Phillies lose in one of the most embarrassing ways possible

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The Phillies, one of a handful of teams no one truly expected to be competitive this season, were in first place as recently as August 12. Since the 12th, however, the club has gone 5-11 with many of the losses coming in excruciating fashion due to the bullpen blowing late leads, the defense making inexcusable mistakes, and the offense being very inconsistent.

On Tuesday night, the Phillies found perhaps the dumbest possible way to lose a game. It was supposed to be a pitcher’s duel between Aaron Nola and Max Scherzer. Nola exited the seventh inning leading 3-2 with those two runs scoring on an indefensible throwing error from first baseman Carlos Santana that allowed both runners to score.

Reliever Tommy Hunter worked a 1-2-3 eighth on 11 pitches, so manager Gabe Kapler had him start the ninth. He issued a leadoff walk to Bryce Harper. While that’s bad, credit is due to Harper for laying off some really close pitches. Kapler yanked Hunter in favor of fellow veteran Pat Neshek. Neshek, however, threw a slider that didn’t slide and Rendon belted it into the seats in left field for a go-ahead two-run homer.

With every reason to hang their heads, the Phillies continued to fight. Nick Williams hit a one-out double and promptly scored when Wilson Ramos ripped a double down the left field line, putting the tying run at second base. Kapler chose to have pitcher Vince Velasquez pinch-run for Ramos, who is a very slow runner and only recently recovered from a hamstring injury. The next batter, Jorge Alfaro, hit a fly ball to medium-deep center field. As Michael Taylor camped under the ball, Velasquez decided to tag up and advance to third base, a choice that was his and his alone. The throw was a bit off-line and late, so Velasquez — who overslid the third base bag — advanced successfully. However, first baseman Ryan Zimmerman immediately pointed out that Velasquez left early. After a brief conference between the umpires, Velasquez was called out. The Phillies, of course, challenged, but the ruling stood and the game ended in a 5-4 loss.

Velasquez shouldn’t have been trying to advance anyway. The fly out represented the second out of the inning, so it wasn’t like he was setting up a possibility of scoring on a fly ball or a ground ball in the right spot. The only benefit of advancing to third base is in the case of a wild pitch or passed ball. Justin Miller had thrown exactly one wild pitch in 43 2/3 innings on the season. Catcher Matt Wieters has had only two passed balls all season in 429 1/3 defensive innings.

The Nationals, who threw in the towel recently by trading second baseman Daniel Murphy and 1B/OF Matt Adams, have taken four of five games from the Phillies dating back to last week. The 70-62 Phillies are now 4.5 games behind the Braves, who won on Tuesday.

Justin Verlander laughed at after saying Astros were “technologically and analytically advanced”

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Justin Verlander was at the annual Baseball Writers Association of America banquet last night, on hand to accept the 2019 Cy Young Award. Normally such things are pretty routine events, but nothing is routine with the Houston Astros these days.

During his acceptance speech, Verlander made some comments about the Astros’ “technological and analytical advancements.” The comments were greeted by some laughter in the room as well as some groans. At least one person on hand claimed that other players present were visibly angry.

It’s hard to tell the context of it all without a full video — maybe Verlander meant it as a joke, maybe the reactions were more varied than is being described — but here’s how reporters on hand for it last night are describing it:

If it was a joke it was ill-timed, as not many around the game think the sign-stealing stuff is funny at the moment. Especially in light of the fact that, despite having several opportunities to do so, Astros players have failed to show any accountability for their cheating.

And yes, that includes former Astros Dallas Keuchel, who was praised for “apologizing” at a White Sox fan event on Friday, but whose “apology” was couched in a lot of deflection and excuse-making about how it was just something that was done at the time and about how technology was to blame. Keuchel also tried to minimize it, saying that the Astros didn’t do it all the time. Which is rich given that the most prominent video evidence of their trash can-banging scheme came from a blowout Astros win in a meaningless August game against a losing team. If they were doing it in that situation, please, do not tell me they weren’t doing it when games really mattered.

Anyway, I’d like to think Verlander was just trying to take a stab at a joke here, because Verlander is the wrong guy to be sending to be sending any kind of messages diminishing the cheating given that he has a pretty solid track record of holding other players’ feet to the fire when they get busted.

For example, here he was in 2018 after Robinson Canó got busted for PEDs:

Of course, consistency can be a problem for Verlander when his teammates are on the ones who are on the hook. Here was his response to Tigers infielder Jhonny Peralta being suspended in the wake of the Biogenesis scandal:

“Everybody makes mistakes. He’s my brother. We fight and bleed and sweat together on the baseball field. If my brother makes a mistake, especially if he owns up to it and serves his time, I don’t see how you can hold a grudge or anything like that. “It’s one thing to step up and be a man and own up to his mistake.”

Verlander, it should also be noted, was very outspoken about teams engaging in advanced sign-stealing schemes once upon a time. here he was in 2017, while still with the Tigers, talking about such things in a June 2017 interview with MLive.com.

“We don’t have somebody, but I’m sure teams have a person that can break down signals and codes and they’ll have the signs before you even get out there on the mound.  It’s not about gamesmanship anymore. It used to be, ‘Hey, if you can get my signs, good for you.’ In the past, if a guy on second (base) was able to decipher it on a few pitches, I guess that was kind of part of the game. I think it’s a different level now. It’s not good.”

Which makes me wonder how he felt when he landed on the Astros two months later and realized they had a sophisticated cheating operation underway. If the feelings were mixed, he was able to bury the part of them which had a problem with it, because he’s said jack about it since this all blew up in November. And, of course, has happily accepted the accolades and the hardware he he has received since joining Houston, some of which was no doubt acquired by virtue of a little extra, ill-gotten run support.

Anyway, wake me up when someone — anyone — associated with the Astros shows some genuine accountability about this.