Phillies manager Joe Girardi wasted no time asking umpires to check an opposing pitcher for a foreign substance.
Girardi had umpires check Washington starter Max Scherzer with one out in the fourth inning of Tuesday night's game at Citizens Bank Park.
Scherzer was found to have nothing on his person and ultimately had the last word on Girardi and the Phillies.
The Nats won the game, 3-2, and Girardi was ultimately ejected after a fifth-inning stare down with Scherzer.
When the wild night was over, the New York Mets (37-31) still led the NL East by four games, but the Nationals (34-36), winners of eight of their last nine, and Braves (35-37) had both pulled into a second-place tie with the Phillies (34-36).
Scherzer had already been randomly checked by umpires after the first and third innings when Girardi asked umpires to inspect him again with one out in the fourth inning. The Washington right-hander was not happy that Girardi asked for another inspection and neither was his manager, Dave Martinez.
As the umpires approached Scherzer, the pitcher dramatically dropped his glove and cap to the ground and unbuckled his belt for easier inspection. The pitcher even looked at the Phillies' dugout and ran his fingers through his hair, as if to say he was clean.
During the inspection, Martinez angrily gestured at Girardi and the Phillies manager gestured back from his dugout.
The inspection came with the Phillies trailing 3-1 and a man on first base. After the inspection, Scherzer walked Brad Miller then got two quick outs to end the inning.
Scherzer ended the next inning with a strikeout of J.T. Realmuto and strutted off the mound with his eyes glued on Girardi in the Phillies' dugout. Girardi climbed the dugout stairs, made his way out to the field and invited Scherzer and anyone else to bring it on. He was intercepted by the umpires and ejected as the Washington dugout shouted him down. Washington pitching coach Jim Hickey even appeared to mock Girardi.
On Monday, Major League Baseball began a crackdown against pitchers applying foreign substances to baseballs. A pitcher found applying a foreign substance to the baseball is subject to a 10-game suspension.
The Phillies were off Monday.
Before Tuesday's game, Girardi said he would not hesitate to ask umpires to check a pitcher if he suspected foul play.
"I think you have to think about it if you suspect it, yeah," he said. "I would hope, though, that if they see something that's a repetitive action, the umpires would check."
Girardi said he would not employ any gamesmanship. He would only ask an umpire to check a pitcher if he had good reason for it.
"I'm not going to play games," he said. "That's silly. It's just if you see something that's clear cut, you'll probably ask them."
Scherzer exited the game after five innings of one-run ball but that was enough for him to run his record to 13-4 in 23 career starts against the Phillies and 7-1 in 10 starts at Citizens Bank Park.
Other than solo homers by Bryce Harper in the second and Rhys Hoskins in the eighth, the Phillies' offense was limp. The Phillies had just six hits, struck out 13 times and were 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position. The Phils loaded the bases with one out in the ninth, but Washington closer Brad Hand retired Odubel Herrera and Hoskins to end the game.
On a troubling note, starter Zack Wheeler lasted just three innings in his shortest outing as a Phillie. He allowed three runs. Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin, the Phillies' top three starters, have been tagged for 15 earned runs in 10⅓ innings since Saturday.
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