Before we get into the major reasons — and they were all pretty much self-inflicted — why the Phillies suffered a 5-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night, did you happen to notice the final showdown of the game?
Hard-throwing Pirates lefty closer Felipe Vazquez, affectionately known as Nightmare, against hard-swinging Phillies slugger Bryce Harper.
The showdown, with the game on the line, went seven pitches. Vazquez threw five fastballs. Four of them lit up the radar gun at 100 mph or above and the runt of the litter was 99 mph.
Harper swung through the first two fastballs then took a 100-mph heater and an 88-mph slider, both balls, to even the count. He then fouled off a pair of 101-mph fastballs before Vazquez turned sinister and uncorked an 85-mph curveball. Geared for triple-digit heat, Harper had no chance. He swung big — why not, because the Phillies were down to their last strike and a home run would have tied the game — but came up with nothing but a bat full of air molecules.
As the Pirates converged on the mound to congratulate Vazquez, Harper stood frozen at home plate for a few seconds as if he were pondering the bullet train that had just run him over.
The Phillies did not lose because Harper couldn’t handle the Nightmarish offerings of Vazquez.
They lost because they couldn’t do diddly with leadoff doubles in the seventh and eighth innings in a tie game.
They lost because Hector Neris walked two batters with one out in the top of the ninth.
They lost because Rhys Hoskins, already mired in a painful offensive slump, made a horrifying fielding error that allowed the Pirates to score the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth.
The half-inning was basically over. The Phillies were going to survive Neris’ two walks. But Hoskins dropped a throw from shortstop Jean Segura that would have completed a double play and been the third out.
“Just missed it,” said Hoskins, who always stands up and takes it like a man, good or bad. “Clanked it. It hit the palm of my glove.”
Hoskins hit the ball well Tuesday night, founds some barrels, as the cool kids say, stroked a hard-hit single to center field. But he’s still hitting just .166 since the All-Star break.
Hoskins’ killer drop in the field suggested that his confidence might be wounded. He looks like a guy who needs a day off, a guy who should stay away from the ballpark until about an hour before Wednesday night’s game, get a stretch and be ready to pinch-hit late in the game. Thursday is an off day in the schedule. That would give Hoskins basically two days to clear his mind before coming back for the first day of the rest of his season Friday.
Kapler seemed open to the idea of giving Hoskins a mental-health day.
“It’s something I’ll talk to Rhys about,” he said.
Hoskins is not in favor of a day off.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “We’re in a playoff push right now.”
Hoskins’ desire to play is honorable. Getting right back on the horse Wednesday night might be good for him. But a head-clearing day might be better. It will be interesting to see which way Kapler goes on this.
While Hoskins’ error ultimately killed the Phillies, there were other self-inflicted wounds. The offense could not capitalize on leadoff doubles in the seventh and eighth innings. J.T. Realmuto died on third in the seventh and Cesar Hernandez never advanced from second in the eighth. Both missed chances came with the score tied.
Hernandez’ double to lead off the bottom of the eighth created a situation where it was imperative the Phillies move him to third base, either with a ground ball to the right side or a bunt. Really, the situation screamed for a bunt, but Kapler let lefty-hitting Brad Miller takes his rips against lefty Francisco Liriano. Miller popped out to shortstop, Adam Haseley bounced back to the mound, and Nightmare came out of the bullpen to strike out pinch-hitter Scott Kingery.
Not being able to move Hernandez to third, where he could have scored to go-ahead run on anything from a bloop hit to a fly ball to a wild pitch, was an egregious fundamental breakdown.
Why not have Miller bunt?
“I'm open to it all the time,” Kapler said after the game. “It's something that we talked about in that situation.
“It's kind of a tough spot to put Haseley in against Liriano, coming up right behind him. He's as tough on lefties as anybody. So what you do is you give Miller a whack at it. You give Haseley a whack at it. And you give Kingery a whack at it. Try to drive him in.”
Hernandez looked as lonely stranded at second base as Harper did after flailing at Vazquez’s game-ending curveball in the ninth.
The Phillies have had a lot of bad losses this season and this was yet another. They fell two games back in the NL wild-card race.
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