04/06/09 12:10 AM ET
Homers sink Myers, Phils in opener
Righty gives up three dingers; offense stifled by Braves
By Todd Zolecki / MLB.com
It seemed especially true Sunday night at Citizens Bank Park, where the Braves beat the Phillies in the most highly anticipated season opener in recent memory, 4-1.
The Phils literally rolled out the red carpet in an elaborate pregame ceremony to honor the 2008 World Series champions. Manager Charlie Manuel hoisted the 2008 championship flag in center field. Miss America sang the national anthem. The U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Parachute team parachuted into the ballpark (one missed his target and landed outside the ballpark, but is OK).
Then Phillies right-hander Brett Myers made three costly mistakes, while Braves right-hander Derek Lowe looked as sharp as he has ever looked.
Disappointment for fans, but a reminder for a little perspective from players.
"Oh my goodness," Jimmy Rollins said. "I am heartbroken that we lost a game."
"As long as we win the next two," Rollins said. "Especially Wednesday. That's the one we definitely need to win, no doubt about that. [World Series championship] ring day."
Shane Victorino agreed.
"We've been here," he said, referring to the fact the Phillies haven't won a season opener since 2005. "It's Game 1. Geez, we've got 161 left."
Myers started his third consecutive season opener, but not by design. Left-hander Cole Hamels, who earned World Series and National League Championship Series MVP honors last October, earned the nod before Spring Training started in February, but had to be pushed back to Friday's game in Colorado after he missed time last month recovering from inflammation in his left elbow.
Myers retired the first two batters he faced in the first inning, but threw a 3-2 changeup to Chipper Jones, which he hit to left-center field for a single. He then threw a 2-0 changeup to Brian McCann, who crushed the pitch Matt Stairs-style into right field for a two-run home run to make it 2-0.
It got worse for Myers. He threw a first-pitch fastball to Jeff Francoeur to lead off the second inning, which the Atlanta right fielder hit for a homer to left. Two batters later, Myers threw a 3-1 fastball to Jordan Schafer, which he smacked to center field for a solo homer to make it 4-0. It was Schafer's first plate appearance in the big leagues.
Fans booed Myers after the homer to Schafer.
"It's Philly, man," he said. "I'm used to it."
Myers allowed four hits in the final four innings he pitched, but the damage had been done. Lowe had plenty of cushioning with the way he was throwing. He allowed two hits in eight scoreless innings. He struck out four and got 13 groundouts.
He pitched superbly.
What made him so good Sunday night?
"I wouldn't say just tonight," Victorino said. "He's tough a lot of times."
"He's the same Derek Lowe," Rollins said. "Sinkers, sliders, ball movement all over the place. Not really giving you anything good to hit. We just have to change our approach against him. He's had success against us. There's no secret there. We'll get him a lot more and we'll be able to figure him out."
The Phillies threatened in the ninth inning with Braves closer Mike Gonzalez on the mound. Eric Bruntlett hit a pinch-hit double to lead off the inning. He scored on Jayson Werth's one-out single to left. Chase Utley walked to send Ryan Howard to the plate as the tying run.
But Howard struck out looking and Raul Ibanez struck out swinging to end the game.
Manuel said afterward he had some concerns that the pregame festivities could have some effect on his players.
"I complain about that a lot," he said. "You've got to stay focused. Anytime that you get away from the real reason that we're there ... I don't know how much it hurt. I can tell you that it did, but I don't know. I could tell you that I don't like it. I could tell you that, but that's part of the game, too."
The players said the festivities didn't affect them too much.
"It didn't take away from the game at all, but you don't get to do some of the work that you normally do to prepare for a game," Rollins said. "After batting practice, you go over your pitchers and pitchers do what they do. Then you've got to jump out of the shower and run out to center field [for the ceremony]. That's normally when we'd be getting in our extra swings. But we've done it for years. It's something that comes with the territory."
It is likely Lowe's sinker had a greater impact on the game's result.
The good news for the Phillies is that Tuesday night's game should be back to more of the normal routine. Of course, Wednesday afternoon is the ring ceremony, but they will happily deal with that.
"It's one game," Howard said. "Obviously, it's the opener, and a little bit more is made of the opener. But it's one game. We get to come back and play 161 more."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.