And then . . .
And then Denard Span hits a weak grounder to the right side of the infield, and Ryan Howard charges, and Freddy Galvis fields, and Jonathan Papelbon rushes to cover first, and all of it looks so out of kilter that you are not surprised that the ball ends up in the dirt and the runner safe at first. And then Papelbon blows his second save of the series, allowing the Nationals to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth on a two-out RBI single to Jayson Werth.
It ended much later than it should have, with Mike Stutes throwing a slider that Ian Desmond dispatched into the leftfield seats for a grand slam in the top of the 11th inning that sent the Phillies to a 6-2 loss. But it ended in a fashion dreadfully familiar to those who have watched this team stumble to a 35-38 start.
"Fundamentals," Papelbon said after the game. "That's the game of baseball. It's a pretty simple game, and when you try to do too much, it becomes complicated."
More than anything, though, it is the fundamental ability to make consistent, solid contact with the baseball that once again spelled defeat. The vast amounts of white space on your scorecard tells the tale. A Ben Revere single and a Michael Young home run, and then nothing. The Phillies could not muster another hit until the 10th inning. Gio Gonzalez retired 20 of the final 22 batters he faced. Howard and Domonic Brown combined to go 0-for-6 with six strikeouts against Gonzalez. The rightfielder signed to balance out the lefty-heavy middle-of-the-order went 0-for-3. Delmon Young is now batting .222 with a .277 on base percentage and six home runs. He was replaced defensively by John Mayberry Jr., who is batting .256 with a .310 OBP and five home runs.
"After the first inning, we didn't create any offense at all," manager Charlie Manuel said.
The Phillies are not the first team to struggle against Gonzalez. Yet last night's loss was familiar enough to erode whatever belief had built up after the first two games of the series. Win two against the Red Sox, lose two against the Brewers. Win five straight against the Marlins and Brewers. Lose five straight against the Brewers and Twins. Win two, lose two. Take the first two games of a three-game series against the Nationals, then squander a golden opportunity to sweep.
Papelbon insisted the Phillies have the talent to make the kind of run that has eluded them all season.
"But with that being said, playing less than .500 baseball and not doing the little things right is not going to get it done," he said. "Did we play a good series against the Nationals? Hell yeah. We did. We had a chance to win all three ballgames and that's all you can really ask for. With that being said, I still have to make the pitch to Werth. I've got to get into more of a battle with him. It's part of it. It's a grind. It's 162 games and you've got to accept that and put that on your plate and say this is what we're here to do."
For all of the good that the Phillies took from their two wins over the Nationals, it is games like last night's that keep middle-of-the-road teams out of the playoffs, because middle-of-the-road teams need to win their winnable games, especially the ones against fellow middle-of-the-road teams.
None of this is surprising. The oddsmakers in Las Vegas set the Phillies over/under at 83.5 back in spring training, and everything that we have seen suggests that they will finish right around that mark. Which will mean plenty more reasons to believe in the postseason, all of them followed by an equal number of reasons to believe that what you witnessed last night is a more accurate representation of reality.
DN Members Only : The Phils get their man in J.P. Crawford.
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