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For 2012 Phillies, time to Buc the trend

Phillies set to open 2012 season in a place that has not traditionally been kind to them

PNC Park
PNC Park is one of the best stadiums in Major League Baseball, but the Phillies always seem to have a difficult time when they make a visit. Photo: Flickr user nytesong.

The Phillies celebrated their 1993 NL East Division championship in Pittsburgh, but the Steel City has long been a place worth looking back fondly on for the Phillies, and their fans.

Baseball is a funny sport based on a number of odds. Nine players in a lineup, nine innings, 27 outs. Unlike any other sport, baseball has no time limit. A game could take just under two hours or it could take as long as four hours just to play a full nine innings, never mind the possibility of extra innings. Managers wear uniforms.

Baseball is also funny because no matter how good a team may be, they may still have a series in which they look like a cellar-dweller, unable to take advantage of an unquestioned talent advantage on the mound, in the field, at the plate and in the dugout. Take, for instance, the Phillies and Pirates.

Last season the Phillies, on their path to a fifth consecutive NL East Division crown, took four of six games against their in-state rivals from the NL Central, but those two losses came in Pittsburgh.

The Phillies have seen some rough games in Pittsburgh.
Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images (via Zimbio) 

Pittsburgh edged the Phillies 2-1 in a 12-inning game in a weekend series opener last June in the Steel City, followed by a 6-3 win in what was frustrating fashion for the Phillies. A day after the extra-inning loss with just one run to show, Ryan Howard brought a run home in the top of the first inning despite grounding in to an out. The lead was short-lived with Pittsburgh picking up two quick runs off Kyle Kendrick in the bottom of the inning. After the Phillies had battled to tie the game at 2-2 in the top of the fourth inning with Lyle Overbay leading off with a triple and scoring on a ground out and Brandon Wood, a who’s who in baseball, smacked a home run to cap a three-run inning.

PNC Park may be one of the most beautiful stadiums in Major League Baseball (some will make the case it is better than Citizens Bank Park), but it has been a house of pain for the Phillies since opening in 

Pittsburgh took four out of six games against the Phillies in 2010, including a 2-1 pitcher’s duel between Zach Duke and Roy Halladay. Philadelphia also dropped three of four in Pittsburgh with Cole Hamels taking the loss in a 3-2 decision despite striking out eight batters. Remember, in 2010 the Pirates won 57 games and lost 105. If only they could have played the Phillies more often…

In 2009 the Phillies took the season series 4-2, but Pittsburgh defended their home field with two of three in Pittsburgh. The most crushing loss came on August 25, when the Phillies scored two runs in the top of the ninth to take a 4-3 lead only to watch Brad Lidge blow the save and take the loss in a 6-4 outcome with Andrew McCutchen hitting the walk-off two-run shot in an abysmal inning that saw a leadoff base runner, wild pitch, single and home run on a total of seven pitches.

The 2008 season, when the Phillies captured the World Series championship, was the last time the Phillies enjoyed a trip across the state, winning two of three games. The 2007 Phillies lost two of three in Pittsburgh. So did the 2006 Phillies. The 2005 Phillies split a four-game series in Pittsburgh. In 2004 the Phillies opened in Pittsburgh by losing two of three, including the season opener, 2-1. Jose Mesa picked up the save that afternoon for the Pirates.

Here is at least one memorable game in relatively recent memory for Phillies fans, from Pittsburgh. Even if you did have to miss Real Stories of the Highway Patrol.

The frustrations in Pittsburgh even go back to 2003, when the Phillies made the trip to western Pennsylvania for a late September weekend series trailing the Florida Marlins by 1.5 games in the NL Wild Card race. Three games in Pittsburgh set up a home series against the Marlins, where the Phillies could make a push to pass their division rivals, but Pittsburgh made things even more difficult by taking two of the first three games against the Phillies. At the end of the series the Phillies remained 1.5 games behind the Marlins, and the Houston Astros moved to half a game behind the Phillies. That season the Phillies ran out of steam in the playoff hunt, and it started with that dismal weekend in Pittsburgh.

In 2002 the Pirates swept the Phillies in three games in a weekend series in April.

Since PNC Park opened in 2001 the Phillies have won a series twice in Pittsburgh. Consider that this has been during a stretch in which the Pirates have been among the worst in all of baseball, unable to field a winning team dating back to 1993. The Phillies, over the past ten years, have been playing through one of the most successful stretches in franchise history. So what is it about Pittsburgh that holds the Phillies back?

Is it the pre-game meal? Too many Primanti’s sandwiches? The lady in sunglasses behind home-plate who holds up a Pirates flag or towel?Your guess is as good as mine.

On Thursday the Phillies will open up their 2012 campaign in Pittsburgh, and on paper it would be easy to pencil the Phillies in for a series victory with Roy Halladay (1-0, 1.29 ERA lifetime at PNC Park) and Cliff Lee (0-0, 2.57 ERA lifetime at PNC Park) on the mound for the first two games, and Vance Worley making his 2012 debut in the series finale. But the game is played on the field, and any team can beat another any day.

That’s what makes baseball a funny sport.

Hype this up on BallHyped. For Pittsburgh Pirates coverage visit Where Have You Gone Andy Van Slyke.

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