Aaron Nola out-pitched three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer for the second time in a week, but the Phillies blew a three-run lead in an awful 5-4 loss to the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night.
Nola went seven innings and scattered four hits. One of the two runs he gave up was unearned.
Nola allowed two runs in the seventh, one coming on an error. The Phils led, 3-2, to open the top of the ninth. Tommy Hunter walked Bryce Harper to lead off the inning. Pat Neshek then allowed a two-run homer to Anthony Rendon and it went downhill from there.
Nola's ERA is 2.10, second best in the NL to the Mets’ Jacob deGrom, who entered his start at Chicago on Tuesday night with a 1.71 ERA. Scherzer has a 2.22 ERA. One of these three is going to win the NL Cy Young Award.
The Phillies have lost eight of 10 and 14 of their last 21. They entered the night trailing first-place Atlanta by 3½ games in the NL East. The Braves beat Tampa Bay, 9-5, to increase their lead to 4½ games.
A wasteful team
In the last week, the Phils have suffered four losses in which they have blown a sizable lead. They have blown a pair of 4-1 leads, a 5-0 lead and a 3-0 lead.
Nola struck out eight. He got Harper three times, on an 0-2 changeup, a full-count changeup and a 1-2 curveball. Last week in Washington, Nola blew two 95-mph fastballs by Harper with the game on the line in the eighth inning of a 2-0 win. Nola has all the weapons.
Hunter walked Harper on six pitches to lead off the ninth. Rendon hit a 1-2 slider against Neshek to put the Nats ahead.
Grind ‘em down
For much of the night, Gabe Kapler was a happy man. His team grinded out at-bats, saw a lot of pitches and got into the Nats’ bullpen early. That's the style of ball Kapler likes.
Scherzer was gone after five innings and 99 pitches. Nick Williams had an at-bat in the fourth inning that surely excited Kapler. He saw 11 pitches — and fouled off seven of them — before looking at a fastball down the middle for a third strike. Maybe Williams just got tired. But so, too, did Scherzer. He allowed a two-run homer to Jorge Alfaro the next inning as the Phillies went up, 3-0. Odubel Herrera gave the team a 1-0 lead with a homer in the fourth.
Nola took a 3-0 lead into the seventh inning and gave up two runs. One came when first baseman Carlos Santana made a throwing error. It was the Phillies’ 101st error of the season, the second most in the majors. Defense remains an issue for the club.
And another error
After going up 4-3 in the ninth, the Nats scored another run on a costly throwing error by catcher Alfaro.
That error was the Phils' 102nd. St. Louis entered the day with 102 errors, most in the majors. The Phils might win that race, after all.
The Nats' fifth run was huge because it allowed them to hold off the Phils after they had rallied for a run in the bottom of the ninth on back-to-back doubles by Williams and Wilson Ramos. The game ended when pinch-runner Vince Velasquez left early from second base on a fly ball to center field and was called out on a double play. It was a surreal ending — and another miscue for a team that is slowly imploding under the weight of its own mistakes.
Another small crowd
Though the Phillies have struggled recently, they are still in a pennant race and there is excitement in that. However, many fans have not bought in and it has shown the last two nights at the turnstiles.
The paid attendance for Tuesday night’s game was just 21,083. That’s 23,000 below capacity and not what you’d expect for a showdown between two of the game’s best pitchers.
The paid attendance on Monday night was just 21,261 and the actual in-house number was about 15,000, according to a person in the know.
Whatever the actual number was Tuesday night, it’s worth pointing out that the fans who did come out were lively, supportive and loud — at least until the Phillies imploded in the late innings. Then the crowd let its frustration be heard and it was hard to argue with them.
Joey Bats arrives
The Phillies acquired slugger Jose Bautista in a waiver trade with the Mets earlier in the day and he was in uniform for the game.
Bautista will fill a distinct role for the club. He will come off the bench as a pinch-hitter, most often against lefties, and get an occasional start in right field against lefties.
Bautista had 55 hits in part-time duty with the Braves and Mets this season. He hit 11 homers.
Bautista struck out as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning.
The Phils and Nationals close out the series on Wednesday night with Jake Arrieta (9-9, 3.37) opposing Washington lefty Gio Gonzalez (7-11, 4.35).