The Philadelphia Phillies opened a lengthy homestand with a Memorial Day loss to the Washington Nationals.
On Memorial Day at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies and the visiting Washington Nationals decked themselves out in special camouflage-themed uniforms in tribute to those who have given their lives fighting for American freedom.
While remembering those brave military members, the Fightin’ Phils hoped that the return home would also be a chance for them to erase the memory of a 1-5 road trip.
For most of the game it was an all too familiar tale, as a Phillies starting pitcher tried to toss a gem in order to overcome a woeful offensive effort.
Jeremy Hellickson was the starter this time, and a gem he indeed would fire on this night. Hellickson shut the Nationals down, allowing just one earned run on three hits over seven innings in which he struck out eight and walked no one.
“When things are going good, you just have a lot of confidence with all your pitches,” Hellickson said per MLB.com contributors. “I feel like I’ve got good life on my fastball right now. I’m not afraid to throw that in hitter’s counts. And in this 4-5 game span, it’s probably the best my changeup has been in a long time.”
That offense did produce single runs in the 2nd and 6th innings off Nats’ starter Tanner Roark, who was solid himself. Roark (4-4) would allow just those two earned runs on four hits over seven innings, striking out four and walking two.
In the bottom of the 2nd, Cesar Hernandez drew a one-out walk, stole 2nd base, and moved to 3rd on a wild pitch by Roark.
Hellickson then laid down a perfect first-pitch squeeze bunt towards 2nd base. The slow roller was fielded by Roark, but Hernandez easily raced home on the play to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead.
The Nationals tied it up in the top of the 4th inning thanks to Daniel Murphy‘s eight home run of the season, a two-out solo shot to right-center field.
But in the bottom of the 6th, the Phillies recaptured the lead when Freddy Galvis flipped a ball out over the same right-center field wall for his fifth homer of the year.
Meanwhile, Hellickson was producing a thoroughly dominating effort, and it seemed he had more to give. After seven innings, Hellickson was at just 79 economical pitches. There had to be a thought to let him continue at that point.
“We thought about doing that,” said Phillies manager Pete Mackanin per the MLB.com writers. “But we’ve had such a good combination of Neris and Gomez. We thought it was a good idea to get him out and go with the combination that’s been working so well for us.”
Mackanin had his late innings bullpen combo of Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez refreshed and ready. He figured that Hellickson had more than done his part on what was a warm, humid night, and so turned the ball over to Neris.
That would prove the turning point in this one. Neris simply didn’t have it, a rarity in what has become a breakout season for the Phillies usually reliable setup man.
The Nationals got to Neris for three earned runs on a pair of hits and three walks, rallying from a 2-1 deficit to a 4-2 lead.
Things looked good early in the inning, as Neris retired two of the first three batters around a one-out walk to Danny Espinosa. But then a pair of ex-Phillies came through for Washington.
First, Ben Revere worked a full-count walk to put two runners aboard for former Phillies 2008 World Series hero Jayson Werth, who then delivered a clutch single to score Espinosa with the tying run and send Revere all the way around to 3rd base, Werth himself going to 2nd on the throw.
Neris then lost another batter on a full-count pitch, walking Chris Heisey to load the bases. Murphy then came to the plate and delivered the back-breaker, a line single to right field that scored both Revere and Werth with the runs that gave D.C. a 4-2 lead.
In the bottom of the 9th, on came former Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon to close things out. The man who Phils’ fans love to hate more than anyone else in the game these days very nearly blew it.
Maikel Franco and Ryan Howard started the club’s last chance off with back-to-back doubles to make it a 4-3 game. David Lough then was sent in to run for ‘The Big Piece’, putting some speed at 2nd as the potential tying run with nobody out.
Mackanin then made another questionable move, sending Tommy Joseph up to hit for Carlos Ruiz. While Joseph may be a better offensive player at this stage in their careers, no one could possibly know Papelbon better than Chooch, and the light-hitting Hernandez was due up next.
Joseph struck out on three pitches, and Hernandez then followed by also being overpowered by Papelbon for a swinging strikeout. When Tyler Goeddel softly lined out to Murphy, the ball game was over.
So the Phillies have now lost four straight for the first time since opening the season with four consecutive losses. They also have dropped six of their last seven games, eight of ten, and are a woeful 4-10 since tying for the division lead on May 14th.
This feels like it, the clock finally striking midnight on the 2016 Phillies early season “Cinderella” run to respectability.
This team cannot score runs, and cannot pitch well enough to overcome that offensive inadequacy on a consistent basis. There is every reason to believe now that by the time what could have been a rousing homestand of hope ends, that the club will instead have a losing record on the season.