ATLANTA — The dateline says Atlanta, but it might as well say Planet Odubel.
Phillies fans have visited the locale before.
It’s the place where you can see Odubel Herrera drive balls into the gaps with his sturdy bat and run them down with his quick legs. It’s the place where he oozes the talent that allowed him to go from unheralded Rule 5 pick in 2014 to the All-Star Game in 2016.
It’s also the place where he can infuriate those around him with boneheaded plays, lapses in concentration and lack of hustle.
Monday’s game against the Atlanta Braves offered a distilled version of what makes Herrera alternately exciting and exasperating. He belted a solo home run to give the Phillies a lead in the first inning, but by the time the game was four innings old, he’d made a mistake on the bases and in the outfield and both proved costly in a 2-1 loss in which the Phils wasted a strong start from Aaron Nola and saw their six-game winning streak die (see first take).
Herrera’s play earned him a postgame meeting with manager Gabe Kapler. A few moments later, Herrera spoke with reporters and offered his apologies to his teammates.
Herrera’s first miscue came in the third inning when he was on his way to a hustle double but was called out when he failed to slide into second. Had he slid, the Phils would have had runners at second and third with one out for the middle of the order. Instead, there were two outs and winning pitcher Julio Teheran eventually pitched out of trouble.
“I’m not sure if the game changed there, but it was certainly an important play in the game,” Kapler said. “There’s no doubt about that. I talked to Odubel about it. It’s a play you have to slide on. He knows that. And next time he goes in, he’s going to slide, for sure.”
Herrera knew he messed up because he swatted himself upside the head as the umpire called him out. He said he misread the play and thought he could make it without sliding. On his way out to center field for the next inning, Herrera and Rhys Hoskins chatted briefly in the outfield. Hoskins appeared to be giving Herrera a pep talk or maybe some tough love.
“I apologized to him,” Herrera said. “I said, ‘My bad. My bad.’ I felt bad. He said, ‘Don’t worry, we got you.’”
In the fourth inning, Herrera and rightfielder Aaron Altherr failed to communicate on a sacrifice fly. No one called the ball, so Altherr came way over from right field to make the play, but his throw to the plate was late, allowing Ozzie Albies to score what proved to be the decisive run. The ball should have been Herrera’s all the way.
After the game, Kapler told Herrera, “You’re the captain of the outfield as the centerfielder and so at that point, you call everybody off, you take that ball, you get behind it, and you make your best throw to the plate. He understands that well and next time out he’s going to throw his ass out at the plate.”
Herrera admitted he should have called for the ball and made the play.
“It’s something I have to learn from,” he said, referring to the whole night.