No doubt, there will be a lot of Tuesday morning quarterbacking after this one.
And arguments can certainly be made that the Phillies need a legitimate ninth-inning closer — did you notice that the Washington Nationals traded for a good one in Kelvin Herrera on Monday? — and that maybe it’s simply time to give Seranthony Dominguez a sustained look there.
But if you think about it, the bullpen really wasn’t the problem Monday night. Sure, Adam Morgan and Jake Thompson gave up big hits, but that was after the game should have been over, after the Phillies should have already been in the clubhouse with the music blaring, the lights flashing and the fog machine turning the room into something that resembles the inside of Jeff Spicoli’s VW bus.
What was looking like a terrible, inexcusable loss for the Phillies turned into a dramatic, 6-5, walk-off win over the St. Louis Cardinals when Aaron Altherr drilled a two-run double to left with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning (see first take).
Altherr’s hit got a lot of people off the hook. The offense scored four runs in the first inning then got nothing, and just two hits, before the extra inning. Morgan, who gave up a game-tying base hit in the ninth, and Thompson, who gave up a go-ahead homer in the 10th, benefitted from Altherr’s hit.
But catcher Andrew Knapp was the big beneficiary of Altherr’s clutchness.
With two outs in the top of the ninth, runners on second and third, the Phillies up, 4-2, and Yairo Munoz at the plate, Knapp called for a 1-2 slider from Victor Arano. The pitch was effective. It bounced in the dirt in front of the plate and Munoz swung. Third out. Game over.
Not so quick.
Knapp did not stay down on the ball in the dirt and it passed between his legs for a wild pitch. A run scored and Munoz reached first base safely, keeping the game alive for Kolten Wong to tie it against Morgan and the Cardinals to take the lead on a homer by Tommy Pham against Thompson in the 10th.
“I’ve got to make that play,” Knapp said afterward. “I’ve got to block it. I’ve blocked that pitch a million times. This one just got under my glove. It was a little shorter than I thought it was going to be. I just misplayed it.”
In the dugout, manager Gabe Kapler looked down for a second after Munoz’s swing.
"I thought the game was over,” he said. “But I think that's the natural reaction. I think that's a play that Knappy probably makes 99 out of 100 times. Kind of a fluky thing that happened there and I think if you ask Knappy, he knows he can catch that ball."
If the ball is blocked and the out recorded at first base, Nick Pivetta gets a much-deserved win on a night when he struck out a career-high 13 in 7 1/3 innings. In all, Phillies pitching registered 19 strikeouts, 18 in the first nine innings. Edubray Ramos pitched out of trouble in the eighth and Arano survived a couple of hits and actually had the game over until it wasn’t in the ninth.
“Ramos and Arano, those guys were awesome,” Kapler said.
Dominguez, Kapler’s favorite bullpen weapon, was unavailable after throwing 52 pitches the previous two games.
After the game, Kapler was asked the daily questions about the way he uses his bullpen. In short, he believes he has multiple pitchers who can get high-leverage outs and he praised Ramos and Arano for doing that Monday night. He did not rule out one day using Dominquez as his go-to ninth-inning guy, but did qualify that by saying matchups would be taken into account.
So, basically, you’ll know who is pitching the ninth inning when the bullpen door swings open and Kapler’s choice of the moment runs to the mound.
The Phillies are 38-32 and an NL-best 23-12 at home. They have not won a series against the Cardinals since 2014. They have two games to do it after a win turned into a loss and back into a win again Monday night.