The margin for error dwindles whenever you face a pitcher of Jacob deGrom’s superstar caliber, and the Phillies far exceeded their limit Sunday afternoon at Citi Field.
Not all the gaffes showed up in the box score, but most of them resulted in runs as the Phillies, after five straight victories, lost their second straight to the New York Mets, this time by the lopsided score of 14-1. The second-place Phillies fell three games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves and will try to salvage a split of their four-game series with the Mets when they send Zack Wheeler to the mound Monday afternoon.
Billed as a matchup between aces, deGrom, winner of the National League’s last two Cy Young Awards, was clearly better than Aaron Nola, although it did not help that the Phillies’ defense was at its absolute worst.
Two Phillies errors — one by rookie third baseman Alec Bohm in the fourth inning and another by first baseman Rhys Hoskins in the fifth — led to three unearned runs off Nola, who allowed six runs total in 5 ⅓ innings before manager Joe Girardi went to the bullpen.
“Maybe the only runs [Nola] should have given up were the two solo home runs and it’s unfortunate,” Girardi said.
The Phillies’ mistake-filled afternoon started in the first when Domonic Smith hit a two-out fly ball to center field that should have been caught by Adam Haseley. Instead, the Phillies outfielder turned the wrong way and the ball bounced on the warning track for an RBI double.
Television cameras caught Nola in a rare moment of frustration after the inning, but he said he was upset with himself rather than Haseley.
“I really wasn’t sharp in the first inning and I really didn’t feel too sharp all day,” he said. “My fastball and my breaking balls to left-handed hitters were not good.”
Backup catcher Andrew Knapp accounted for the Phillies’ only run off deGrom in the top of the second when he hit a 1-0 fastball over the left-field wall for his first home run of the season.
That tied the game at 1-1, but from that point on deGrom was dominant, limiting the Phillies to one hit and three baserunners over his final five innings. The Mets’ ace, with the help of his triple-digit velocity that he maintained from start to finish, reached double-digit strikeouts for the 45th time in his career. He struck out 12 and induced 35 swings-and-misses, but earned just his third win in eight starts this season despite allowing two earned runs or fewer in all of them.
“He’s got three swing-and-miss pitches, and when you have that you’re going to have big strikeout numbers and it’s really tough on your hitters,” Girardi said. “When you’re throwing 99 and a hard slider like that and a changeup with a lot of depth, it makes it really, really difficult. What you have to do is foul some pitches off and get one where he makes a mistake and get his pitch count up.”
Nola (4-3) made a mistake in the second when he opened the inning with a first-pitch fastball up and over the plate that Mets slugger Pete Alonso launched into the left-field seats for his ninth homer of the season and 62nd of his young career. He added his 10th and 63rd later in the game.
Two innings later, Nola was in more trouble after Smith reached on a leadoff double. Nola, however, appeared to catch a break when he handled a Robinson Cano grounder back to the mound and turned around to see that Smith had strayed too far off second.
Instead, the break turned into a defensive breakdown when the Phillies botched the rundown. Girardi said Nola should have run Smith back to second more before releasing the ball, and the pitcher agreed.
“I probably could have done a couple things,” the pitcher said. “I could have given it up earlier, I could have run at him a little longer. It didn’t go in our favor.”
Nola, after running at Smith, threw to shortstop Didi Gregorius, who threw a little high to Bohm. The ball glanced off Bohm’s glove for an error and everybody was safe.
A couple of Nola strikeouts sandwiched around an intentional walk got the Phillies within an out of escaping the inning unharmed, but rookie shortstop Andres Gimenez delivered a two-run single by golfing a first-pitch changeup into right field.
The Mets tacked on a fifth run in the fifth inning when Hoskins could not handle a two-out grounder off the bat of Cano. That error allowed Michael Conforto to score and the Mets had a rare comfortable lead with their ace on the mound.
Plenty more mistakes followed for the Phillies — most of them by the men coming in from the bullpen — before the afternoon was over as the matchup between aces devolved into a massacre by the Mets when New York scored seven times in the eighth.
“You go out and get a split is what you do,” Girardi said when asked about Monday’s series finale with the Mets. “You do everything you can to get a split. You have to go out and play well and start another streak. We did not play well today was the bottom line. We have to play better tomorrow and find a way to win.”