The Phillies’ string of not being able to win back-to-back games is up to 21 straight games. They haven’t done it since the third and fourth games of the season, when they were on their way to a 5-1 start. Since then, they are 7-12.
From poor defense, to spotty relief work, to starters not locking down leads to the failure to hit with runners in scoring position, the Phillies have been their own worst enemy in way too many games throughout their inconsistent first month of the season.
The Phils' troubling propensity to beat themselves reared its ugly head again on Thursday when they suffered a 4-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in 10 innings at Busch Stadium. The loss put a cap on a 3-4 road trip and dropped the Phils to 12-13.
In the field, on the mound and on the base paths, the Phillies provided a smorgasbord of mistakes for the Cardinals to feast on. Ultimately, St. Louis won it on a wild pitch by David Hale that allowed the winning run to score from third base. Catcher J.T. Realmuto, who a half-inning earlier had the bat taken out of his hands when Matt Joyce ran into the third out at third base, was angry with himself for not blocking the pitch. As the Cardinals celebrated their walk-off win, Realmuto retreated to the dugout and fired his catcher’s mask against the bench.
“That’s my job,” Realmuto said. “That guy’s got to have confidence to throw that pitch in the dirt with a man on third and he did. It’s my job, what I get paid to do, to keep that ball in front. I let the team down. I should have kept it in front one way or another, should have blocked it or picked it. That’s on me there. I’ve got to keep that ball in front of me and keep that runner at third.”
Phillies starter Aaron Nola allowed just four hits and a walk, and he struck out seven in six innings of work. He took a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the fifth inning but lost it on a two-out, three-run pinch-hit homer by Matt Carpenter.
Ten days earlier in Philadelphia, Nola fired a shutout against the Cardinals and struck out Carpenter three times, finishing each one with a curveball.
This time, with the count 0-1, Carpenter was looking for the pitch. He clubbed it off leaping Roman Quinn’s glove and over the wall in right to give the Cardinals a 3-1 lead. The Phils tied the game in the seventh then ran out of gas.
Nola didn’t question himself for throwing Carpenter a curveball. He questioned the execution of the pitch.
“It wasn’t really a good one,” he said. “It kind of hung up there. If I get it down a little more, I think I get him out. Even if he was looking for it, it hung up too long. It’s a hard one to swallow.”
Manager Joe Girardi acknowledged all of his team’s miscues, but said he was responsible for the biggest one. He had Nola intentionally walk No. 8 hitter Edmundo Sosa so he could go after Carpenter, who was just 3 for 41 on the season. First base was open after Odubel Herrera made an error that allowed Andrew Knizner to move to second after a bloop hit.
“This game is on me,” Girardi said. “It's not on those guys. It's not on J.T. It's not on that. It's on me. I was the one who chose to walk Sosa to get to Carpenter. I looked at the success that Nola had had off of him. And it didn't work out. So this one's on me. It's not on those guys.
“Nola has had success against Carpenter the last couple of years. Nine at-bats, 0 for 7 with seven strikeouts. I felt like, in my mind, that he knew exactly how to approach him. So again, that's on me.”
Certainly, the Phils are an accountable bunch, with no shortage of people willing to take the blame for the loss — and their inconsistent start. But even as they seem to be running in place, they entered Thursday tied for first place in the NL East. They host the Mets in a division series beginning Friday night.
“It’s tough,” Realmuto said. “It’s been a roller coaster, for sure. Every time we feel like we get clicking one night, either the offense gets rolling or we throw a shutout, the next day we just don’t show up to play and haven’t been able to win back-to-back games in far too long now. It’s definitely a frustrating stretch we’ve been on.
“The way we’ve played, we don’t really deserve to be toward the top of the division right now. So we’re definitely fortunate to be in that position, but also know that if we had just played a little better we could have created a little distance.
“But this is a really long season. It’s early right now. The pieces are there. We just haven’t quite put it together. We have a good game one day and the next day we kind of lay down. We just have to get on a roll. It’s a game of momentum and we haven’t been able to go on any stretches where we build some momentum and win quite a few in a row.”
The odds were against the Phillies even before Thursday’s game began as Bryce Harper and Didi Gregorius both sat out the day after being hit with high-octane fastballs Wednesday night.
“We were a little short,” Girardi said. “It was just one of those days.”
The Phils will be happy to get home Friday night. They are 4-9 on the road this season and 80-123 since the start of 2018.