The first game of Thursday afternoon's doubleheader between the Phillies and Washington Nationals was played out against the palpable backdrop of baseball's trade deadline, which arrives Friday at 4 p.m.
On one side were the Nationals, who are in full seller's mode. Closer Brad Hand was traded to Toronto before the game and an even bigger deal is anticipated before the deadline as three-time Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer is expected to be moved to a team with World Series aspirations.
Much to the Phillies' chagrin, Scherzer, who had missed his previous start with a tender triceps, started Game 1 for the Nationals. It was likely a showcase just to let interested teams know that he was healthy.
On the other side were the Phillies, desperate to stay in the NL East race after nine straight seasons of missing the playoffs, and equally desperate for a pitching upgrade -- starter, reliever, whatever they can get -- before the deadline.
The game almost seemed secondary, but it wasn't, especially for the Phillies.
They needed a win.
They did not get one.
Zack Wheeler went toe-to-toe with Scherzer for six innings before giving up a tie-breaking, two-run homer to Yan Gomes with no outs in the top of the seventh as the Nationals hung a damaging 3-1 defeat on the Phillies in the seven-inning contest.
“The seventh is the ninth right there so it’s a big blow,” Wheeler said. “That was a big game for us. I needed to go out and post some zeroes, especially against Max. I let us down right there.”
They came back from down seven runs to win the second game of the doubleheader on Brad Miller's walk-off grand slam.
In the first game, Wheeler had given up just five hits and a run through six. Gerardo Parra led off the seventh with a hit that fell in front of diving center fielder Odubel Herrera and went for a double.
The next batter, Gomes, hit a 1-1 fastball over the centerfield wall.
“Right down the middle,” Wheeler lamented. “I wanted it inside. It poured back over the middle and he made me pay for it.”
Scherzer allowed three hits and a run over six innings. He walked three and struck out five. He is 14-4 in 24 career starts against the Phillies.
The loss dropped the Phillies to 50-51. They entered the day four games back in the mediocre but tight NL East.
The Phillies started rookie left-hander Cristopher Sanchez in the nightcap. They have lost two of the first three games of the four-game series against the Nats.
Wheeler allowed a run in the second inning on a double by Josh Harrison, a groundout and a sacrifice fly by Parra.
The Phils tied the game in the fourth on a leadoff homer by J.T. Realmuto, one of just three hits on the day for the team.
Rhys Hoskins did not start the game because he is 1 for 23 with 12 strikeouts in his career against Scherzer. Brad Miller got the start at first base over Hoskins and made a terrific defensive play to end the top of the sixth and prevent the Nats from scoring the go-ahead run in a 1-1 game.
No great defensive play could have stopped Gomes' homer from clearing the wall. He was activated from the injured list before the game.
The doubleheader was scheduled after Wednesday night's game between the two clubs was postponed after 12 positive COVID-19 tests on the Washington side. Four of the positive tests belonged to players, one of which was shortstop Trea Turner. The Nationals placed Turner, catcher Alex Avila and pitchers Daniel Hudson and Austin Voth on the injured list before the game.