The Phillies looked on course for a three-game sweep Sunday afternoon at a sold-out Citizens Bank Park.
Then the seventh inning happened.
Aaron Nola failed to finish off a promising start and the Phillies' walking-wounded bullpen couldn't pick him up in a 4-3 loss to the Reds.
The Phillies dropped to 37-28, still best in the NL East. However, they missed out on what would have been their third sweep and a season-best fifth straight win.
At this point last season, the Phillies were 34-31.
The Reds improved to 29-35.
• The Phillies' beat-up bullpen did not do the job. Jose Alvarez inherited two runners in the seventh inning and let both score. Vince Velasquez inherited one and it came around to score as the Reds used a three-run inning to charge ahead 4-3.
The Phillies have seven relievers on the injured list. Nola was at 104 pitches when he was pulled with two outs in the inning and a pair of lefties due up, one of whom he has dominated (see story).
• Reds first baseman Joey Votto was in the thick of Sunday's action. He lost a ball in the sun that resulted in a 2-1 lead for the Phillies (more on that below). He then made up for it by delivering a two-out, two-run single in the seventh inning off of Alvarez, erasing the Phillies' 3-1 lead. The runs were charged to Nola, who was lifted and had held Votto to 0 for 13 in his career.
• Sonny Gray, Cincinnati's 29-year-old right-hander, made his first career start against the Phillies. His defense did not help him. The Phillies, who like to work counts, got into the Reds' bullpen after 5 2/3 innings of three-run ball from Gray.
• The Phillies had just five hits. Cincinnati's relievers, who have allowed the fourth-fewest runs per game in baseball, shut down the Phillies, allowing just one hit.
Not enough from Nola
Coming off his first loss in which he allowed six earned runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Padres, Nola was good but couldn't nail down the seventh inning and it proved costly.
With two outs, nobody on and the Phillies holding a 3-1 lead, Nola allowed a single and then uncharacteristically walked pinch-hitter Josh VanMeter on four pitches. During the VanMeter at-bat, there was a brief injury delay for catcher J.T. Realmuto.
Manager Gabe Kapler turned to the lefty Alvarez, which made the Reds go to Nick Senzel, a righty-swinging pinch-hitter. Senzel chopped an infield single and that brought up Votto, who delivered on the first pitch.
In the top of the second inning, Nola was hurt by Cincinnati's decision to hit-and-run, resulting in a bloop single to second base and eventually the game's opening run.
Nola was in control most of the afternoon but received a no-decision. His final line: 6 2/3 innings, four hits, three earned runs, three walks (one intentional) and seven strikeouts. He is 6-1 with a 4.58 ERA in 14 starts. Through 14 starts last season, he had a 2.27 ERA.
Who's got it?
In the box score, it will read as a two-run single for Rhys Hoskins, who was hitting .216 with two homers and 10 RBIs since May 8 entering the day.
But how the Phillies grabbed a 2-1 lead in the third inning came on one of the more bizarre plays you'll see at a game.
Hoskins skied a popup in the infield with the bases loaded and two outs. Votto, battling the sun and wind, drifted into foul territory but was about 10 feet away from the ball, which dropped in fair territory.
No, I don't.— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) June 9, 2019
After review, Harper slides in safely, too!
Phillies lead it, 2-1. pic.twitter.com/dxYhLtREad
The play scored Maikel Franco and a hustling Bryce Harper, who was initially ruled out before Kapler successfully challenged the play, completing a wild, go-ahead sequence. Reds catcher Curt Casali was slow on the tag as the throw beat Harper home.
Jay Bruce, who was hitting .444 with four homers, two doubles and 11 RBIs in his first five games with his new club, finally went hitless in a Phillies uniform. He finished the day 0 for 3.
Harping on aggressiveness
Harper ran the bases like a madman Sunday. He had a stolen base, went to second on a single after Yasiel Puig fired to home plate, bulldozed into home on Hoskins' pop-up single and even tried to steal home but was unsuccessful.
Maybe he can be a bit smarter on the attempt to swipe home with Hoskins at the plate, but all in all, you like the aggressiveness (see story).
The Phillies came in with MLB's third-fewest stolen bases but picked up two Sunday.
The Phillies on Monday open a three-game series at Citizens Bank Park against the Diamondbacks, who are 34-32 and have won four straight.
Here are the pitching matchups:
Monday, 7:05 p.m./NBCSP — RHP Jerad Eickhoff (3-3, 4.14) vs. RHP Taylor Clarke (1-2, 4.43)
Tuesday, 7:05 p.m./NBCSP — RHP Jake Arrieta (5-5, 4.29) vs. RHP Jon Duplantier (1-0, 3.27)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m./NBCSP — RHP Zach Eflin (6-5, 2.88) vs. Merrill Kelly (6-6, 4.12).
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