The Phillies were two outs away from taking over first place in the National League East, two outs away from being eight games over .500 for the first time since 2011, the last year they made the playoffs.
They were two outs away from nailing down a nice win for Jake Arrieta on a night when he had no margin for error, two outs away from putting their collective foot down and telling the New York Mets to find a new punching bag.
So close ...
Hector Neris gave up a pair of one-out home runs in the top of the ninth inning and the Phillies suffered a galling 3-1 loss to the Mets at Citizens Bank Park on Friday night (see first take). The Phillies, thanks to Arrieta’s 7 1/3 shutout innings and Odubel Herrera’s home run in the first inning, had taken a 1-0 lead into the ninth inning. Neris got the first out before all hell broke loose. He allowed a single to Wilmer Flores then back-to-back home runs to Michael Conforto and Devin Mesoraco.
Goodbye, four-game winning streak.
Goodbye, ascension into first place.
Neris heard lots of them after the home runs and again as he left the mound.
It has been an up-and-down week for Neris. He blew a save Sunday in Washington, came home and picked up two saves in a rousing four-game sweep of the Giants, then suffered an excruciating meltdown in this one. Without his two blown saves, the Phillies are looking at a seven-game winning streak.
Manager Gabe Kapler has never officially named Neris his closer even though he is the guy who has been called upon in ninth innings with the lead.
Will Kapler stay away from Neris in the ninth inning for a while?
“If he's the best option at any given scenario, we will go to him,” Kapler said. “That has always been the case; that will always be the case. If he is the best option to get the hitters out that are coming up, we will go to him.
“Hector is as a very good baseball player going through a tough time. His track record suggests he will perform, I believe he will perform.”
The Phillies have several pitchers with closer’s stuff, including Luis Garcia, Yacksel Rios and Seranthony Dominguez. It will be fascinating to see what Kapler does in the next save situation.
Conforto hit a 1-2 fastball for the go-ahead homer. Two pitches earlier, he hit a splitter that went foul, just missing a homer. Neris did not throw another splitter and that is his best pitch. Mesoraco hit a slider.
Neris might have lost some confidence in the pitch. He did not stick around after the game to speak with reporters.
“It's a really special pitch,” Kapler said of Neris’ splitter. “I don't think anybody is lacking any confidence in it. But he's also got a really good fastball and his fastball has been effective in the past and that one wasn't.”
Catcher Jorge Alfaro said he and Neris were on the same page in throwing Conforto a second straight fastball at 1-2.
Though Neris got the boos, there were other failures. The offense was 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position, left nine men on base and grounded into two double plays.
The Mets came in having lost eight of nine. But Citizens Bank Park and the Phillies bring out the best in the Mets. They are 41-19 against the Phils since the start of 2015 and 41-17 at CBP since 2012.
Arrieta has given up just one run in 13 1/3 innings his last two starts and the Phils ended up losing both of those games on blown saves by Neris.
"It's tough for me because it's tough for Hector,” Arrieta said. “You hate to see a teammate in a situation like that. He works his butt off. It's tough for him, so it's tough for me.”
How is a tough loss like this best handled?
"We just drink a beer, talk about it and move forward,” Arrieta said.
After this one, two beers might be in order.