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.