WASHINGTON — In this case, it really was a game of inches.
A powerful fifth inning put the Phillies up four runs, but the bullpen couldn't finish the sweep, allowing three in the sixth and three in the eighth in an 8-6 loss Sunday night to the Nationals.
The culprits were Edubray Ramos, who allowed his first two earned runs since May 8, and Seranthony Dominguez, who allowed a two-out, two-run, bases-loaded single to Daniel Murphy. It was a soft line drive an inch over 5-foot-10 Cesar Hernandez's glove.
The Nationals had 17 hits. Nine of them came in the final three innings.
The meltdown was under the bright lights of ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. Know how long it had been since the Phils appeared on Sunday Night Baseball? So long that Delmon Young and Darin Ruf were their starting corner outfielders.
Despite the loss, the Phillies won another series against a good team. They've been doing a lot of that lately. They're 12-13 during this grueling stretch that began at Dodger Stadium on Memorial Day, and they're 23-25 against teams over .500.
It's a very good sign for the ensuing three months of the regular season.
"I think that every series that we win, it's less, 'If they keep this up, it proves they are good' kind of thing. And rather every series we win, we feel more confident that second-half development leads us into the playoffs," manager Gabe Kapler said Sunday.
"That's how I am thinking about it. We have young players on our roster, right? A lot of 25-, 26-year-olds. If they all do what their natural curve should do, get a little bit better in the second half, theoretically we are a developing team that is getting better. So I can see us getting even better in the second half."
After losing seven of their first eight games in June, the Phils are 9-4. Just in time to welcome to Citizens Bank Park a suddenly cold Yankees team.
The decision you'll hear about Monday
In that ugly eighth inning, Kapler chose to intentionally walk 19-year-old rookie Juan Soto to load the bases with two outs and Daniel Murphy due up next.
As always, the manager was heavily criticized immediately on the interwebs because the move didn't work.
"Why walk the rookie to pitch to a career Phillie-killer?"
Well, because Soto has been unbelievable, including in this series. He's hitting .324/.430/.588. Murphy was 5 for 37 entering the night after coming back from major knee surgery 12 games ago. He also has had issues catching up to fastballs.
At the very least, it seemed like a "flip-a-coin" decision. Didn't work. Soto's going to be very good for a very long time.
"Soto has been one of the league's most dangerous offensive players. Murphy, coming off injury and sort of still going through the process of getting back to being Murphy, has struggled," Kapler said.
"And with Seranthony (Dominguez's) fastball, it's not an easy fastball to catch up with and we thought that Soto was more dangerous in that situation. You pick your poison right there. You have two very good hitters and the first one in Soto has been elite and Murphy has struggled a little bit. So, went after the guy who's struggled and coming off an injury."
Big bats in the middle
One through five, the Phillies' offense is clicking.
Cesar Hernandez walked twice more Sunday and has a .376 on-base percentage.
Rhys Hoskins hit a two-run homer and is now batting .352 over his last 15 games with five homers, five doubles and 15 RBI.
Odubel Herrera hit a two-run triple off lefty reliever Sammy Solis. He, too, couldn't be hotter. In his last nine games, Herrera has nine extra-base hits and 11 RBI.
Carlos Santana? Quiet game for him, but over his last 45 games he's hit .277 with a .399 OBP, 20 extra-base hits and 35 RBI.
Not to be outdone, Nick Williams hit his first homer of the season off a lefty two batters after Herrera's triple. Williams has settled into what's become almost an everyday job in right field. He's started 21 of the Phillies' last 25 games.
Just enough from Pivetta
Nick Pivetta really wanted to get the bad taste out of his mouth from his last outing at Nationals Park in early May, which lasted one inning and resulted in six runs.
Minus that outing, Pivetta has a 3.46 ERA on the season.
In five innings Sunday night, Pivetta allowed two runs and struck out seven. He faced jams in the fourth and fifth innings but navigated around them because of his strikeout stuff. With two on and nobody out in the fourth, he struck out the side. With the bases loaded and two outs the next inning, he punched out Michael A. Taylor.
Pivetta has struck out 101 batters in 84⅓ innings. Only five NL pitchers have more K's: Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, Jacob deGrom, Jon Gray and Zack Greinke.
Pair of injuries
Andrew Knapp left the game in the seventh inning with a right knee contusion.
An inning later, Maikel Franco slipped on a slick first-base bag on a single and landed awkwardly. He stayed in after a brief delay, then exited the next half-inning.
Kapler said both appear to be OK and that Franco could play tomorrow.
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