DENVER -- Bryce Harper, standing Sunday afternoon at the on-deck circle, reviewed a sheet of paper as an unlikely Phillies rally continued to fester. Harper returned the sheet to hitting coach John Mallee, took a practice swing, and hoped for a chance.
The Phillies, down to their last out of a 4-1 loss to the Rockies, had runners on second and third in the ninth with Cesar Hernandez at the plate. Harper, representing the go-ahead run, asked for one more glance at that paper as he hoped to find something in the scouting report of Rockies closer Wade Davis to exploit if Hernandez gave him the chance.
Hernandez worked a full count, pushing the Phillies within one pitch of having Harper step to the plate with the bases loaded after they began the ninth inning with two quick outs. But the unlikely rally stalled as Hernandez hit a grounder back to the mound. It was a missed opportunity for Harper’s last-minute cramming to be tested.
“We were this close to getting Bryce up there as potentially the winning run,” manager Gabe Kapler said.
The Phillies had more hits with two outs in the ninth inning than they did the rest of the game. Andrew Knapp doubled off the wall, J.T. Realmuto drove him in with a pinch-hit single, and Andrew McCutchen kept the inning alive with a single. Before that, the Phillies had just two hits as they struggled to find a pulse.
Hernandez, Harper, and Rhys Hoskins -- the team’s second, third, and fourth hitters -- combined to go 0 for 12. Hernandez made a crucial blunder in the fourth inning when he cost the Phillies a run, maybe even two, with a baserunning miscue. The Phillies left 10 runners on base and they went hitless in their first five chances with runners in scoring position before the ninth inning.
The Phillies began a seven-game road trip by dropping three of four at Coors Field, where they have won just two of their last 11 games. They flew Sunday night to New York, to play three against the Mets. The Phillies scored three or fewer runs in each of their three losses as Denver’s altitude provided no advantage for the visiting lineup.
“I think we can play better than we did in this series,” Kapler said.
The lineup provided little support for Jerad Eickhoff, who allowed four runs in six innings. He kept the Phillies close before the Rockies got to him in the sixth. It was his first time pitching past the fifth inning in the majors or minors since last August.
His curveball offered enough promise that Eickhoff could be regaining the form he had three seasons ago. Eickhoff used the pitch for 36 percent of his pitches and for seven of his eight strikeouts. He walked four and allowed seven hits.
“The speed is a tick slower at times, but that’s just time and innings and it will tick back up,” Eickhoff said of the curveball. “I’m really happy with the shape, especially here given the altitude. I was really happy with that pitch today.”
He began the sixth inning with consecutive walks as Eickhoff seemed to show a bit of fatigue. Ian Desmond then stroked an RBI single and Tony Wolters brought in two more with a deep double to center field. The Rockies had a 4-0 lead, which felt like an insurmountable deficit with the way the Phillies lineup was limping through the afternoon.
But then they were down to their final out against a $52 million closer. Suddenly, they had a chance and a sheet of paper might have had the answers their $330 million superstar was looking for. But the on-deck circle was as close as Harper would get.