The juxtaposition was impossible to miss.
Not even between-innings music drowned out the chorus of boos that accompanied Sean Rodriguez to the plate to open the fourth inning Tuesday night, a reaction to his comments from one night earlier that fans who give the Phillies a hard time are “entitled.” Six pitches later, though, the jeers turned to mostly cheers when Rodriguez lined a leadoff double.
Consider it a snapshot of public sentiment these days about the local baseball team. The flaws of the roster are picked over daily by fans who expected more this season. But somehow, despite season-ending injuries to the leadoff hitter, No. 2 starter and almost the entire bullpen, the Phillies are in the mix for the National League’s final wild-card spot.
So, do you believe in the Phillies, or don’t you?
It isn’t an easy question, is it?
Today, the doubters will outnumber the devotees. Mired in a miserable slump, first baseman Rhys Hoskins dropped a throw from shortstop Jean Segura on a would-be double-play grounder in the ninth inning, enabling the go-ahead run to score in a 5-4 loss to the last-place Pittsburgh Pirates.
“Just missed it,” Hoskins said. “Clanked it.”
With that, and the Chicago Cubs’ 5-2 victory over the New York Mets, the Phillies slipped to two games off the pace for the last NL playoff berth with 31 games remaining. They have lost five of their last nine games, with the defeats coming against the San Diego Padres, Miami Marlins and Pirates -- all non-contenders.
As he chased down the ball after it glanced off his glove, Hoskins heard boos for the second consecutive game. He’s 10-for-87 with two homers in his last 25 games and 24-for-145 (.166) with five homers since the All-Star break.
Could Hoskins benefit from a day off?
“No, absolutely not,” he said. “We are in a playoff push right now.”
But manager Gabe Kapler acknowledged that he’s at least considering it. The Phillies wrap up their series with the Pirates on Wednesday night, and after a day off Thursday, open a pivotal three-game series against the Mets at Citizens Bank Park. Hoskins has started all but three games this season.
“It’s something I’ll talk to Rhys about,” Kapler said.
Monday night, the crowd got on Hoskins for popping out with the bases loaded in the ninth inning. Rodriguez, who hit a walk-off homer to win the game in the 11th, came to Hoskins’ defense in a postgame interview at his locker.
“The guy has 60-plus homers in three years and you’re booing him. Explain that to me,” said Rodriguez. “That’s entitled fans.”
Predictably, that didn’t sit well with the paying customers. Rodriguez was booed during pregame introductions, before his first plate appearance in the second inning, and again before the fourth-inning double. He was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning after the Pirates removed lefty starter Steven Brault from the game.
“I noticed it,” Kapler said. “At the same time, we understand that we have to be accountable for playing good baseball all the time.”
Figuring out how to get Hoskins back on track is perhaps the top priority. He has been a force in the middle of the lineup for the past 2 1/2 seasons but is going through the worst slump of his career.
“It’s no secret,” Hoskins said. “Just got to keep coming to the ballpark every day looking to help the team win. I don’t really have much else to say. It [stinks], sure. But it doesn’t [stink] when we win, and it [stinks] even more when we lose.”
Hoskins hit several balls hard Tuesday night, including flyouts to right field in the fourth and sixth innings and a flyout to center in the ninth against lights-out Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez.
“I felt like I was all over the barrel today,” Hoskins said, “so there’s progress there.”
The Phillies came back from the 2-0 lead the Pirates took in the first inning against starter Drew Smyly to take a 3-2 lead in the fourth inning. They rallied again from a 4-3 deficit to tie the game in the sixth inning on Logan Morrison’s fifth career pinch-hit homer.
Ultimately, though, they were doomed by a defensive lapse on a play that, as Kapler said, Hoskins makes “99 out of 100 times.” Hoskins said the throw from Segura hit off the palm of his glove.