"This one is kind of a tough one," Ryan Howard said following a 13-4 loss to the Kansas City Royals in the Phillies' home opener. "I know it's early, but it's tough. You don't want to lose your opener like that."
The loss followed a familiar script. Too many times in 2012 the Phillies scored early before the offense crawled into a deep hibernation. Too many times the bullpen turned a close game into an absolute laugher. Efforts like that put the Phillies 12 games below .500 before the July 31 Trade Deadline, when they sent Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence and Joe Blanton packing and started to build toward 2013.
Continued efforts like this could put them in a similar position this July. The loss has them 1-3 entering Saturday.
"To open the season like that, I don't like it and I don't think anybody likes it," manager Charlie Manuel said. "I don't know what you're going to do about it, except come out tomorrow and play as hard as you can and try to get better every day we play. I like our ballclub. Today is one day. But we have to improve on how we played today, for sure."
The Phillies built a 4-0 lead in the third inning behind a strong effort from Kyle Kendrick. Then everything fell apart.
Kendrick retired 13 of 16 batters before he found trouble in the fifth. The Royals scored twice to cut the Phillies' lead to 4-2. Then Kansas City put runners on second and third with two outs in the sixth. Kendrick intentionally walked Royals pinch-hitter Billy Butler to load the bases.
Manuel brought in left-hander Jeremy Horst to face left-handed hitter Alex Gordon. Horst served up a 1-1 fastball that Gordon ripped to right-center field for a bases-clearing triple that gave Kansas City a 5-4 lead.
"I'm not going to knock Charlie's decision at all, but I wanted to stay in the game," Kendrick said. "I'm a competitor. I want to stay in, but it's not my decision. It's his decision. I respect it. But any starter, I wouldn't say they would want to come out of the game. I felt fine."
Phillies starters not named Cliff Lee have a 9.64 ERA (15 earned runs in 14 innings) through four games, but there is plenty of blame to go around. The bullpen faltered terribly on Friday. Horst put the first three batters on base in the seventh as the Royals extended their lead. Chad Durbin replaced Horst, but Chris Getz tripled to left to clear the bases and make it 9-4. Getz got a gift from left-fielder Domonic Brown, who tried to make a diving catch only to come up short, which allowed the ball to reach the wall.
"It's a play where you can't let the ball get behind you," said Manuel, who has had concerns about his corner-outfield defense since last season. "Once the ball gets behind you, the game is just about over."
"It comes down to making a pitch," Durbin said. "A sacrifice play or a double play and a punchout, and it's one run and the momentum shifts back in our favor. You give them that kind of momentum and you saw what happened the next couple of innings."
The bullpen allowed eight earned runs in just 3 1/3 innings.
But even if the 'pen had kept Kansas City's lead to one or two runs, it would not have mattered. The Phillies had no hits following Michael Young's one-out single in the third. They had just one baserunner, when John Mayberry Jr. walked with one out in the seventh.
"We've got to be able to finish teams off," Howard said. "You can't let off the gas. I don't want to say we let off the gas. Those guys just came back swinging, and sometimes that happens in baseball. We got beat today."
The Phillies have not allowed more than 13 runs in a home opener since 1932, when they lost 14-5 to the New York Giants at Baker Bowl. It was their most lopsided loss in a home opener since 1990, when they lost 11-0 to the St. Louis Cardinals at Veterans Stadium.
"Not worried at all," Kendrick said of the 1-3 start. "We let one get away from us today. I wouldn't say worried. It's early. Obviously, we've got to play better. Flat-out, we've got to play better."