It was tempting to think about October, about how far the $330 million superstar could carry a team, and about how the Phillies could overcome the shortcomings of their roster in a three-game playoff series as Bryce Harper’s homer traveled 445 feet on Thursday night before smacking the facade of the third deck at Citizens Bank Park.
It is hard to label the 49th game of a 60-game season as a “must win,” but this one felt pretty important. And things felt pretty good as Harper’s two-run homer cut through the South Philadelphia night. But soon, the bullpen door would open, and a 10-6 loss to the New York Mets revealed just how difficult those shortcomings are to overcome.
Blake Parker allowed two runs in the sixth inning as the bullpen washed away yet another lead. And Brandon Workman allowed three runs in the ninth as the bullpen sealed yet another loss. The Phillies had a three-run lead in the sixth inning but lost the game by four runs. Their bullpen, yet again, failed them.
A night after the bullpen blew a start by Zack Wheeler, they blew a start by Aaron Nola. It’s hard to see the Phillies reaching October if they can’t win the games started by their top two pitchers.
“It stinks," manager Joe Girardi said.
Harper hit two home runs, but none of that mattered when Brandon Nimmo crushed Workman’s sloppy curveball in the ninth. Workman was one of four relievers Matt Klentak added before last month’s trade deadline as the general manager tried to patch up the bullpen after glossing over it in the offseason. But none of those additions have helped.
Workman has allowed nine runs in 12 appearances. David Phelps pitched a scoreless eighth inning on Thursday but had allowed runs in his previous five outings. Heath Hembree and David Hale have been just as forgettable.
“It’s just shocking to us that someone that has had that much success can struggle,” Girardi said of Workman. “He’s doing everything he can to figure it out. I see him trying new things. It’s just like everything they get the barrel to goes out or is in the gap. I feel for him because he’s used to having success.”
The Phillies (24-25) have a losing record and have lost eight of their last 11 games but are still in possession of the eighth spot in the expanded National League playoffs. They could still very well reach October. To do so, they’ll have to ask an awful lot from the bullpen with the highest ERA in baseball.
“I think sometimes when guys go through this, it’s really difficult on them because we love this game so much, and we have so much passion for this game, and we care so much about winning and losing,” Girardi said. “We have to continue to right the ship with a lot of these guys from our bullpen."
The Phillies do not know who will pitch three of their next seven games. The injured Jake Arrieta will not pitch again during the regular season. Spencer Howard is likely out, too. Their lack of pitching depth could cause the Phillies to attack those vacancies with bullpen games, which they will do in the second game of a doubleheader on Friday against the Blue Jays. There’s 10 days left in the season, and the Phillies are running out of pitchers.
They lost Jean Segura in the seventh inning Thursday when he was hit in the left triceps by a 97.9 mph sinker from Jeurys Familia. Segura was replaced by Scott Kingery, who was out of the lineup because Girardi said he was sore. The Phillies had no other infielders available Thursday except Kingery as the depth of the entire roster - not just their pitching - is being tested this month. Girardi said he would be surprised if Segura played Friday in a doubleheader against the Blue Jays.
Harper’s homer in the first inning came on the first pitch he saw, blasting a 91-mph fastball from Seth Lugo into the bushes behind the center-field wall. In the top of the inning, the Mets dropped three runs on Nola. Harper answered. Alec Bohm and Didi Gregorious followed with their own blasts as the Phillies hit back-to-back-to-back homers for the first time in three years to tie the game. Three batters later, the Phillies had a lead.
Nola’s first inning felt deflating enough to sink the night. But Harper rallied the Phillies. Nola did not give the Phillies an ace-like performance, but he still left the mound with a two-run lead in the sixth inning. Asking the bullpen for 11 outs is the equivalent of hoping for a miracle.
“We believe we can turn it around, for sure,” Nola said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of games to be played, and we have a doubleheader tomorrow. Nothing easy is coming. We just have to keep sticking our nose down and keep competing. That’s all we can do right now.”
The Phillies are without J.T. Realmuto until at least Monday. Rhys Hoskins is out until at least next Wednesday. The Phillies needed to survive Thursday night, recover from a brutal bullpen collapse on Wednesday, and move one day closer to having two of their most productive hitters rejoin them.
For a moment, it felt like they were going to be able to do that. Harper crushed a fastball from Lugo in the second inning, and everyone watched it ride to right field. It hit nearly the same place in the ballpark that Barry Bonds blasted a homer to in 2006.
A team employee placed a cutout of Harper’s face into the first row of the third deck, just above the McDonald’s ad that the home run hit. The Phillies didn’t have Hoskins or Realmuto, but they still had Harper and a lead. But they soon had to turn that lead over to baseball’s worst bullpen. And it was awfully hard to think about October.