READING-According to Reading Phillies manager P.J. Forbes, "We need a significant good stretch at home."
The R-Phils looked like they were heading in that direction when they re-turned to FirstEnergy Sta-dium from Connecticut on a modest three-game winning streak to take on the Eastern League (EL) Nor-thern Division New Hamp-shire Fisher Cats, who were holding down second place behind the Trenton Thunder.
Reading scrapped, pitched, and hit its way to a five-game winning streak as the R-Phils took the first two games of the mid-week series from the Fish-er Cats. More than a few breaks went the R-Phils' way in Tuesday night's game, but, as Forbes pointed out, the R-Phils "continued to get good at-bats and battled all the way through," overtook the Fisher Cats in the eighth, then scored the winning run in dramatic fashion with two out in the ninth for a 7-6 victory.
Starting pitching was the name of the game Wed-nesday afternoon. Kyle Kendrick (3-4, 3.74 ERA) pitched eight strong in-nings and left with the R-Phils up 7-1. After a rain delay at the start of the ninth, the bullpen gave the FirstEnergy faithful fits, but settled down in time to hold the Fisher Cats to three runs. The R-Phils walked off the field with their fifth straight win, their longest winning streak of the season.
Reading's starting pitch-ing continued on the right track Thursday afternoon. Tim McClaskey (3-4, 3.93 ERA) allowed only three runs on five hits in five innings but the R-Phils left nine men on base in a frustrating 3-2 loss to the Fish-er Cats. The loss put Rea-ding (20-18 .526) in another one of those virtual ties, this time for third place with the Altoona Curve (19-17 .528). Both teams were only two games be-hind the first-place Akron Aeros (22-16), and only one behind second-place Erie Sea Wolves (20-16). So, don't delete that Excel spreadsheet
Although a five-game winning streak builds confidence as well as momentum, consistency is the real key to moving up in the standings.
"We've been inconsistent," R-Phils' manager P.J. Forbes said before last Tuesday night's game with New Hampshire, referring to the R-Phils' recent play against EL South rivals Harrisburg, Akron, Erie, and Bowie. "We have to be a good defensive team to win. If you're not playing 27 outs, you can't win ball games."
What gets under the skin of the R-Phils second-year skipper is that errors give the opposing team extra outs. Heading into last Thursday afternoon's game with New Hamp-shire, the R-Phils were seventh in the EL with 36 miscues.
"We'll keep stressing it," he continued of the need for more consistency in the field. "Take care of the ball, and we'll get the pitcher off the mound quicker. Hold them to 27 outs and we'll have a chance to win."
As if they were out to prove Forbes' point, the Fisher Cats committed five errors on Tuesday night-three in the fourth-that allowed the R-Phils to stay in the game until their bats came alive in the eighth and ninth innings to win it, 7-6.
The victory put Rea-ding on a four-game winning streak and at 19-17 .528. only .001 behind second-place Altoona and Erie, which were tied at 18-16 .529.
Forbes said that his 27-out philosophy worked in reverse. "We kept putting the ball in play, and they helped us out," he said. "In the end we got it done."
It was a night when starter Matt Maloney ( 3-2, 4.15 ERA) kept getting his pitches up and getting into trouble. He exited after five innings, having surrendered six runs on seven hits including two home runs. His undoing came in the third when he gave up a three-run shot to rightfielder Ryan Patterson to stake the Fisher Cats to a 5-1 lead with no outs. Maloney settled down and got out of the inning without further damage getting third baseman Manny Mayerson to ground into a 1-6-3 double play.
Shortstop Sergio Santos clubbed his EL-leading tenth homer over the centerfield wall in the fifth off Maloney to put New Hampshire up 6-4.
The R-Phils put together consecutive doubles by rightfielder Greg Jacobs (.287, 4 HR, 19 RBI) shortstop Mike Garcia-parra (.270, 4 RBI), and centerfielder Javon Moran (.320, 2 HR, 11 RBI) in the eighth to score two runs to tie the game.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, it looked like the game was going overtime until red-hot second baseman Jesus Merchan (.379, 6 doubles, 2 triples, 17 RBI) belted a fly on a 1-0 pitch that hit off the centerfield wall for a triple. Jacobs worked a 3-2 count then hit a high chopper up the middle that second baseman Diaz field-ed but had no play as Mer-chan scored the winning run.
"Merchan put a good swing on it," said Forbes
"It was a wind blown smack," he added noting a 15-mph wind was blowing out to center. "That's the nature of the game."
Relief pitchers Chris Key (2-0, 2.95 ERA), Mike Zagurski (0-0, 3.00 ERA), and Julio De La Cruz (1-0, 3.57 ERA, 3 saves) pitched four spark-ling shutout innings with De La Cruz getting his first win of the season.
On Wednesday afternoon, the R-Phils an-swered Forbes' request for more consistency-on the mound, at the plate, and in the field-with a 7-4 win over the Fisher Cats for Reading's fifth win in a row. Starter Kyle Kendrick (3-4, 3.74 ERA) went eight innings for his third win of the year, scattering eight hits and allowing one run, Fisher Cats' left fielder Aaron Mathews' third home run in the second for a 1-0 New Hampshire lead.
The R-Phils then gave the National Penn locomotive smoke and light show in right field a real work out. Moran put the R-Phils ahead in the third, 2-1, with his second homer of the year, a 426-ft., two-run blast to left. Leftfielder Matt Padgett (.217, 2 HR, 12 RBI) sent a 402-ft. fly over the right field fence in the fifth for a three-run homer, his second of the year. Two outs later, third baseman Mike Costanzo (.225, 8 HR, 22 RBI) ripped a 456-ft. shot to dead center that bounced off the brick wall beyond the fence for his eighth round-tripper of the season. It was the longest home run at FirstEnergy Stadium since Ryan Howard lifted one over the 40-ft. scoreboard in left center two years ago.
Moran came back in the sixth to single in Jacobs, who had doubled, with the seventh run.
The bullpen also got a workout in the ninth after a 41-minute rain delay. It took four relievers, Zagurski, Allen Davis (0-0, 4.50 ERA), Ryan Cameron (0-0, 4.35 ERA1 save), and De La Cruz to put down a three-run New Hampshire rally. De La Cruz picked up his third save.
In the field, the R-Phils turned two double plays: one in the fifth, Juan Tajeda to Mike Garciaparra to Tajeda; the other in the ninth as De La Cruz got power hitter Sergio Santos to ground into a Garciaparra-to-Tajeda DP.
Reading tried to get things going on Thursday but kept slipping into neutral. Starter Tim McClaskey pitched five decent innings, allowing three runs on five hits. He left with New Hampshire ahead 3-1.
The R-Phils scored a run in the second, and had a chance for more. After Jesus Merchan scored catcher Jason Hill (.286, 1 HR, 15 RBI) on a sacrifice fly to left, the R-Phils loaded the bases with two out for centerfielder Javon Moran. Moran looked at strike three.
They had another chance in the fifth with two men on and one out. Shortstop Mike Garciaparra (.270, 4 RBI) grounded back to pitcher Russ Savickas who threw to catcher Brain Bormaster to nail Merchan at the plate trying to score from third, Greg Jacobs moving over to third on the play, Garciaparra taking first. Moran, who went 0-for-4, flied out to right to end the inning.
With two out in the sixth, left fielder Brian Burgamy (.176, 3 HR, 8 RBI) put another run on the board with his third homer of the year. Garciaparra singled and stole second. Moran walked. Pinch hitter Juan Tajeda (.258,4 HR, 22 RBI), batting for Padgett, skied out to center to end the threat.
Relievers Allen Simpson (0-0, 0.00 ERA) and Chris Key (2-0, 2.95 ERA) shutout the Fisher Cats over the last four innings but the R-Phils went quietly into the late afternoon. New Hampshire's Lee Gronkiewicz got Garciaparra to fly out to center to start the ninth. He then struck out Moran and Tejeda swinging for his seventh save and a 3-2 win to halt New Hampshire's five-game losing streak and end the R-Phils' five-game winning streak.
Forbes said it best, "It's the nature of the game."
On track with the R-Phils: SS Jesus Merchan was leading the EL in hitting at .379... 2B Joey Hammond was second at .342 and CF Javon Moran was fourth at .329... 3B Mike Costanzo was second in the EL in homers with eight... Moran's 47 hits and 16 steals were tops in the EL... 1B Juan Tejeda and Costanzo led the team in RBI with 22 each... On May 13, 2B Joey Hammond was promoted to Triple A Ottawa... On May 15, P Anderson Garcia was promoted to Ottawa; P Ryan Cameron returned from Ottawa to Reading... On May 16, P Nate Johnson sent to Single A Clearwater.