NEW YORK — They rose and cheered as Jacob deGrom unleashed his pregame warmup pitches and chanted “M-V-P” every time he got two strikes on a batter. But the best pitcher on the planet walked off the mound here Saturday after the top of the sixth inning in the unexpected position of having given up the go-ahead run against the Phillies.
Rhys Hoskins wants to accentuate the positives, so we’ll start there.
But then the Phillies blew it. Again.
The script was achingly familiar. Take a lead into the final inning, make a critical error on an otherwise routine play, then watch the bullpen cough up the game and trudge off the field. Sprinkle in a questionable move along the way by manager Joe Girardi, rinse and repeat.
It happened again — for the fourth time this week — in a 4-3 walk-off loss to the New York Mets. Only the names change, and even then, not by much. Stop us if you’ve heard this story before.
After the Phillies outlasted deGrom and grabbed a 3-2 lead, Hoskins booted Travis Blankenhorn’s grounder to first base to open the ninth inning. Then Héctor Neris, one day after being removed from the closer role but pressed into action because neither the new closer (José Alvarado) nor the backup (Archie Bradley) was available, walked Billy McKinney, gave up an infield single to Kevin Pillar, walked Luis Guillorme to force home the tying run, and allowed a one-out sacrifice fly to Michael Conforto.
Make it 19 blown saves — most in the majors — in 74 games for the Phillies. Make it five losses in six games and eight in the last 11. Forget anything more than a split of this pivotal four-game series against the division-leading Mets, and that’s only if the Phillies are able to win the finale Sunday behind Zack Wheeler.
“I’ve got to catch the ball,” Hoskins said. “I’ve got to make the play. I really believe if we get that out to start the ninth that we win that game, that we’ve got a chance to win the biggest series of the year tomorrow, right? With maybe our best guy this year on the mound.”
When the Phillies arrived here, they were five games behind the division-leading Mets. They got walked off in the first game of Friday’s doubleheader even though Aaron Nola tied a major-league record with 10 consecutive strikeouts. They pulled out a win in the second game, and after getting a lead and deGrom out of the game, they were nine outs from being four games back.
Instead, they’re 35-39, and the best they can do is leave New York in the same place they started — only with four games having come off the schedule.
“You get knocked on your [butt] a lot during the season,” said Zach Eflin, who outdueled deGrom but got lifted by Girardi after only 82 pitches and despite coming out for the seventh inning (more on that later). “It’s really how you pick yourself up, how you pick the people around you up.”
Except it happens so often to the Phillies that many fans wish someone would just stop the fight.
“I really believe it’s going to turn around,” Girardi said. “I do. We’re due some breaks. We haven’t helped ourselves, and I understand that. But we’re due some breaks.”
Maybe so. But the Phillies make too many unforced errors. Hoskins lost Alvarado’s high throw in the sun in the first game Friday. Third baseman Alec Bohm misplayed a routine grounder to his left in the nightcap.
Girardi could’ve stuck with Eflin in the seventh inning Saturday, especially considering the blundering bullpen. But with the Mets bringing lefty-hitting Jeff McNeil off the bench and a string of lefties — Guillorme, Francisco Lindor, and Conforto — behind him, Girardi went to the mound before Eflin threw a warmup pitch.
Lefty reliever Ranger Suárez struck out McNeil, but then gave up a game-tying homer to pinch-hitter Kevin Pillar.
“I was caught a little off guard,” Eflin said. “I think anybody would be caught off guard going out and warming up for an inning and then seeing the manager walk out and take you out. But I understand the situation. It was late in the game and they’re pinch-hitting a lefty. I still had more in the tank, but that’s not my decision and I completely respect him for doing that.”
Girardi defended the move by way of explanation.
“You’ve got McNeil, who’s hit Ef a little bit,” he said. “He got out of a jam in the sixth, and I thought it was time to go get him. Ef threw a great game, and I liked Ranger in that situation.”
Like so much lately, it didn’t work out for the Phillies.
“I’m sure you’re going to write about that,” Hoskins said. “I’m sure you’re going to write about the defense. Yeah, the last couple nights we haven’t made a couple plays that we should have for sure. And I would definitely tell you that. So, if you’re going to write about that, obviously write about it.
“But don’t forget to write about the great things today. Eflin outdueled deGrom in maybe the biggest game of the year, right? A game that we knew we had to win.”
Only they didn’t.
“Don’t forget to write about the really, really good things that went on today as well,” Hoskins continued. “Because I really think that this is a really good team. The ball is not really bouncing our way. We’re not getting calls. Sure, we’re 75-80 games in, but there’s a lot of baseball to be played. This team has the ability to go on a run and I really think that we have a really long run in us.”
Everyone’s been waiting.