April 17, 2005

Utley saves it as Lieber improves to 3-0

Jon Lieber won a masterful pitchers duel with John Smoltz, but got big help from second baseman Chase Utley as the Phillies beat the Braves 2-1 yesterday.

Utley drove in the go-ahead run with a two out single in the sixth inning off Smoltz (0-3), but more importantly, snared a line drive in the ninth with men on third and second to preserve the win for Lieber (3-0) and a shaky save for Billy Wagner, his second.

Lieber was thrifty with his pitches, throwing just 75 over eight innings. He threw three, one-two-three innings, including the eighth.

Then Manuel handed the ball to Wagner to close it out, and it became an adventure. He gave up a lead-off single to Chipper Jones, then got Andruw Jones and Johnny Estrada to fly out on very deep, pulse-pounding fly balls. Ageless wonder Julio Franco got a pinch single, and a wild pitch moved Jones and Franco to third and second. Brian Jordan’s line drive was snagged by Utley to end the game.

Jimmy Rollins got the Phillies on the board in the sixth with a leadoff home run, his first of the season.

Ace Jon Lieber
Just a fantastic game featuring two great pitchers I love to watch. Lieber is fast becoming a favorite – what a professional. Not only has he been efficient in every start, he’s gotten better and gone deeper in each outing. When Wagner got into trouble, he calmly sat there, gave a little clap of encouragement, and when the game finally ended, there was no big celebration, only a small smile to acknowledge that the job was complete.

Head to head, he’s now beaten Livan Hernandez, Chris Carpenter and John Smoltz, opening-day pitchers for each of their respective clubs.

If it wasn’t clear before, it should be clear now: the Phillies can win any game Lieber pitches.

Free Tank?
Just about everyone, including myself, is signing a petition to free Chase Utley. But what about Todd Pratt?

Pratt has been behind the plate for two games this year, both wins that featured perhaps the best pitching performances of the season: Gavin Floyd’s first game, and Lieber’s game yesterday.

I didn’t get to see Friday’s game, but why didn’t Pratt catch Floyd? They seemed to have great chemistry in Floyd’s first game, and the broadcasters seemed to like the idea of making Pratt his personal catcher.

It’s also worth mentioning Pratt’s great game throwing out baserunners yesterday, including Rafael Furcal. His throws were dead on.

Billy Wagner looks hittable
Maybe when the weather warms up a bit it will be easier for Wagner to unload, but 96-mph fastballs over the middle of the plate aren’t going to intimidate the right-handers at the heart of the Braves order.

David Bell needs a day off
Charlie Manuel needs to give third baseman David Bell a day or two off. Bell went 0-3 yesterday, including two soft grounders, lowering his season totals to a meager .163 BA, .234 OBP, .186 SLG.

Manuel has started Bell in every game this season, and it’s time to give Tomas Perez or Placido Polanco a day over there.

Totally awesome site maintenance
You’ll notice a link to all the Phillies stats at the top of BPF. This is for my benefit and yours as you make comments and want to doublecheck the numbers.

In newspapers, they say it’s best to get the important stuff above the fold, and already, I’ve used those links about a dozen times just to write this post.

I chose Yahoo Sports for several reasons: It’s quick, has the important stats and schedules all in one spot, features the friendliest design, and never gives me technical problems the way ESPN or CNNSI do. Plus, it has a built-in headline feed for recent articles the player appeared. I’m a big fan of Yahoo Sports.


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