Connor Brogdon walked the first batter he faced Tuesday on eight pitches. And his ninth pitch -- a fastball in the seventh inning of a 4-3 loss to the Mets -- plunked Kevin Pillar, moving the potential winning run to second base with no outs.
It wasn’t an ideal way for Brogdon to start what could have been the final inning of the first game of a seven-inning doubleheader in New York. But he never flinched.
“I kind of just stared right through him because I was so focused,” Brogdon said of the mound visit by pitching Caleb Cotham when trouble was near.
The Phillies fell in the eighth inning when Jonathan Villar hit a bases-loaded single off Hector Neris. They watched the Mets celebrate their walk-off win by mobbing Villar near second base, but that celebration could have happened an inning earlier if Brogdon didn’t possess the poise not usually reserved for pitchers in their 14th big-league game.
He struck out Brandon Nimmo, retired superstar Francisco Lindor on an easy fly ball, and struck out slugger Dominic Smith with a 96 mph fastball. The Phillies lost Archie Bradley last weekend to an oblique injury, but the $6 million reliever’s high-leverage role could be replaced by Brogdon.
“That shows that he can do it,” said starting pitcher Chase Anderson, who allowed two runs in five innings. “That shows that he’s not scared of the situation. He doesn’t have much experience when it comes to major league service time, but he comes in there and does his thing.”
Brogdon’s scoreless inning was his fifth scoreless appearance this season. The right-hander has not allowed a run in 131/3 innings since returning last September from the minors. He had a rough debut last summer, dropped back to the Phillies’ alternate site in Allentown, regained his confidence, and returned to the Phillies three weeks later as a different pitcher.
He was already going to play a key role this season in Joe Girardi’s bullpen, but Bradley’s injury will push him into bigger spots. Brogdon topped out Tuesday at 97.1 mph and threw his changeup when needed.
“I think this is a big opportunity,” Brogdon said. “I think today was a good, I would say, like practice round or whatever. It’s good experience. I just need to take a few more breaths in the beginning and I think it will be a little smoother.”
Before Brogdon, JoJo Romero and José Alvarado tossed scoreless innings to keep the Phillies in it. Romero, added to the roster after Bradley’s injury, forced Lindor to ground into a double play. Alvarado caught the ire of the Mets’ dugout after he hit Michael Conforto with two outs. The hard-throwing left-hander shushed the dugout and then retired James McCann to end the inning.
The loudest voice appeared to come from Smith, who shouted from the dugout rail. And it was Smith who battled Brogdon the next inning with two outs and two on. Brogdon needed seven pitches -- including consecutive changeups -- to put him away.
“I just have to stay poised and take a few more breaths,” Brogdon said. “From the beginning, you could tell that I was pulling some fastballs quite a bit. Pulling them to the inner half to lefties, which isn’t what I’m trying to do there. That was a factor of being rushed. I just have to take a few more breaths in that situation. Coming in, I knew how big the moment was.”
Brogdon’s inning of work allowed the Phillies to take the lead in the eighth on Didi Gregorius’ two-out infield single. It was their second run-scoring infield single as Jean Segura tied it in the sixth with a soft grounder toward third base.
Gregorius and Segura’s singles weren’t the hardest-hit balls, but the Phillies would take them after their rallies fell flat in the previous two innings. They had two on with one out in the fourth, but Segura grounded into the double play. Roman Quinn and Brad Miller walked in the fifth to again put two runners on with one out.
The Phillies went just 3-for-12 in Game 1 with runners in scoring position, but they still carried a lead into the bottom of the eighth. But the lead was quickly extinguished. The Mets, under baseball’s extra-inning rules, started with Lindor on second base and he scored on a single by Pete Alonso.
Neris induced a grounder from Jeff McNeill, but the Phillies could get just one out. Conforto walked and McCann singled on a ball that was just out of reach of a diving Gregorius. There wasn’t much hard contact, but the bases were loaded. And soon the game would be over.
It was a tough way to start a doubleheader after dropping two of three in Atlanta. But as the Phillies watched the Mets pour cups of water on Villar’s head, they could find some solace in knowing that Brogdon has the mettle to be a key piece in their bullpen.
“Right now, I just see myself fitting into whatever role Joe has for me,” Brogdon said. “I think there’s definitely added pressure in today’s game. It was the seventh, but it plays like the ninth inning. That definitely throws a little extra weight on it. The later innings, definitely, is a little extra pressure.”