LOS ANGELES — The Phillies were so close to approaching something resembling momentum. After an abysmal homestand, in which they lost four of five games, including a two-game sweep by the Texas Rangers, they took two of three in Seattle. Heading into the bottom of the eighth inning on Thursday, they held a 7-3 lead over one of the best teams in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and were beating them in front of their home crowd.
And then, in the span of seven at-bats, that thing, that felt something like momentum, evaporated. Jose Alvarado came into the game in relief for Seranthony Dominguez. He proceeded to allow five hits, four earned runs, and one walk. He struck out one, and couldn’t get out of the inning.
Manager Joe Girardi let Alvarado face the heart of the Dodgers’ lineup before he was willing to pull him out of the game.
When Girardi finally did pull Alvarado out, calling upon reliever Andrew Bellatti after the game was tied 7-7 with only one out, it was clear that he should have done so far sooner. With help from an impressive defensive play at home plate by Rhys Hoskins, Bellatti got the outs his team so desperately needed, all while facing the Dodgers’ toughest hitters with the bases loaded.
“I felt like maybe (Alvarado) had the best chance to strike out the guys he was facing at that point,” Girardi said of his decision to leave Alvarado in. “And once they made the switch, then I went to Bellatti. He was able to get Bellinger and then wasn’t able to get the next guy. We’ll get that figured out. We’ll get him right.”
The Phillies won on Thursday night. They defeated the Dodgers, 9-7, climbing back in the top of the ninth inning, stringing together some hits and scoring on a wild pitch and on a Bryce Harper sac fly. But after that eighth inning, the win lost some of its luster. And it lost even more of its luster after closer Corey Knebel led off the ninth inning by loading the bases, allowing two walks and a single. To Knebel’s credit, he was able to get himself out of the jam, inducing three flyouts. But all in all, it was an unnecessarily exciting finish to a game that was once well-within the Phillies’ reach to finish with little drama.
Part of the reason why Thursday night was so stunning was because fans had a seen a similar scene play out in the Phillies’ horrific 8-7 loss to the Mets on May 5, when they blew a 7-1 lead in the ninth inning. In that game, similarly to the game on Thursday night, Girardi waited far too long to pull out a struggling reliever — James Norwood — before calling upon Knebel.
In that game, similarly to the game on Thursday night, everything had been going the Phillies’ way. Their offense had put up seven runs on a good team, backed by a dominant performance from Aaron Nola. And in that game, similarly to the game on Thursday night, the Phillies’ momentum vanished quickly.
“I thought we did a great job of battling,” Harper said after Thursday’s game. “I think as good teams go through, you’re going to sometimes make mistakes, that sometimes happens in this game. But we can’t let that (May 5 game) happen again. It’s not what good teams do. It’s not what teams that are fighting to win a championship or fighting to be the best team in the league, it’s not what those teams do.
“We can’t continue to let that happen. I think everyone in here knows that. As a team, this was a great win for us. Especially against a really good Dodgers team over there.”
The Phillies are now 15-17. They’ve won three of their four games of this seven-game road trip so far, which is an accomplishment. But they are still lacking something that they badly need — momentum — and with Clayton Kershaw on the mound on Friday, and Walker Buehler on the mound on Saturday, things aren’t going to get easier from here.
Harper goes yard, after receiving some tough news
Just over an hour before game time, Bryce Harper stood in the visitor’s dugout at Dodger Stadium, fielding questions about an injury he’d just begun learning about himself. The Phillies right fielder/DH had been informed that morning that he had a small tear in his UCL, and would need to receive a PRP injection on Sunday. Many fans reacted to this news with panic. Would the NL MVP still be able to hit?
With a swift swing on a 1-0 pitch in the top of the first inning, Harper answered that question with a resounding “yes.” Not only would he be able to hit; he would be able to hit the ball very hard, and very far.
Harper’s solo home run to right center field, which left his bat at 110 mph, and traveled 405 feet, set the tone for the Phillies on Thursday night. Against a tough starter in Tyler Anderson, the Phillies racked up 12 hits and nine runs, making Anderson the first Dodgers starter to allow at least three runs since Tony Gonsolin on April 26. Eight of the Phillies’ nine hitters recorded at least one hit.
A solid outing from Wheeler in his return from COVID-related IL
With some insurance runs behind him, right-handed pitcher Zack Wheeler cruised through his first two innings of work, allowing no hits and striking out four. In the bottom of the third inning he ran into some trouble, but deftly worked his way out of it. He allowed a solo home run to Cody Bellinger, followed by a double to Chris Taylor. He began his next at-bat by throwing two balls to Gavin Lux, but ended up striking Lux out. Two groundouts later, Wheeler was out of the inning, with just one earned run allowed.
Wheeler ran into another close call an inning later, when Bellinger crushed a ball with two runners on that just narrowly went foul. But Wheeler escaped that, too. He finished his night at five and one-thirds innings pitched, allowing six hits, three runs, three earned runs, one walk, and one home run, while striking out seven. It was Wheeler’s first outing back since he was placed on the COVID-related IL on May 8. He said that he wasn’t able to do much while he was on the COVID-related IL, beyond keeping his arm going.
“I felt good about the outing; I didn’t really have my legs underneath me, I kind of felt like jello,” Wheeler said on Thursday. “But the results were there, for the most part. The last inning kind of got me, but other than that I felt good with what I had.
“I think (the feeling in my legs) was more the COVID than the time off. You deal with time off throughout the year. I think it was the COVID. Really wasn’t able to do all that much, so my legs were kind of shot. But we’ll get them recovered and get back after it next time.”