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Hamels outstanding, but 'pen falters

Hamels outstanding, but 'pen falters

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CHICAGO -- No one had to move or look. Everyone knew.

Aramis Ramirez left no doubt on the final landing spot of this unfortunate baseball. The roar of 40,362 told Phillies reliever Chad Durbin, who served up the 91-mph sinking fastball that didn't sink, or Shane Victorino, the center fielder who stood with arms folded, that this wasn't going to be good.

"Just a bad pitch that came back over the plate," Durbin said.

Ramirez's mammoth drive traveled well out to center field, beyond the ivy, the bushes and almost reached Pennsylvania. The box score will show it as a grand slam that lifted the Cubs to a 6-4 win over Philadelphia in the first of a four-game series.

In the aftermath of a loss that pushed the Phillies a full game behind the idle Mets in the National League East, a stellar Cole Hamels start had been erased and a bullpen that has become increasingly tired and unreliable was exposed.

"You think about how well Cole threw the ball, and how well our guys put at-bats up against [Cubs starter Ryan] Dempster," Durbin said. "This is a tough one."

The Cubs don't own the National League's best home record (50-19), the highest batting average (.282) and the most runs scored (735) by accident, but this mattered not to Hamels. The lefty quieted the Wrigley Field faithful with seven innings of one-run ball, but left because he had thrown 108 pitches.

Manager Charlie Manuel would have loved for his ace to go deeper.

"He was absolutely spent," Manuel said. "I definitely thought about leaving him in, but I knew there was no sense. We got a tremendous outing against them. He's had tough luck all year long. When he pitches that good and leaves with the lead, I want him to get the win."

But?

"They're a good hitting team, and showed it in the eighth inning," Manuel said.

Already worried about his overworked trio of Durbin, Ryan Madson and J.C. Romero -- all three rested in Wednesday's loss to the Mets -- Manuel used Madson to start the eighth.

Infielder Mike Fontenot greeted Madson with a pinch-hit home run. Alfonso Soriano then doubled and went to third on Ryan Theriot's single.

"I was pulling every ball," Madson said. "I don't know what it was. It was a mechanical issue that happens every once in a while. They were jumping on every bad pitch I made. The ball wasn't going where I wanted it to go, that's for sure."

Ditto for Durbin, who walked Derrek Lee on five pitches, then surrendered the slam to Ramirez on a 1-0 pitch.

"I've been able to do that since I was in the Minor Leagues," Ramirez said. "I've always been able to drive in runs. It's something I'm proud of, and I like being in those situations late in the game."

"We got in situations where we couldn't get people out," Manuel said. "Most of the games we lost, that's how it's been."

The bullpen entered the eighth in the past two games, giving up nine runs in that frame. Rudy Seanez and Brad Lidge combined for the damage Wednesday, and Madson and Durbin took their turn Thursday.

Almost daily, Manuel expresses concern over his bullpen's use, when he's not answering questions about an inconsistent offense. Though the Phils' relievers have logged the third-fewest innings in the NL, key members like Durbin and Madson are among the leaders in appearances.

Durbin, especially, is in his first full season as a reliever. He insists that he's physically fine.

"They have been working quite a bit," Manuel said. "We're at that point in the season. It seemed like we couldn't make pitches. When we got in trouble, we got behind in counts and threw the ball in the big part of the plate, and they were getting hammered."

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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