Every time you think the Phillies are about to turn the corner and put something together they trip over their own feet.
They were one out away from completing a three-game sweep of the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night when Jonathan Papelbon blew his second save of the series. Unlike Monday night, the boys with the bats couldn’t bail out Papelbon. The Nats went on to win, 6-2, on a grand slam by Ian Desmond against Mike Stutes in the top of 11th inning (see Instant Replay).
There were a lot of reasons the Phillies lost this game -- afterward Papelbon spoke at length about the team’s poor fundamental play -- and Charlie Manuel’s decision to go to his bullpen after Kyle Kendrick delivered 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball was not one of them. Antonio Bastardo got the out Manuel was looking for in the eighth, and Manuel did the right thing in going to his $50 million closer for the ninth. Yeah, Papelbon had pitched the previous two nights but he’d thrown just 24 pitches. With an off day Thursday, he belonged in this game.
He just didn’t get the job done. He allowed a pair of baserunners before Jayson Werth tied the game on a first-pitch single with two outs in the ninth.
“That’s a tough one to swallow,” Papelbon said. “As a closer, it’s important for me to be able to finish off those wins for our starters. Unfortunately, the bullpen wasn’t able to do it tonight. I’ve got to be able to make a pitch to Werth there. I have to get into more of a battle with him.”
While the bullpen took ultimate blame for the loss, there were other culprits.
The offense was a big one.
The Phils’ first two batters of the game -- Ben Revere (single) and Michael Young (homer) -- got hits off Gio Gonzalez and scored runs. After that, the Phillies went 32 plate appearances waiting for their next hit, a single by Carlos Ruiz with two outs in the 10th. That’s the equivalent of being no-hit -- and then some.
The defense was another culprit.
The Nationals got the tying run on base in the top of the ninth on a ball that was flubbed around the infield by the Phillies’ defense and ultimately ruled an infield hit. Denard Span, Washington’s leadoff man, hit the ball to the right of first baseman Ryan Howard. Howard, playing even with the bag because Span was a drag-bunt threat, dove and got a glove on the ball, but couldn’t come up with it. The ball ricocheted to second baseman Freddy Galvis, who had entered the game for defense, but his throw to Papelbon at first, though catchable, was low and Papelbon couldn’t make a play.
Paplebon then got two outs before allowing a walk to Adam LaRoche and the game-tying single to Werth.
After the game, Papelbon talked about fundamentals and how the Phillies are coming up short in that department.
In particular, he talked about Howard’s positioning on Span’s infield hit and that led to a broader discussion of the topic.
“I was thinking on a 3-1 count our infield would be back and I was expecting to turn around and run to first base and catch a underhand throw,” Papelbon said.
So he was surprised Howard was even with the bag?
“Yeah,” he said.
Howard declined to speak with a reporter after the game. Regardless of his positioning, if he had managed to snag Span’s ball, the inning could have been different.
Then again, the same thing could be said for Galvis’ feed or Papelbon’s attempted catch.
Papelbon kept coming back to fundamentals.
“This is a game of fundamentals and we’ve got to do fundamentals right and keep grinding,” he said. “It’s a game of who grinds the most and who plays the best fundamental baseball. That’s pretty much it.”
Papelbon said the Phillies needed to do everything better.
“Everything from the pitchers making the correct pitches, to pitchers backing up the right bases, to the outfield moving on counts, to the infield moving on counts. Everything that goes into every pre-pitch. We’ve got to do better.
“I’m not pointing fingers at anyone. It’s a team effort here. To be able to win and be in the forefront of the playoff race, you have to play good fundamental baseball and do the little things, and the little things are before the pitches are thrown. There’s 150 pitches thrown by our pitchers and before every one of those we have to make sure we’re putting ourselves in a position to be the best we can before each pitch.
“I’m seeing some of the same mistakes. I think for us we have to make the fundamental plays were supposed to make.”
Despite the Phillies’ treating the .500 mark as if it were a disease -- the Phils are three games under -- Papelbon believes this team can put a run together.
“Yeah, I do,” he said. “With that being said, playing less than .500 baseball and not doing the little things right is not going to get it done. I blew this game, but it takes everybody involved to lose a ballgame, and it takes everyone involved to win a ballgame.”