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.

Neal Huntington thinks players should be allowed to re-enter games after concussion testing

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Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli, who has suffered many concussions throughout his 12-year career, was hit on the back of the helmet on a Joc Pederson backswing Saturday against the Dodgers. Through Cervelli remained in the game initially, he took himself out of the game shortly thereafter and went on the seven-day concussion injured list on Sunday.

Perhaps inspired by Saturday’s event, Pirates GM Neal Huntington suggested that players should be allowed to re-enter games once they have passed concussion tests, the Associated Press reports. Huntington said, “Any player that had an obvious concussion risk incident should be allowed to be removed from the game, taken off the field, taken into the locker room, assessed by a doctor, assessed by a trainer, go through an extended period of time and then re-enter the game. Because right now, all of this has to happen on the field.”

Huntington added, “The player has to feel pressure as he’s standing there with 30,000 or 10,000 or 50,000 eyes on him. He has to feel pressure to make a decision whether (he’s) in or (he’s) out of this game. He knows if he takes himself out and he’s the catcher, there’s only one other catcher, and the game becomes a fiasco if that other catcher gets hurt.”

Huntington, who has been forward-thinking on a number of other issues, has it wrong here. The concussion protocols were created because players frequently hid or under-reported their injuries in order to remain in the game. Especially for younger or otherwise less-proven players, there is pressure to have to constantly perform in order to keep one’s job. Furthermore, there is an overarching sentiment across sports that taking time off due to injury makes one weak. Similarly, playing while injured is seen as tough and masculine. Creating protocols that take the decision-making out of players’ hands keeps them from making decisions that aren’t in their own best interests. Removing them would bring back that pressure for players to hide or minimize their ailments. If anything, MLB’s concussion protocols should become more stringent, not more relaxed.

The powers that be with Major League Baseball have no doubt followed the concussion scandal surrounding the National Football League. In January, the NFL settled for over $1 billion with retired players dealing with traumatic brain injuries, including dementia, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. For years, the league refused to acknowledge the link between playing football and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which is a neurodegenerative disease that can lead to dementia and has many negative effects, such as increasing the risk of suicide. Since baseball isn’t often a contact sport, MLB doesn’t have to worry about brain injuries to this degree, but it still needs to take preventative measures in order to avoid billion-dollar lawsuits as well as avoiding P.R. damage. In December 2012, former major league outfielder Ryan Freel committed suicide. Freel, who claimed to have suffered as many as 10 concussions, suffered from CTE. MLB players can suffer brain injuries just like football players.

Huntington seems to be worried about not having enough rostered catchers in the event one or two catchers get injured. That is really an issue of roster management. Carrying only two catchers on the roster is a calculated risk, often justified. Huntington can ensure his team never has to be put in the position of not having a catcher in an emergency by rostering a third catcher. Rosters are expanding to 26 players next year, by the way.