The inning seemed to be finished Tuesday night and the damage was done but the crisis had been averted as Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins settled under a high pop-up near the pitcher’s mound. Hector Neris blew the save in the top of the ninth, but at least the game would remain tied.
And then Jean Segura charged from the other side of the infield, crossed the pitcher’s mound, and loudly yelled that the catch was his to make. Hoskins moved away, Segura lost his balance on the mound, and the ball fell to the grass.
Two runs crossed the plate in an eventual 10-9, 10-inning loss to the Baltimore Orioles and a late-inning meltdown, for once, was not solely shouldered by a bullpen that ranks as the worst in baseball in ERA, WHIP, and opponent’s batting average.
The Phillies have lost seven games this season, but Tuesday’s at Citizens Bank Park stings the most.
“That’s a game that I thought in a lot of ways, we gave it away,” manager Joe Girardi said.
The Phillies rallied in the bottom of the ninth with two outs to tie the game, but that double by Didi Gregorius would have meant much more had Segura not called off Hoskins.
The hit instead simply forced extra innings — which begin this season with a runner on second base — and Baltimore’s Austin Hays hit a leadoff line drive to center off Deolis Guerra that skipped past a diving Roman Quinn for an inside-the-park homer. An already painful night became even more agonizing.
Bryce Harper tied the game with a two-run homer in the eighth and Segura put the Phillies ahead three batters later with a homer. Zack Wheeler washed away a three-run lead and the bullpen dug another hole, but that all felt manageable as Segura’s blast rocketed into the left-field seats for a 6-5 lead.
And then Neris entered. Three of the first four batters reached base against Neris to load the bases in the ninth, offering a quick reminder that nothing comes easy for the Phillies this season in the later innings.
Renato Nunez hit a game-tying single, but then Neris struck out Ruiz for the second out. Perhaps he could escape with the game tied.
He seemed to as Pedro Severino’s pop-up hung over the infield. The play was so routine, the outfielders began moving toward the infield as if the inning was over. But the ball dropped in.
“I had heard something from the right side of the infield. And in typical pop up priority, those guys typically have priority over the first baseman,” Hoskins said. “But I just need to be louder, right? I called it. I called it early. I probably called it maybe a little bit too early. I don’t think there’s any miscue if I end up calling it again or maybe call it at a later time and who knows what happens after that?”
In one inning, Segura went from standing at home plate and watching his go-ahead homer to standing in the infield wondering how the ball eluded his glove. The play was ruled a single as Segura’s glove never touched it.
“Jean yelled really loud,” Girardi said. “I’m not so sure Rhys knew exactly who it was. Rhys was camped under it and it probably shocked Rhys more than anything, that would be my guess. And that’s why he stepped away.”
The Phillies’ scored one run in the 10th, before Hoskins made the final out with runners on second and third. That one run - which was driven in by Bruce - may have been enough to tie the game if Quinn had not misplayed the inside-the-park homer in the top of the 10th.
“You love the hustle, you love the effort. It’s something that you never want to take away from Q because he plays a great center field for us and he goes and gets the balls better than anybody on our team,” Harper said of Quinn’s diving attempt. “So you never want to take that away, but we have to be a little bit smarter. I had to learn that as well when I was in right field playing coming up, you know, not playing as many games and I’d want to go out and try to get every single ball for my pitchers and that’s a spot where with a guy on second base, keep the ball in front of you, hit the guy in the chest, and hopefully keep that double play in order and hopefully they only score one run. "
The latest bullpen struggle came hours after the front office swapped out beleaguered relievers Nick Pivetta and Trevor Kelley for Connor Brogdon and Blake Parker. Tommy Hunter allowed two runs in the seventh to break a 3-3 tie. Hanser Alberto drove in a run with a double to left field and Anthony Santander singled him in to give the Orioles a two-run lead.
The Phillies’ relievers had stumbled this season against the Braves and Yankees, but they were tagged Tuesday by the Orioles, who lost 108 games in 2019. There are no easy nights. The bullpen has allowed 40 earned runs this season in 35 ⅓ innings. The bullpen has the worst ERA (10.19) and WHIP (1.98) in the majors and opponents are hitting .366 against Phillies’ relievers, which is 100-points higher than the second-worst mark.
They currently have four relievers on the roster - Hunter, Neris, Guerra, and Adam Morgan - with ERAs over 8.00. The Phillies used five relievers on Tuesday night and three of them allowed runs.
Hunter said last week that it was too early to “hit that little red button.” But Tuesday night was the 12th game of a 60-game season - 20 percent of a 60-game season - and there is little about the bullpen that inspires confidence. Perhaps more changes are needed. Brogdon was not the only young reliever waiting in Allentown.
“We have not pitched well as a bullpen,” Girardi said. “We’ve made some changes. We hope that it’s going to get better. It has to get better. That’s the bottom line. We have to do a better job. All of us, including me, with our bullpen and we’ll get it straightened out.”
The bullpen was pushed into action after Wheeler lost a three-run lead in the sixth inning. Jay Bruce hit a 447-foot homer to put the Phillies ahead, 3-0, in the fifth, but the lead lasted just five batters as Wheeler seemed to tire in the sixth. Anthony Santander doubled and scored on a single by Nunez, who scored on a double by Ruiz. Dwight Smith Jr. singled in Ruiz with one out and the game was tied.
Wheeler was lifted with two outs in the fifth as he allowed three runs on eight hits with one walk and just two strikeouts. He threw 84 pitches, 57 of which were strikes. Adam Morgan relieved Wheeler, struck out a batter on four pitches to finish the seventh, and escaped before the walls started to crack.
But those walls would not fully crumble for two more innings, falling apart just when they appeared to become steady again.