Dodgers go boom, boom, boom to burst Phillies' bubble

Dodgers go boom, boom, boom to burst Phillies' bubble


LOS ANGELES — For eight innings, it was a wonderful night for the Phillies.

Brock Stassi, the storybook kid, belted a three-run home run. Rookie Andrew Knapp had three hits, including his first big-league home run to give the Phils a three-run lead in the eighth inning, much to the delight of his family and friends whose cheers could be heard rising from deep within the sellout crowd of 53,110. Zach Eflin pitched superbly over seven-walk free innings and even the boys in the dugout had a little fun goofing on Tommy Joseph as he watched the game oblivious to the fact that he had a perfectly formed bubblegum sphere stuck to the top of his cap.

For the Phillies, there were plenty of reasons to be giddy.

And then the bubble burst, turning their happy little night into a crushing, oh-the-humanity, 6-5 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers (see Instant Replay).

"It's one of the worst losses I've ever been associated with, the way we lost," manager Pete Mackanin, looking shellshocked, said moments after it ended.

Trailing 5-2 entering the bottom of the ninth, the Dodgers tied the game in the blink of an eye when Yasiel Puig, Cody Bellinger and Justin Turner hit consecutive solo home runs off closer-but-don't-call-him-closer Hector Neris.

Puig's homer was a laser into the left-field seats, capping an eight-pitch at-bat. Bellinger's was a shot off the right-field foul pole that electrified the huge crowd. Turner's was a pinch-hit shot to left.

"Those weren't windblown home runs," Mackanin said. "They were bombs. It's tough to take. I'm not real happy with the outcome."

Mackanin removed Neris after a one-out single by Austin Barnes. Lefty Joely Rodriguez came in and got an out, then allowed a two-out single to Corey Seager, bringing No. 3 hitter Adrian Gonzalez to the plate.

With the crowd roaring and the count 1-1, Gonzalez fouled off four straight pitches before hitting a bouncing ball to the left of third baseman Maikel Franco. Franco moved to the ball, but it hit off the end of his glove and bounced wildly as Barnes raced home from second with the winning run.

Gonzalez was awarded an RBI infield hit. But it could have been scored an error.

"I thought [Franco] should have caught it," Mackanin said. "I think he should have [made the play]."

Franco said he could not dive for the ball because it was bouncing so much.

"I was running hard for the ball, but it hit off the tip of my glove," Franco said. "I tried to go out there and do my best on that play. But, you know, I can't get that. I did everything I can on that play."

Really, the game was lost when Neris could not hold the lead. Once the ball started flying out of the park and the crowd started going wild, there was no holding back the Dodgers. They went boom, boom, boom and it was only a matter of time before the Phillies hit the canvas.

In both the macro and micro sense, the Phillies have a problem in the ninth inning.

In the macro, they have blown four saves in the ninth inning, two resulting in painful walk-off losses. The team ERA in the ninth is an appalling 8.83. Neris is the third pitcher to be used as closer (even though Mackanin is reluctant to use the term) and the season isn't even a month old yet.

"I'd like to have a lights-out closer, but we don't have one right now," Mackanin said. "We'll continue to look at it."

In the micro, Neris is still probably best suited for the closer's job, but he needs to make some fixes. Two of the three homers he gave up came on fastballs. Mackanin wants to see more splitters. That pitch helped Neris strike out over 11 batters per nine innings last season.

"One thing about Neris is for some reason he's getting away from his split," Mackanin said. "He wants to throw more fastballs and that's not going to work.

"I think Neris is capable of being a closer, but for some reason, he's just not throwing his split as often as he did and that's his out pitch, the pitch that makes him who he is, who he was, and he's gotten away from it and throwing more fastballs. We'll have a talk with him and get it straightened out."

Neris said pitch selection wasn't his problem in the ninth inning.

"It wasn't because they were fastballs," he said. "It was the location.

"It was just a bad day. Everyone has one."

But this bad?

"What a way to lose," Mackanin groaned. "A real letdown."

New Phillie Andrew McCutchen is confident he can 'bring the old me back'

New Phillie Andrew McCutchen is confident he can 'bring the old me back'

Andrew McCutchen did some homework before signing with the Phillies.

“I reached out to Shane Victorino to get his insights,” McCutchen said at his introductory news conference Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park.

“He said some great things. He loved it here and he felt I would love it, too.”

McCutchen signed a three-year contract with the Phillies last week. The deal guarantees him $50 million. He will play a corner outfield spot and most likely bat in the fifth or sixth spot in manager Gabe Kapler’s lineup. McCutchen will also wear Kapler’s former No. 22. Kapler wore that number last year and gave it up after a conversation with McCutchen, who wore No. 22 during his nine seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

McCutchen was a former first-round draft pick of the Pirates. He embraced the Pittsburgh community, did extensive charity work in the area, married a local girl and still lives in that area. He and his wife, Maria, have a young son named, fittingly enough, Steel. ("We wanted a strong name," McCutchen said.) He was thrilled when the Phillies showed interest because it keeps him close to home.

McCutchen had a four-year peak with the Pirates where he finished third, first, third and fifth in National League MVP voting from 2012 to 2015. His averages across the board over that span: .313 batting average, 35 doubles, 25 homers, 90 RBIs, .926 OPS.

Over the last three seasons, McCutchen’s numbers, while still quite good, are not as gaudy. He has averaged .263, 29 doubles, 24 homers and a .802 OPS. During that time, he was traded twice (to the Giants and then the Yankees) and has moved off center field. The Phillies believe that McCutchen, who turned 32 in October, still has big years in front of him. McCutchen is confident that he does.

“I am the type of guy who doesn’t settle for where I'm at,” he said. “I understand the past few years haven’t been what I wanted them to be and they haven’t been what people expected them to be. And I understand people have an expectation because of something you’ve done previously. So when you don’t meet those expectations that people have, you’ll get the backlash, you may get the, ‘You’re not good,’ and, ‘He’s in decline,’ and I get all that.

“But for me, personally, pushing that to the side, I do realize that I can be better and that I’m going to be better. I’m working to make the adjustments needed to be a better player.

“So I’m looking to come in here and bring the old me back. I know it’s there. I don’t accept what I’ve done. I’m looking forward to coming back and showing what I’m capable of doing and doing great things here.”

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Recent Manny Machado-centric moves made by Yankees and White Sox are meaningless

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Recent Manny Machado-centric moves made by Yankees and White Sox are meaningless

Baseball, basketball, football, no matter the sport, rarely does a star free agent’s decision come down to anything other than money and winning. 

Manny Machado is making visits this week. He was in Chicago with the White Sox on Monday and will also visit Yankee Stadium before coming to Philly for a visit Thursday. 

And while Machado makes the rounds, speculation is rampant that his other suitors are making moves to entice him. 

First, there was the White Sox trading for first baseman Yonder Alonso, whose sister is Machado's wife and who lives in the same complex as him in Florida.

Then, there was the Yankees’ adding outfielder and future Hall of Famer Carlos Beltran to their front office. Beltran shares an agent with Machado. 

Let’s be real. Neither development matters. Machado is not going to turn down extra money or extra years under contract because the White Sox now employ his brother-in-law, or because Beltran is now consulting with the Yankees. 

This is Machado’s chance at a historic, life-changing payday. The money, realism of contending and position he’ll play are what matter most. 

If Machado picks the Yankees, it will be because that’s where he’s always wanted to play. If he picks the White Sox, it will be because he’s a crazy person.

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