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Phillies win in 9th after Jeanmar Gomez coughs up lead

The struggling closer gave up a three-run homer in the top of the inning. Cesar Hernandez’ single won it.

Cesar Hernandez celebrates with teammates Odubel Herrera and Tommy Joseph after a walk-off base hit to beat the Nationals.
Cesar Hernandez celebrates with teammates Odubel Herrera and Tommy Joseph after a walk-off base hit to beat the Nationals.Read more(Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)

The ninth inning of a 4-3 Phillies win began with a Jeanmar Gomez jog from the bullpen to the mound as his trademark religious ballad filled the air inside Citizens Bank Park. The soundtrack, by the middle of the inning, was harsher. Those who dotted the blue seats Sunday afternoon launched loud groans at the Venezuelan closer.

"Today," Gomez said, "was really tough."

The Phillies won because Cesar Hernandez shot a broken-bat single to left that scored Daniel Nava with the decisive run and saved Gomez. But Gomez, who surrendered a game-tying, three-run homer, reopened a festering issue that could force a decision Monday on a new closer.

It is a role that lacks gravitas on a rebuilding team, but Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has watched Gomez allow two home runs in his two save opportunities this season after he lost his job last September. The Phillies deferred to Gomez's 37 saves from a season ago as evidence for his continued status as closer.

That thinking could change just one week into this season.

Mackanin said the team would discuss a possible move. He planned to have a resolution before Monday night's series opener against the Mets.

"It's not something you want to think about," Mackanin said. "We just have to be practical and do what is best for the team."

Mackanin hinted last week that Gomez's margin for error had thinned. When Gomez allowed a two-run homer on opening day cut a three-run lead to a one-run lead, the manager activated two arms in the bullpen in case Gomez fell into deeper trouble.

Gomez said his confidence is not shaken, despite Mackanin's disclosure that a possible change could be near.

"You can control what you can control," Gomez said. "You don't have control of that. You have to get ready for the next situation. When you come to the ballpark, you get ready for the role that you have. You watch the video and that's what the video is for. You try to fix it."

The least-disruptive solution would be to bump Gomez into a middle relief role that he held before he emerged as closer last season and push the other relievers back an inning. That would elevate Hector Neris to closer, with Joaquin Benoit and Edubray Ramos as setup men.

But Neris has flashed his value as a durable reliever deployed in the tightest situations. He did just that Sunday when asked to inherit runners on the corners and two outs in the seventh inning. Neris threw one pitch and extinguished the jam created by Pat Neshek with a groundout to short.

Neris, Benoit, and Neshek have combined to pitch nine scoreless innings in the season's first six games. They have struck out 10 and permitted just eight base runners. The Phillies spent $14 million on Benoit and Neshek to upgrade their middle relief corps. That investment, after one week, looks shrewd, especially if Gomez regresses to a spot in the middle innings.

Gomez said he felt a little squeezed by home-plate umpire James Hoye. He walked Jayson Werth on five pitches before Zimmerman's blast.

"I thought they were good pitches," rookie catcher Andrew Knapp said. "The zone was pretty tight today, but it was consistent. He stayed pretty true to the zone; we just had to work around that."

A day after the Phillies blitzed the Nationals with a 17-run outburst, this proved to be a greater challenge. The Phillies overcame an injury to their starting pitcher and their closer's failure to capture a series victory from Washington, the division's titan.

Hernandez delivered two run-scoring singles, one on a weak grounder and the other on his broken-bat bloop to left that fell in front of Werth. The former Phillies outfielder snatched the ball, tossed it toward the stands, and retreated as the home team stormed the field.

"It shows the importance of contact," Washington manager Dusty Baker said. "When you make contact, anything can happen. They played us tough this series, but we definitely let that one get away today."

That sentiment is why the Phillies could anoint a new closer Monday.