Originally posted on Phillies Nation  |  Last updated 6/27/12

Chase Utley with shades of Joe Dimaggio in 1949, homering in his first at-bat of the season following an injury. (AP)

Not even the return of Chase Utley could save the Phillies tonight, as the team fell to the Pirates 11-7 behind a hapless effort from the bullpen–a unit which has been the Achilles heel all season.

CHASE RETURNS IN STYLE

-Two out, nobody on, 2-2 count. Chase Utley stands in the box for his first at-bat of the 2012 season. Moments before, he came to the plate to a loud ovation. James McDonald stares in for the sign. The battery mates agree on a curve ball. McDonald unleashes the hook, and it loops towards the plate. Off his shoulder, Utley’s bat moves effortlessly through the zone with the swiftness of a mongoose. Like a pendulum on its upswing, the barrel of the bat strikes the quickly dropping curve, launching it deep into the Philadelphia night. The ball would land on the other side of the right field fence, and the crowd would erupt in exultation.  In one fell swoop, Utley had announced his return to the Phillies lineup. Screen writers dream of  plots with this much electricity.

- Utley finished up the night going 3-for-5. His three hits included the homer and an infield single. He also put a two good charges into balls, lining both deep to center for outs. These were all encouraging signs. Utley showed power and speed, which suggests his legs feel just fine. At least for now.

CHOOOOOOOOOCH!

- Not to be outdone by the first inning heroics of his teammate playing second, Carlos Ruiz would follow up Utley’s home run with a bomb of his own to give the Phillies a 2-0 lead.  The solo shot was a good reminder to everyone of just what Ruiz has been doing all season long. The fact that he likely won’t start in the All Star game is a crime.

- Following the back-to-back home runs, the Bank was buzzing, and it briefly felt like the Phillies of the last five years could be on their way back. That feeling was fleeting.

THE DREADED BULLPEN GAME

-The euphoria of Utley and Ruiz’s back-to-back home runs was powerful, but short-lived. In desperate need for a shutdown inning to capitalize on a ton of momentum, Raul Valdes did just the opposite, allowing a go-ahead, three-run home run to Mike McKenry with two outs and the pitcher on deck. With a base open, there’s no way you want to make a mistake in that spot.  It would be downhill from there. As quickly as the Phils had taken the lead, the Pirates had taken it back, and the realization that the bullpen would likely make this game difficult to win set in.

- Here the breakdown:

  • Raul Valdes, 2.0 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 K
  • Joe Savery, 2.2 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 2 K
  • Michael Schwimer, 1.3 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, o BB, 3 K
  • Jake Diekman, 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2K
  • Chad Qualls,  1.0 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 0 K
  • Antonio Bastardo, 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K

- You look at those stats, and you can’t help but question just what Phillies management was thinking allowing the bullpen to take this game. This is a unit that came into the night with a 4.46 ERA. That’s 24th in baseball. They’ve been that bad, and they’ve thrown the second fewest innings  in baseball (189.2). They stink when they’re not even overworked. How can you justify trusting them with nine innings? The answer is simple: You can’t. The effort also magnified the Phillies’ need to add an arm out there if they’re going to compete.

THE COMEBACK THAT ALMOST WAS

- Down 8-2 with a bullpen rapidly leaking oil, the Phillies looked cooked. Earlier in the season, when the Phillies got down in a game, they seemed certain to lose. But tonight took on a different feel. There has been discussion about the intangibles Utley brings to the lineup–the leadership and presence he exudes are qualities that are second to none. For the first time in a long time, the Phils had some fight in them. The offense seemed calm and collected as they slowly chipped away, getting the Pirates’ lead down to 8-7 with two on and nobody out in the seventh. Consecutive strikeouts by Pence, Victorino, and Thome would end the threat. The comeback fell short, but I found myself believing it was possible. That’s something that hasn’t happened much this season. It wouldn’t matter because Qualls gave up three runs in the eighth.

THE BRIGHT SIDE

- Sure, the bullpen got roughed up, but the offense showed tenacity and moxie in Utley’s first game back. They showed fight for the first time this season. If the Phillies have a starting pitcher for this game, they probably win it and are looking at a potential sweep of the second place Pirates.

NOTES

-The good news keeps rolling in for the Phillies as the team announced Ryan Howard will begin a rehab assignment in Lakewood tomorrow. He’ll DH.

-The Phils go for the series victory tomorrow when Kyle Kendrick takes the mound. Hey, at least it’s a starter.

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