ATLANTA — Just when you think the Phillies exhausted all possible ways of coughing up a lead, you look up and see the center fielder chasing after a throw from the catcher that got by not one, not two, but three defenders and rolled nearly to the warning track.
The Bad News Phils?
It sure seems like it.
The news definitely wasn’t good Wednesday night. It wasn’t only that the Phillies fell yet again to the Ronald Acuña Jr.-less Atlanta Braves, 8-4, for their seventh loss in 10 games. It’s the way they lost — nay, the way they’ve been losing through these last five weeks — that’s troublesome.
“The mood is not good, obviously,” said J.T. Realmuto, the catcher who made the aforementioned throw. “We feel like we’re a lot better team than the way we’re playing right now, and that’s up to us in this clubhouse to go out there and play better.
“It’s pretty somber right now in this clubhouse after this loss and that’s how it should be. Because we expect to win. We just have to play better if we want to get to where we want to go.”
With the sting (and stink) of a ninth-inning meltdown still fresh from the night before, the Phillies rallied to tie it, 4-4, and chase Braves starter Charlie Morton in the fifth. But a few minutes later, the go-ahead run scored on — get this — a wild pitch and a two-base error that could have been shared by four players.
For the record, the miscue was charged to center fielder Odúbel Herrera, counterbalancing his earlier homer and RBI single. But the busted play began when Realmuto jumped out from behind the plate to block a wild pitch from lefty José Alvarado and tried to throw out Dansby Swanson at second base.
The ball sailed over Jean Segura’s glove, then whizzed past the mitt of shortstop Bryson Stott, who was a tick late in coming over to back up the play. With Swanson frozen at second, the ball rolled under Herrera’s glove and kept going.
So did Swanson, who was able to coast around third base and across home plate to give the Braves a 5-4 lead.
“It looked like Segy was trying to be quick with the tag,” manager Joe Girardi said. “They work on that all the time. And it looked like Odúbel just peeked up.”
Said Realmuto: “I don’t know what happened, honestly. It all happened pretty fast. I thought the play was over, honestly. I thought we were just going to get it back in, and I saw [Swanson] start running to third.”
It wasn’t the only reason the Phillies lost. Ranger Suárez had no command and lasted only 4⅓ innings. The Phillies went 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Cleanup-hitting Nick Castellanos went 0-for-4 to extend his slump to 8-for-59.
But two days after Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski remarked that “our defense hasn’t cost us,” a key miscue was their undoing.
In the nightmarish ninth inning Tuesday night, it was center fielder Roman Quinn who didn’t take charge on Acuña’s fly ball that fell between him and Castellanos. In the second inning Wednesday night, Castellanos missed the cutoff man on a throw from right field, helping the Braves score a run.
“Little things add up to big results,” Girardi said. “Missing the cutoff man probably led to an extra run for them. It makes a big difference.”
But the inability of three players to corral Realmuto’s throw was the biggest play in the game.
“I’ve never seen that play before — in the big leagues,” Realmuto said. “It’s hard to understand why those plays are happening to us right now. But we’ve got to right the ship and get things to start going in our direction.”
Like fellow starter Kyle Gibson one night earlier, Suárez was hurt by two-strike hits, particularly in a four-run second inning.
Suárez tried to pitch inside with an 0-2 sinker to William Contreras, who skied a solo homer over the outstretched glove of leaping left fielder Kyle Schwarber. Two batters later, Orlando Arcia doubled to left field on a hanging 2-2 curveball.
And two batters after that, Ozzie Albies served a full-count fastball to right field for a two-run single that gave the Braves a 4-1 lead.
The two-strike trouble continued in the sixth inning when Swanson hit a solo homer to right field on reliever Andrew Bellatti’s 2-2 fastball for a 7-4 Braves advantage.
Harper stays hot
Bryce Harper had three hits in his first three plate appearances, a continuation of a torrid stretch that began with an RBI double, RBI single, and go-ahead two-run homer in his last three times at bat Tuesday night.
The Braves finally retired Harper on a sixth-inning groundout.
But Harper, who finished with four hits, also got overaggressive on the bases and was thrown out trying to stretch a single to right field in the first inning, another costly mistake for the Phillies.
“There’s no guarantee that we score,” Girardi said, “but, obviously, first and third with one out is better than [runner on] third with two outs.”
The Braves scratched Acuña from their original lineup because of tightness in his right quadriceps.
It’s unclear whether Acuña will be able to play in the series finale Thursday. The star right fielder awoke feeling sore, and with the field soaked by late-afternoon rain, the Braves didn’t want to risk additional injury.