WASHINGTON — This one left Pete Mackanin shaking his head.
"If you would have told me that we'd hit three three-run homers and lose the ballgame, I wouldn't have believed it," the Phillies manager said after his team hung around and hung around before losing, 11-10, to the Washington Nationals on Friday night (see observations).
"You score 10 runs ... you'd like to win a game when you score 10."
Those 10 runs went for naught because of some horrendous defense in the bottom of the third inning. Second baseman Cesar Hernandez booted a tailor-made double-play ball and three batters later the Nationals put four runs on the board when Michael A. Taylor clubbed an inside-the-park grand slam against Phillies starter Jake Thompson.
The inside-the-park grannie was a little tainted because it came as the result of a misplay in center field by Odubel Herrera (see video).
Herrera at first broke in on Taylor's line drive. He then tried to scurry back before jumping and flailing at air. The ball rolled to the wall and the bases emptied as the Nats took a 6-3 lead that they never relinquished.
"That one inning hurt us bad," Mackanin said. "It would have been two outs and nobody on base and it led to four runs. That was the difference in the game."
Mackanin acknowledged that Herrera misplayed Taylor's liner to center, but added that it was a tough play.
"The ones right at you, you can't tell if they're going to take off or sink and he just misplayed it," Mackanin said.
Herrera then compounded the misplay by not exactly busting it for the ball as it rolled to the wall.
"I couldn’t tell for sure," Mackanin said. "It did not look like he was sprinting. But in the end, [Taylor] would have been out by 10 feet. The relay (from shortstop J.P. Crawford) was way off the mark."
Herrera explained the misplay.
"I didn’t read the line drive well," he said. "I thought it was going to sink. It didn't. It picked up."
Herrera's miscues did not stop with the misplay in the third inning. In the fifth, he was taking his time getting set in the batter's box when Washington ace Max Scherzer whistled a third-strike fastball by him. Herrera is notorious for being slow to get set and Scherzer taught him a lesson. Or did he? Time will tell. And, no, Herrera was not asking for time out when he raised his left hand. He does that every time, as if to tell the umpire he's not ready. But once he's in the box, he's fair game.
"He caught me by surprise," Herrera said. "I thought it wasn't even legal, or valid, what he did. I thought the umpire was going to say something to him but he didn't. Obviously, they know me and that I take a little long to set up, so he took advantage of it."
Mackanin did not think Scherzer did anything wrong.
"Odubel has a tendency to get caught up in his own little routine and, you know, he has to make sure he doesn't get caught putting his head down and waiting to get ready," he said. "We've seen quick pitches before and that really wasn’t even a quick pitch. Scherzer wound up and caught everybody by surprise."
After the four-run third inning, Washington kept on scoring, a run in the fourth against Jake Thompson, three in the sixth against reliever Yacksel Rios and one in the eighth against Hector Neris.
As it turned out, Washington needed all those runs because the Phils got a three-run homer from Rhys Hoskins (his 13th in 102 at-bats) in the seventh and another three-run homer from Maikel Franco in the ninth to make it a one-run game. Sean Doolittle came on with no outs and stopped the Phillies' rally. The South Jersey product is 17 for 17 in save opportunities since joining the Nats from Oakland in a July trade. Doolittle struck out all three batters he faced, including Jorge Alfaro. El Oso responded by breaking his bat over his knee in frustration. That's a strong man.
You know who else is strong? Nick Williams. He turned around a Scherzer fastball for a three-run home run in the first inning and finished with four hits on the day he turned 24. Williams, who has 10 homers and 43 RBIs since arriving from Triple A on June 30, was pumped to face Scherzer, last year's NL Cy Young award winner.
"In the [batting] cage before the game, I was talking with (hitting coach Matt) Stairs and he said this is probably the best pitcher you'll face in this league," Williams said. "A lot of people think he's the best pitcher in the game. I've watched him a lot on TV and everyone knows him. Stepping in the box, it's kind of like a big-league call-up all over again. You watch these guys as a kid and then you face them. The result — it was crazy. I can't even explain it."
Williams' three-run homer gave the Phils an early lead, but it didn't hold up. It's not often the Phils score 10 runs in a game, but that wasn't enough to overcome some poor defense.
The loss dropped the Phils to 53-88, worst in the majors.
Washington's magic number for clinching the NL East title is down to three.