Ever heard of Aprilitis?
Google doesn’t have a Web site for this one, as it is a very rare disease a Major League Baseball team with serious thoughts of contending for a World Series title must avoid at all costs.
Symptoms are inconsistent pitching, hitting and fielding. A full-blown case is when losses start piling up at an alarming rate like the 4-15 record the 2007 Phillies opened with. They did make a full recovery in the form of a National League East title.
Through the first three games of ’08, the Phils were once again battling April woes. In their March 31 opener, the offense scored six runs, but with the score tied 6-6 in the ninth inning, Tom Gordon imploded and gave up five earned runs while retiring just one batter, resulting in an 11-6 defeat. Two nights later, Cole Hamels pitched an eight-inning gem, giving up five hits and one earned run, while striking out six. The only problem was Philadelphia’s offense mustered a total of one hit in the 1-0 loss.
Things were heading in a similar direction Thursday afternoon, as the 25,831 fans at Citizens Bank Park witnessed an extremely ugly first inning where the Nationals batted around and took an early 5-0 lead. The Phils finished with four errors, two of which came in the opening frame. Their only run through the first five innings came off a Chris Coste solo blast in the third. Starting pitcher Jamie Moyer was pulled with one out in the fourth.
No matter how much they’re down, these Phillies can never be counted out, as last season they led the Major Leagues with 48 come-from-behind victories.
Just as it looked like the team was tumbling towards another 0-3 start, the boys found their cure. On this day, there were no Jimmy Rollins triples or deep blasts off the bats of Ryan Howard or Chase Utley. The victory came in the form of small ball, as the Phillies used eight singles to turn a 6-1 deficit into a 7-6 advantage. The bullpen did its part by surrendering just one earned run over six-plus innings.
"The way we did it today, I think it was important," Moyer said of the April 3 victory. "Our bullpen did a fine job, our offense did a fine job and sometimes that’s what it takes."
The Phillies went on to score the deciding run in the 10th when, with the bases loaded, Jimmy Rollins was forced in on a Jayson Werth walk. The reigning National League MVP set things up nicely with a leadoff single, and moved up two bases on Shane Victorino’s sacrifice bunt. The Nationals decided to intentionally walk both Utley and Howard, which ended up backfiring as the reigning division champs literally walked away 8-7 winners.
At least on this chilly April afternoon, the Phillies were cured of their losing ways.
"Mentally we never gave up," Victorino said. "We kept battling and kept staying strong. It’s definitely a step in the right direction."
Things will be much easier if Philadelphia takes control from a pitching and offensive standpoint in the early innings. As defending champs, these Phillies are in a winning state of mind.
"We obviously showed today that we take it one game at a time," Victorino said. "Being down 5-0 and finding a way to battle back, I think that shows what kind of team we are."
If, at the end of April, the wins outnumber the defeats — especially since six games against the Mets and two against the National League champion Rockies will be under their belts — Aprilitis will be long gone like a Howard home run.