NEW YORK — Gabe Kapler pulled up a chair in the visiting manager’s office. It was 4 p.m. Tuesday, but the primary topic of conversation — Jake Arrieta’s rebuke of the Phillies’ “flat” effort in the series-opener against the rival Mets — hadn’t changed overnight.
Kapler didn’t disagree with the veteran pitcher. But he chose not to dwell on it either. Instead, he tried to turn Arrieta’s criticism into a challenge.
"We've identified this, as a group, as an important game," Kapler said. "It will be interesting to see the sort of tone these guys set today. I think it will be improved."
Somehow, it was actually worse.
If the Phillies looked flat on Monday night, this was an absolute pancaking in every sense en route to a 9-0 loss to the Mets, their fifth defeat in six games and the first time they were shut out since last Sept. 26.
"I don't need to provide an adjective to wrap it up in a neat little bow," Kapler said. "Again, we didn't come out and play good baseball. If we want to meet the expectations that we all have for this team, we have to play better baseball than that."
The worst indignity? Take your pick.
“I think Dusty was trying to spark us, get something going,” Kapler said. “I don’t think it was his best decision. If he was sitting right next to me right now, he’d tell you the same. But it was coming from a place of trying to light a fire.”
Perhaps the fuse finally began burning in the ninth inning, when Mets reliever Jacob Rhame buzzed Rhys Hoskins with two up-and-in pitches. Hoskins suspected it was retaliatory after Phillies relievers hit Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso on Monday night.
Regardless, Hoskins took a step toward the mound after the first of the two pitches, prompting the benches to stir and relievers from both teams to step out of the bullpens and onto the warning track. After Rhame went high-and-tight for ball four, Hoskins chucked his bat in anger.
"He didn't miss up-and-in or out-and-up the rest of the inning, so I'll let you decide [if it was intentional]," Hoskins said. "I think most guys are capable of pitching inside and not missing that bad."
Said Bryce Harper: "I don't get it. I understand that two of their guys got hit yesterday, but I mean, if it's baseball and you're going to drill somebody, at least hit him in the [butt]. Not in the head. You throw 98. It's scary now. You could kill somebody, lose your eyesight. That's bigger than the game."
Rhame denied any sinister intent — "I was just trying to work inside," he said, echoing what Hoskins said Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud told him after the second pitch — and added that he didn't blame Hoskins for being irritated.
“When you accidentally sail one, it’s probably pretty scary,” Rhame said. “I’d get [ticked], too.”
All that stands between the Phillies and a 1-6 road trip is Wednesday night’s matchup of No. 5 starters — Vince Velasquez vs. Mets lefty Jason Vargas — in the series finale. The Phillies have lost nine of 14 games since beginning the season by winning seven of nine.
Maybe the buzzing of Hoskins will be the emotional trigger that snaps the Phillies out of their funk.