PHILADELPHIA – Chase Utley ran and hit Friday afternoon as if it were 2008 or 2009 and the Phillies were World Series contenders.
Philadelphia pitchers made sure everybody knew it’s 2013.
The Phillies squandered a four-run lead and lost their home opener 13-4 to the Kansas City Royals before 45,307 fans at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies missed the playoffs in 2012 for the first time in five years, and with three losses in their first four games this season they have done nothing to dispel the notion that they are a team in decline.
“This is kind of a tough one,” first baseman Ryan Howard said. “I know it’s early (in the season), but this is tough. You don’t want to lose the (home) opener like that. We let it go.”
The Royals pounded Philadelphia pitchers for 13 runs and 17 hits over the final five innings. Meanwhile, the Phillies did not score or a have a hit after the third inning.
“It got really ugly and out of hand,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “Nobody likes to open the season like that. But I don’t know what you’re going to do about it except come out here (today) and play as hard as you can. I like our ballclub, but we need to improve on how we played (Friday).”
Phillies relievers Jeremy Horst and Chad Durbin combined to allow four runs and four hits in 11/3 innings. Horst and Durbin pitched well compared to Raul Valdes, who allowed seven hits and four runs in two innings.
Both Durbin and Horst entered the game with the bases loaded. Horst gave up a triple to his first batter, Alex Gordon. Durbin yielded a sacrifice fly to his first hitter. But Durbin walked the next hitter and then gave up a three-run triple to Chris Getz.
“It comes down to making a pitch,” Durbin said. “If you get a sacrifice fly and a double play or a punchout and a pop-up, it’s one run and the momentum shifts back in our favor. You give a team that kind of momentum and you saw what happened.”
Philadelphia starter Kyle Kendrick wasn’t much better than the bullpen. He allowed eight hits and five runs in 52/3 innings.
The mood seemed much brighter earlier in the game.
The Phillies led 4-0 after four innings.
Jimmy Rollins, Utley and Howard produced a run in the first inning with consecutive singles. Domonic Brown and Erik Kratz each hit a solo home run in the second. Utley doubled, stole third and scored on Howard’s single in the third inning.
The storyline appeared set: Howard and Utley, who missed last season’s home opener with injuries, are back and healthy and ready to lead Philadelphia back to the playoffs.
It was not to be.
Kendrick’s effort was particularly disappointing. He pitched well the second half of last season with a 9-4 record and a 2.18 ERA after the All-Star break. There was hope that with ace Roy Halladay struggling, Kendrick could develop into a top-of-the-rotation starter.
But Kendrick looked like the part-time starter he’s been for much of his career.
Kendrick left the game with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the sixth. The Phillies led 4-2. Manuel brought the left-handed Horst in to pitch to the left-handed Gordon.
Kendrick made it clear he wanted to stay in the game.
“He (Manuel) wanted the lefty on lefty,” Kendrick said. “It’s not my place to criticize the decision.”
Kendrick’s case for staying in the game would have had a lot more credibility if he had not given up six hits and an intentional walk to the 12 hitters he faced before Manuel pulled him.
The bullpen hasn’t been the Phillies’ only problem this season. No starter other than Cliff Lee has gone past the sixth inning.
The outfield defense in right and left field has been poor. Right fielder Laynce Nix has a weak arm and bobbled the ball on Gordon’s triple. Left fielder Brown dove for the ball on Getz’s triple. He missed it and could only watch as it rolled to the fence. The three-run triple gave the Royals a 9-4, seventh-inning lead.
“(Brown) can’t let that ball get behind him,” Manuel said. “Once he lets that ball get behind him, the game is about over.”
Utley finished 2-for-4. He continues to be one of the few positives for Phillies fans to latch onto.
After missing much of the past three seasons, he is batting .467 (7-for-15). He hasn’t looked this good since he played 156 games and hit 31 home runs in 2009.
But as the Royals circled the bases in the late innings and the crowd headed for the exits, a healthy Utley seemed like a small consolation for fans.
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