CHICAGO -- Cole Irvin, his night finished, stood on the mound with the ball in his hand and waited to be let go.
It was just moments earlier that he turned to center field and watched his final pitch in an 8-4 loss to the Cubs fall over Wrigley Field’s ivy-covered bricks for a grand slam Wednesday night.
Now -- as manager Gabe Kapler detailed a substitution with the umpire -- Irvin was stranded on the mound, forced to listen to the crowd roar when Albert Almora left the dugout and acknowledged his grand slam with a tip of the cap.
The Phillies, for the second straight night, tasted defeat at Wrigley Field. Irvin was rocked for seven runs, the defense struggled, and the lineup failed to find the big hit.
The Phillies seemed to leave the ballpark Monday night with such energy after gutting out a come-from-behind win. That emphatic win now feels in the distant past. They’ll return Thursday afternoon to try to salvage a split of the four-game series and, more important, right themselves before driving north to Milwaukee for a weekend that should be just as challenging.
“I wasn’t exactly myself today,” Irvin said. “Just wasn’t executing what I needed to. I came up with some big pitches in a couple innings, but the offspeed I wasn’t locating. The fastball I wasn’t locating. That’s a recipe for trouble when you’re facing a lineup like that. When you’re a guy that pitches to contact and you can’t locate pitches, it’s not a good sign.”
Kapler reached the mound, took the ball from Irvin, and patted his back. The crowd’s cheers had finally subsided. The rookie’s first painful night in the big leagues was finished. All seven of Irvin’s runs scored on homers. He allowed seven hits, walked three, and struck out six.
His final pitch - a first-pitch grooved change-up - came just after a lengthy mound meeting with catcher J.T. Realmuto and pitching coach Chris Young. The bases were loaded with two outs. Attack Almora with change-ups, Young told Irvin. The coach just didn’t want the change-up to be sitting over the middle of the plate.
The Phillies have an off day Monday, which means Irvin’s next start will not come until Tuesday if the Phillies opt to keep every pitcher on their regular rotation turn. His first two starts were promising, but his struggles Wednesday night could be enough for the Phillies to reconsider his place in the rotation.
Vince Velasquez made progress before the game and wants his spot back in the rotation. The Phillies have decisions to make. Competition, Kapler said earlier this week, is good.
“I think that’s something that we want to spend some time thinking about,” Kapler said. “After a loss like this and after we just kind of got punched, I think the main thing is that we go back and digest and look at what happened in the game and really evaluate it with a little distance between what happened.”
Irvin did outlast Cole Hamels, who went just four innings and allowed three runs, but it could have been more. The Phillies hit Hamels hard and had him on the ropes, but they could not find the blow they needed. Hamels stranded eight runners and escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning without allowing a run.
It was Hamels’ shortest start since joining the Cubs last summer, but the Phillies let him off the hook.
J.T. Realmuto hit an RBI ground-rule double into the ivy in the first. Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper each had three hits. Cesar Hernandez and Rhys Hoskins had RBI singles in the third. But that was it. It just felt as if the Phillies could do more against Hamels, who has now started against all 30 major-league teams.
“They were able to deliver the knockout blows,” Kapler said. “They scored all of their runs on two swings. We just weren’t able to deliver that one knockout blow, that uppercut. They were able to do that. I thought our guys fought all the way to the end.”
Irvin does not rack up strikeouts and he does not shy away from pitching to contact with a fastball that hovers in the high 80s. That recipe can work if your command is precise and your off-speed pitches are crisp. If not, that recipe will fail. Especially against a lineup like the Cubs'.
The rookie did show resolve in the first inning by stranding the bases loaded and he valiantly retired three straight batters after Anthony Rizzo rocked a mammoth home run off a 3-0 count. The ball nearly left the stadium, but it smacked into the neon Budweiser sign, breaking the lights of one of the letters.
Rizzo’s homer was so obvious that Irvin didn’t even turn to watch it leave the park. It seemed like a chance for Irvin to fold. He instead rallied to retire the next seven batters. He seemed to right himself. But moments later he was standing alone on the mound as the ballpark rocked, waiting for his night to finally be over.