BOSTON — Gabe Kapler described this loss as a punch in the face.
He undersold it.
It was more like a couple of punches in the face and one to the gut just to make sure it really hurt.
On a night when Aaron Nola stepped into the cauldron that is Fenway Park and delivered what Kapler called “the pitching performance of the year” against the best team in baseball, the Phillies suffered a galling 2-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox in 13 innings Monday largely because Odubel Herrera had one of those all-too-familiar games that made you want to scream, “What the hell are you doing out there?”
Kapler was curious enough to know the answer that he met with his centerfielder for several minutes after the game.
“He and I had a good chat,” the manager said.
Herrera was involved in a base-running play that might have cost the Phillies runs and a defensive play that did cost them a run and both hurt in what became the Phillies’ fourth straight loss, a defeat that reduced their lead over Atlanta in the NL East to a half-game (see first take).
The Phillies took a 1-0 lead on David Price in the second inning on a double by Asdrubal Cabrera and a single by Maikel Franco.
The Phils threatened in the third inning as Rhys Hoskins doubled with one out and Herrera followed with an infield hit. The potential rally died when the Red Sox capitalized on Herrera’s poor base running for a 5-2-6-5 double play. Hoskins broke from third for the plate on Santana’s one-out ground ball to third. When Hoskins realized he was going to be an easy out at the plate, he started back to third base. Herrera, who was on first base, needed to get to third on the play and Santana needed to get to second. However, Herrera hesitated just before getting to third base and did not slide. He was alertly tagged out by shortstop Xander Bogaerts and Hoskins was also snuffed out as the threat ended abruptly and painfully for the Phillies.
“Odubel did everything right,” Kapler said. “The only thing he needed to do was slide hard into third base. Rhys gets into a rundown specifically to get him to third base. He's on his way to third base just as we would teach it. Then, the tag was easy because he didn't take a really hard slide, which I think he understands at this point. So we discussed that.”
With Nola on his way to eight innings of four-hit, one-walk, six-strikeout ball, the Phillies took their 1-0 lead into the bottom of the fifth inning. Again, they were hurt by a Herrera miscue as he misplayed a catchable line drive by Eduardo Nunez into a run-scoring triple. That was the only run Nola gave up and it was completely avoidable.
Kapler was more understanding of Herrera’s misplay in center field than the base-running error.
“It's a human error play,” Kapler. “You read the ball at a certain height and certain velocity off the bat. You make a split-second decision. His decision wasn't the right decision. But that is just baseball. That is human error.
“I played a lot of center field. I've had that happen to me on several occasions. It's not about lack of focus. You have a split-second read. You're engaged. You're ready. And you make a decision. Your body makes a decision. It's an instinct. It's not about a lack of engagement, in my opinion.”
Herrera is immensely talented, but his mistakes can be exasperating.
Kapler was asked if Herrera frustrated him.
“I want Odubel to do well,” the manager said. “That's what I think about all the time. How can we put him in a position to succeed and be the best version of himself? Because when he is the best version of himself, he's unstoppable.”
Herrera owned up to both mistakes. He said he should have slid into third and made a better read on the ball to center field that produced the game-tying hit.
“I should have done better,” he said.
There were other reasons that the Phillies lost this game. Scoring one run isn’t going to cut it. Getting the leadoff hitter on base just once in the first 12 innings isn’t going to cut it. Price matched Nola with eight innings of one-run ball.
The Phils have scored just seven runs in their four-game losing streak and just one the last two games.
The bullpen provided four scoreless innings after Nola left, but the Red Sox, with baseball’s most high-powered offense, could only be held off for so long. Austin Davis allowed a leadoff single to Nunez in the bottom of the 13th. Nunez stole second and scored on a walk-off double by Blake Swihart against Luis Garcia.
That concluded the punch in the face and it hurt. It hurt because Nola went toe-to-toe with the best lineup in baseball and was one bad defensive play away from eight shutout innings. It hurt because the Phillies needed a win with their best pitcher on the mound and didn’t get it. Now they have to face Boston again Tuesday night. Jake Arrieta will try to stop the losing streak from reaching a season-high five games.
“Nola controlled everything he could possibly control,” Kapler said. “He deserved a better outcome. But that's not how baseball works.
“It stinks. It's a punch in the face. But we've gotten punched in the face many times this season. We've come back the next day prepared to fight again. That's the M.O. of this team. It's what defines us. We do not stay down for long. I am fully confident we will come back tomorrow prepared to battle again. I feel very good about our chances to come out on top.”