The forecast is calling for rain Friday. But on a clear, cool Thursday night, the sky fell on the Phillies.
Leading by four runs after the first inning, seven runs after the fourth, and six runs with three outs to go in what should’ve been a series-opening giggler against the division-leading New York Mets, the Phillies lost — yes, somehow they lost — 8-7 before an announced crowd of 24,040 stunned patrons at Citizens Bank Park.
How it happened is almost secondary to the fact that it actually happened. But James Norwood and closer Corey Knebel combined to allow seven runs in the ninth inning — four of which scored with two outs — in a loss that had to be seen to be believed.
Even then, it strained credulity. Consider this: Phillies manager Joe Girardi, who managed a Game 7 loss in the 2017 American League Championship Series that preceded his firing by the New York Yankees, called it “about as hard [a loss] as I’ve been through.”
“Shouldn’t have happened,” Knebel said after giving up three two-out hits in a row, including Brandon Nimmo’s game-tying two-run single and Starling Marte’s go-ahead double that split the gap in left-center. “Got to be better. Offense did their job tonight. [Aaron] Nola, awesome outing. The game’s on me. We’ve got a seven-run lead, six-run lead going into the ninth. It can’t happen.”
Oh, but it did. The Phillies have dropped four games in a row and five of six. They are 11-15, already seven games off the 19-9 Mets’ pace in the National League East.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the fifth time ever that the Phillies lost when leading by at least six runs in the ninth inning or later. The Phillies have existed for 140 seasons. It happened to them only one other time in the last 85 years: May 10, 1994, against the Atlanta Braves.
And you thought getting no-hit last Friday night in New York would be the nadir of the Phillies’ season series with the Mets.
So, how did it get away? How did the Mets pull off as improbable of a comeback as you will see?
It began with Norwood, acquired late in spring training in a cash deal with the San Diego Padres, giving up a leadoff infield single to Marte and a two-run homer to Francisco Lindor, whose error in the first inning helped the Phillies race to a 4-0 lead.
The Mets kept coming. Pete Alonso doubled to left field, and, after Eduardo Escobar lined out, Jeff McNeil singled, forcing Girardi to turn to Knebel with the lead still at 7-3.
And that’s when things really got hairy. Knebel was unable to throw out Mark Canha after his comebacker deflected off the closer’s right leg and allowed Alonso to score. If the ball hadn’t hit Knebel, he suspects second baseman Jean Segura would’ve fielded it cleanly and recorded an out.
“I see where Segy is,” Knebel said. “That ball doesn’t hit me, it’s right at him. The ball doesn’t bounce far away, we’ve got two outs, go from there. It’s just how the game works sometimes. [Stuff] happens.”
After striking out Dominic Smith, Knebel fell behind pinch-hitting J.D. Davis, who roped a double that made it 7-5. Then came Nimmo. And then Marte.
“It [stinks], man,” said Nick Castellanos, who left in the sixth inning after getting hit by a pitch. “There’s no way around it. Baseball, sometimes, [stinks]. Tonight [stank].”
So, where do the Phillies go from here?
Forward, according to Kyle Schwarber. What choice do they have?
“What are you going to do? It’s over with. Move on tomorrow,” Schwarber said. “When we got no-hit, it was just a loss. Tonight’s a loss. You’ve got to move on to the next day.”
Said Bryce Harper: “We’ve got to put it behind us as quick as possible. It’s a gut punch, but we’ve got to go out there and win the weekend.”
The Phillies may have lost Castellanos for a few days, too.
X-rays were negative after Castellanos got hit by a changeup on the right wrist in the sixth inning. He was diagnosed with a bruise and classified by the Phillies as “day to day.” With Harper unable to throw because of a strained flexor tendon in his right forearm, Roman Quinn replaced Castellanos in right field.
“I just wanted to see a clean X-ray,” said Castellanos, who missed time last season with a microfracture of his right wrist caused by getting hit by a pitch. “I’m no stranger to getting hit in the hand area.”
Harper and Castellanos hit back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning to give the Phillies a 7-0 lead.
Aaron Nola became the first Phillies starter to top 100 pitches in a game this season. He held the Mets to little more than Marte’s sixth-inning homer, completed the seventh inning, and left with a 7-1 lead.
At one point, Nola retired 13 consecutive batters. He gave up a leadoff single to Alonso and one-out walk to Jeff McNeil in the second inning, then nothing else until Marte’s blast into the left-field bleachers.
Nola was effective with pretty much everything, particularly his offspeed pitches. He got 15 swings and misses, six apiece with his curveball and changeup.
The series is scheduled to continue, weather-permitting, at 6:45 p.m. Friday, with Kyle Gibson (2-1, 2.93 ERA) squaring off against Mets ace Max Scherzer (4-0, 2.61). The Phillies have seen Scherzer twice already and lost both times, most recently last Sunday night when they hit three homers against him in a 10-6 loss in New York.