. He smashed a Boone Logan fastball deep to center for a three-run homer and a 6-3 Phillies win. Colorado centerfielder Drew Stubbs just watched the ball fly deep into the chilly night.
Howard clubbed his fifth walk-off homer and first since 2010. The few fans who remained at the end of a 3-hour, 46-minute marathon jumped to celebrate. A.J. Burnett hit Howard with a pie. For once, there was some excitement.
The Rockies helped it happen in the ninth. Second baseman Josh Rutledge misfired to first on a routine one-out grounder hit by Tony Gwynn Jr. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki dropped a Jimmy Rollins foul pop, although Rollins soon flied to left.
Colorado manager Walt Weiss yanked his closer, LaTroy Hawkins, when Utley strode to the plate. Weiss wanted Logan, the lefthander who allowed Ben Revere's first homer Tuesday, to oppose Utley with the tying run at second. Utley worked a 3-0 count, smashed a fastball foul, and roped a single to right to tie it.
The ninth-inning magic atoned for Jake Diekman's mistake in the eighth. Rockies infielder D.J. LeMahieu smashed a Diekman slider for his first homer (and fifth in four years) to push Colorado ahead.
There was light, especially when Mike Adams inherited the bases loaded and retired pinch-hitters Carlos Gonzalez and Tulowitzki -- two of baseball's best, receiving some rest -- to atone for Antonio Bastardo's seventh-inning wildness.
Gonzalez tapped into a 1-2-3 double play. Adams yelled and pointed one finger at first baseman Ryan Howard to signal, "One more." Tulowitzki struck out on a curveball, and Howard leaped. The dugout converged around Adams to celebrate the 35-year-old righthander's work, still less than a year removed from major shoulder surgery.
Then Diekman, one of the league's top strikeout relievers, entered to challenge the top of Colorado's lineup. That meant two lefties with LeMahieu, a righty, in between.
Diekman has permitted four homers in 2014, three of which were hit by righties. All three were hit on sliders, a pitch that is devastating to lefthanded hitters but not as effective against the opposite hand. LeMahieu whiffed at a slider to even the count at 2-2. He took a 97-mph fastball for ball three and fouled two 98-mph fastballs. The next pitch, a slider, landed in blue seats.
Adams is Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg's lone trusted option for righthanded setup relief. That means more righties for Diekman, who is best against lefties. His OPS vs. lefties (.324) was 500 points lower than against righties (.824) before Wednesday.
Bastardo's recent follies complicate things. He became the first Phillies pitcher since Bruce Ruffin in 1989 to walk four hitters in a five-batter appearance. Bastardo has 18 walks in 23 innings, which nears his total of 21 in 422/3 innings last season.
That volatility, in part, is why Diekman vaulted Bastardo on the bullpen depth chart. But Bastardo, when right, is a more ideal eighth-inning pitcher because his splits against righties and lefties are less pronounced. His career OPS against lefties (.645) was just three points lower than vs. righties (.648) before Wednesday.
Roberto Hernandez pitched like a fifth starter for 52/3 innings. His foil, Justin Morneau, crushed a first-pitch change-up in the first inning for a double. Then he jumped a first-pitch fastball in the third for a solo homer. Morneau entered Wednesday a career 10 for 33 hitter against Hernandez with three homers and two doubles.
Hernandez, somehow, minimized the damage. He walked five; one of them scored. Colorado stranded two runners in the first inning and three more in the second. The first two Rockies reached in the fifth but never advanced.
In the sixth, when Morneau stepped to the plate for a fourth time, Hernandez's night ended. That is when Bastardo's walk parade commenced.
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