For a team that had won its previous seven games and was facing a pretty tough pitcher, the Phillies had a surprisingly bitter vibe flowing through the clubhouse after a 4-2 loss to the Mariners Friday night.
I'm guessing it had something to do with Doug Eddings strike zone, which did not appear to be the most consistent piece of open space in the Pacific Northwest (I'm guessing because few of the key players were interested in speaking to the media). In the sixth inning, normally mild-mannered third baseman Placido Polanco got into a heated confrontation with Eddings after he was called out on a check swing. The root of the dispute probably lay in a called first strike that appeared to be well up and out of the zone. The bases were loaded at the time. At point point during the confrontation, Polanco pointed his finger in Eddings face. Shane Victorino dashed in to separate the two, probably saving Polanco from an ejection.
There were other pivotal moments that could have at least prolonged defeat, if not avoided it. In the fifth inning Chase Utley chased down a pop fly from Justin Smoak in foul territory in shallow right field. But the time it took him to turn around and throw home was enough for Ichiro Suzuki to score from third base. Right fielder Domonic Brown was in the vicinity of the play.
Manager Charlie Manuel had not seen a replay when he spoke to the media. In that situation, the right fielder is supposed to call off the second baseman if he has a play on the ball.
"The guy probably gained at least a step-and-a-half, two steps on the run to the plate," Manuel said of Suzuki, who slid home ahead of Utley's throw.
Suzuki scored three of the Mariners' four runs.
"You've got to keep him off the bases," Manuel said. "We weren't able to do that."
In the past, though, Oswalt has been able to strike batters and limit the damage of men on base. Last season, he averaged a strikeout every 3.72 at-bats with runners in scoring position. This year, he has recorded just nine strikeouts in 60 at-bats with RISP, an average of one every 6.67 at-bats. That's probably the result of a fastball that has consistenly sat a couple miles per hour slower than usual. Oswalt uses his fastball more than anybody else on the pitching staff. It's a strikeout pitch for him. So while he has been generally effective since returning from the disabled list, he hasn't been the same dominant pitcher the Phillies saw at the end of last season, when he was able to get out of jams like the ones he faced on Friday night.
Asked if Oswalt is a different pitcher now than he was last year, Manuel said, "I think about that sometimes, but I don't really think so. I think you'll see him come out pretty soon and his fastball will be back where it was. There comes a time when your fastball, not all of it is there. It's just kind of how your arm feels and how you are throwing at the time. Kind of like a hitter not hitting. I think it's just a matter of time before you see his fastball jump up."
Oswalt has consistently brushed off talk about his decreased strikeout total and seemingly less effective fastball.
"I felt pretty good early," Oswalt said. "I was throwing the normal speed I always throw. Just left the ball over the plate (on a home run to Miguel) Olivo. Thought I had (Justin) Smoak popped up on the infield, went a little further than I thought it was going to go (on the sacrifice fly). Other than that, not too bad."