NEW YORK — Whether in Cincinnati with the Reds or New York with the Mets, Jay Bruce has long been a Phillies killer. He entered this season hitting .317 (82 for 259) with 21 homers, 59 RBIs and a .990 OPS in 71 games against the Phils.
So it stood to reason that the Phillies would pitch Bruce carefully and defend him strategically when he came to the plate with a runner on first base in the sixth inning of a scoreless game in the first meeting of the season between the Phils and Mets at frigid Citi Field on Tuesday night.
Phillies starting pitcher Ben Lively did just what he wanted to do when he got Bruce to hit the ball on the ground to shortstop J.P. Crawford. However, the Phillies were in a defensive shift with Crawford on the right side of the second base bag and that made it impossible to turn a double play. It was a game-changing moment in the Phillies’ 2-0 loss to the Mets (see breakdown). The shift allowed Yoenis Cespedes, who had been hit by a pitch, to reach second base and he scored on a double by Todd Frazier. Later in the inning, Travis d’Arnaud singled home Frazier.
“That’s what the shift does,” Lively said after the game. “You can’t really do anything about that. It sucks but you have to move past it and make pitches to the next hitter.”
Manager Gabe Kapler acknowledged the role that the shift played in the outcome.
“It was a double play almost anywhere on the field,” he said.
“But we have to shift Bruce in that position. That’s the one ball we’re not going to be able to turn it on, but over the course of time we feel like that’s the best positioning for Jay Bruce.”
The play would not have loomed so large if the Phillies delivered any kind of offense. They had just three hits — all singles — and one was a bunt hit by Cesar Hernandez. Mets starter Matt Harvey pitched five innings of one-hit, five-strikeout ball and the Mets’ bullpen delivered four scoreless innings. Seth Lugo had two of them and struck out four. Jeurys Familia survived a leadoff walk and a one-out single by Odubel Herrera in the ninth and earned the save. Familia retired Scott Kingery and Andrew Knapp with runners on the corners to end the game.
Lively went 5 2/3 innings, the longest by a Phillies’ starter in the young season. He allowed six hits, a walk and struck out five.
“I thought Lively was exceptional,” Kapler said. “We knew that he was going to be gritty on a really cold night. He showed that tremendous competitiveness and really sort of did the Lively style of pitching — attacked the strike zone with his fastball, landed that slower curveball, kept hitters off-balance, stayed off barrels and was everything we hoped he’d be.”
The shift bit Lively. But the lack of offense hurt even more. The Phils were 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position.
The Phillies are 1-3 under Kapler. They are 19-39 against the Mets since the start of the 2015 season. It'll be Aaron Nola and Noah Syndergaard in the series finale Wednesday afternoon.