Off the bat, Joe Girardi thought it was gone. It sure sounded like it to Nick Castellanos, who stood up from the Phillies’ bench, raised both arms over his head, and braced for a walkoff celebration.
But Rhys Hoskins’ drive fizzled on the center-field warning track.
Just another long, loud out.
If there’s a soundtrack for the Phillies’ rough 25-game start, it was the guttural booing of Girardi for removing Zack Wheeler from a scoreless game after 79 pitches in the eighth inning Wednesday night. But if there’s one clip that sums up their play thus far, it’s Hoskins’ near-miss at a seemingly surefire homer in the ninth inning of a 2-1, 10-inning loss to the Texas Rangers.
“What we’re trying to do when we’re up there every time is hit the fat part of the bat on the baseball,” Hoskins said after the Phillies lost their third game in a row and for the fourth time in five games to fall back to 11-14. “I feel like we’ve done that a lot lately, and haven’t had much to show for it. Just means there’s a lot coming.”
There had better be. Because the Phillies were built to slug. They trotted out a $125 million batting order for the finale of a two-game miniseries against the Rangers, a team they are supposed to beat, especially at home.
Instead, they were blanked for seven innings by lefty Martín Pérez and nine innings overall. They didn’t get a runner to second base until the fifth inning and didn’t have an extra-base hit until the sixth. They went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, hit into three rally-killing double plays, and left seven men on base.
And they wasted 7 2/3 innings of brilliance from Wheeler when old friend Brad Miller — remember Bamboo Brad? — dunked a two-run single in front of Castellanos in right field to snap the scoreless stalemate and give the Rangers a lead in the 10th inning.
“I wish I had an answer. I really do,” Castellanos said. “Sometimes, in baseball, there are no answers. The only thing that you can focus on is tomorrow.”
OK, let’s focus on that. The division-leading New York Mets come to town (again) Thursday night for a four-game series. They have won four of six meetings with the Phillies so far, including last Friday night’s combined no-hitter in New York.
It’s part of a six-game stretch in which the Phillies are 35-for-188 (.186) and have scored a total of 22 runs. Overall, they have been held to fewer than two runs in seven games. Before giving Wheeler no run support against the Rangers, they scored a total of one run in Aaron Nola’s last three starts.
Not exactly how the Phillies drew it up.
They hit a few balls hard late in the game, none more than Hoskins’ drive, which had an exit velocity of 105.1 mph and an expected batting average of .930.
Maybe it would’ve landed in the bleachers on a warmer night. Or maybe there’s some truth to the conspiracy theories that the baseballs aren’t traveling as far this season.
“I don’t know,” Hoskins said. “It’s hard to say anything about the baseballs. Everyone’s playing with the same balls, so we’ve just got to do what we can to continue to have good at-bats. But I’ve hit balls worse that have gone into the bullpen. I thought I hit it well.”
Said Girardi: “Hitting’s a difficult thing today. And it’s always been difficult, but it’s really difficult. And we have some guys going through tough times.”
Jeers for Joe
Given the way things are going for the Phillies, there were several reasons why fans might have booed Girardi as he stepped out of the dugout with two out in the eighth inning. But there was no mistaking the motive for this particular jeer.
Wheeler, runner-up for the Cy Young Award last year, was about to be taken out.
To be fair, Wheeler barely pitched in spring training and didn’t get beyond the sixth inning in any of his first four starts. Girardi also wanted lefty José Alvarado to face lefty-hitting Texas Rangers leadoff man Nathaniel Lowe.
“I know [Girardi] is looking out for me,” Wheeler said. “Yeah, I’ve thrown more pitches this year, but also I haven’t been past, what, the sixth inning, something like that. It was catching up to me a little bit.”
Wheeler was the Phillies’ silver lining. He struck out Corey Seager in the first inning on a 97.5 mph fastball, his fastest pitch of the season. He averaged 96.2 mph on his heater, impressive considering he hadn’t topped 97.2 mph in his previous starts.
“We’re getting there with just how I’m feeling,” Wheeler said. “Building up, feeling stronger, ball’s coming out a little easier. Not fighting to throw hard. It’s just there now. That’s definitely a good feeling.”
Did Wheeler hear the boos for Girardi?
“Yeah,” he said. “It was pretty loud.”
One night after making two defensive miscues, third baseman Alec Bohm made amends with a run-saving play in the seventh inning.
With one out, he backtracked into shallow left field to snare Zach Reks’ pop fly, then turned and fired a one-hopper to home plate to cut down Adolis García, who tagged up and tried to score from third.
Upon further review
Castellanos, back in the lineup after a one-game absence for the birth of his son, circled the bases after appearing to break the scoreless stalemate with a two-out solo homer in the sixth inning.
But the replay showed that a fan reached over the railing in right field and interfered with the ball, which wouldn’t otherwise have cleared the wall. Castellanos was sent back to second base and credited with a ground-rule double.