Phillies battle back but Bryce Harper breaks their spirit -- again

Phillies battle back but Bryce Harper breaks their spirit -- again

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WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper is just 24 years old and already it seems as if he's been killing the Phillies forever.
 
He did it again Sunday with a two-run homer in the third inning and a spirit-crushing three-run shot in the bottom of the ninth.
 
Harper's second homer of the day came with two outs in the ninth on a full-count fastball from new Phillies closer Joaquin Benoit. It turned a hard-fought, one-run Phillies' lead into a deflating 6-4 loss (see Instant Replay).

Harper's bomb hadn't even landed when Benoit started walking off the mound. He's 39 years old and has pitched in 718 big-league games. He knows when he gives up a walk-off shot.
 
"Fastball count. I threw him a fastball. He hit it out," said Benoit, who took over as closer after Jeanmar Gomez blew a ninth-inning lead against these same Nationals last weekend in Philadelphia.
 
Previously in his career, Benoit had held Harper hitless with a strikeout in five at-bats.
 
"I believe every hitter is dangerous," Benoit said. "If you throw a pitch they can handle they will do damage. I've had some success against him, but I made a mistake and he made me pay. No excuses."
 
The Phillies trailed 3-1 after Harper's two-run homer in the third. The score stayed that way most of the day until the Phillies rallied for two runs in the eighth and one in the ninth to take a 4-3 lead.

Benoit got the first out in the bottom of the ninth but walked the next batter then allowed a single. He retired dangerous Anthony Rendon before Harper came to the plate. Benoit went at Harper with fastballs and Harper fouled off the first two to fall behind, 0-2, but Benoit could not put him away.
 
"I was trying to battle, took two good swings right there 0-0 and 0-1," Harper said. "You never want to get behind on a guy like that, but I battled the best I could and got into a pretty good count right there and got a good pitch to hit."
 
Harper admitted that he thought Benoit might throw a changeup with a full count. Benoit threw a 96 mph fastball and Harper quickly adjusted.
 
"I don't like to double-guess myself," Benoit said. "I take full responsibility. I wanted to throw a fastball. He hit it out."
 
Harper's game-winning homer to dead center was his fourth of the season and third in six games against the Phillies in 2017. In 86 career games against the Phillies, he has 18 home runs and 49 RBIs.
 
At his age, he could torture the Phillies into the 2030s.
 
Unless, of course, the Phillies put him in red pinstripes when he becomes a free agent after the 2018 season. Early estimates have put a $400 million price tag on Harper. The Phillies have the money and will spend on a big bat. Time will tell if it's Harper that they will spend on. For now, he just kills the Phillies.
 
"He's a tough out," Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff said. "He fouls off good pitches and he's ready for a mistake. That's all you can ask for in a hitter -- just a guy who is going to go up and take professional at bats. You have to be careful with him."
 
Harper's first homer came against Eickhoff on a first-pitch slider in the third inning. Eickhoff got the first two outs of the inning then had Rendon down 0-2 in the count, but couldn't put him away. Rendon reached on an infield hit. The play was reviewed and after a 100-second delay, Eickhoff missed his spot with the slider that Harper hit out.
 
"The delay didn't hurt me," Eickhoff said. "I missed my location by inches."
 
Eickhoff allowed back-to-back doubles in the first inning as he let a 1-0 lead get away. The Phils got that lead on a leadoff homer by Cesar Hernandez against Gio Gonzalez. The Phils did not score again until the eighth when they got hits from Hernandez, Daniel Nava and Tommy Joseph in tying the game. Washington left fielder Jayson Werth also made a key error in that frame.
 
The Phils turned a leadoff double by Aaron Altherr into the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth and were looking at a sweet win and two-out-of-three in the series before Harper blasted Benoit in the ninth.
 
"We're competing and playing hard," manager Pete Mackanin said. "Pitching kept us in the game. You hold a team to three runs like we did most of the game, you have a chance of winning some of those games.
 
"It's always demoralizing when you blow a lead especially when you come from behind. That's always disheartening."
 
It gets no easier now for the Phillies. The next three games are in New York against the Mets. The Phils are 12-29 against the Mets since the start of the 2015 season.

Best of MLB: Royals storm back in 9th inning for win over Blue Jays

Best of MLB: Royals storm back in 9th inning for win over Blue Jays

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Whit Merrifield hit a two-run, two-out double that capped a four-run rally in the ninth inning, and the Kansas City Royals beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-4 on Friday night to reach .500 for the first time since April.

With their 10th win in 12 games, the Royals improved to 36-36. They were 6-6 before play on April 20, then went on a nine-game losing streak that night and dropped as low as 10-20, seven games out of first place. They trail AL Central-leading Cleveland by three games.

Toronto took a 2-1 lead into the ninth and extended it when Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak hit RBI singles off Joakim Soria (4-2) (see full recap).

Dodgers cruise past Rockies for 8th straight win
LOS ANGELES -- Yasiel Puig homered and left-hander Alex Wood kept his record perfect as the streaking Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the NL West rival Colorado Rockies 6-1 on Friday night for their eighth consecutive victory.

The Dodgers have won 14 of their last 15 games. They have scored at least six runs in seven consecutive games.

Wood (8-0) allowed one run in six innings. He gave up only three hits and walked two, retiring his last 10 batters.

The Dodgers have homered in 15 consecutive games, tied for fourth-longest streak in club history. The last time they managed it was in 1977. Their record is 24 consecutive games with a home run.

Rookie left-hander Kyle Freeman (8-4) allowed five runs and a career-high 10 hits and three walks in six innings (see full recap).

Torreyes hits walk-off single to lift Yanks over Rangers
NEW YORK -- Ronald Torreyes hit a game-winning single with two outs in the 10th inning after midnight, and the New York Yankees edged the Texas Rangers 2-1 on a rainy Friday night for just their second win in 10 games.

Brett Gardner lined a tying home run with one out in the New York ninth off closer Matt Bush. After Chasen Shreve (2-1) escaped a bases-loaded jam in the top of the 10th, Torreyes kept the Yankees atop the AL East.

Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka kept it scoreless into the late innings in the first major league meeting between the Japanese stars (see full recap).

Mark Leiter Jr. picks up 1st big-league win as Phillies cool off Diamondbacks

Mark Leiter Jr. picks up 1st big-league win as Phillies cool off Diamondbacks

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PHOENIX -- The clubhouse was beginning to clear and still the star of the game had not yet emerged from the shower.

"He's in there cleaning the guacamole and mayo out of his hair," Cameron Rupp said with a laugh.

Eventually Mark Leiter Jr. made it out of the shower and over to his locker where equipment man Phil Sheridan presented him with three game balls, souvenirs from not only his first big-league start but his first big-league win, as well.

"It's something I'll never forget," the 26-year-old right-hander from Toms River, N.J., said pitching six shutout innings to backbone the Phillies' 6-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on Friday night (see Instant Replay).

"I’ll be honest, I was probably more excited for this than I was for my major-league debut. To go out there and contribute to a win is what I was hoping to do."

Leiter, a 22nd-round draft pick by the Phillies in 2013, had never made it onto the 40-man roster until the Phils needed a reliever in mid-April and gave him a shot after he'd gotten off to a good start at Triple A. He spent six weeks in the majors and made 12 relief appearances before being sent back to Triple A the first weekend of June.

Leiter worked as a starter during his time back at Triple A. He pitched six shutout innings against Syracuse in his last start and got the call to come back up when Jerad Eickhoff went on the disabled list with a back strain earlier this week.

Leiter's return assignment was not easy: The Diamondbacks are one of the best hitting clubs in the majors and the best on their home turf. They entered the game scoring 6.48 runs per game at home and with an .886 OPS, both major-league bests.

None of that fazed Leiter.

"In my opinion, this is the big leagues and it doesn’t matter who the lineup is," he said. "They all have the ability to hit and hit well. They’re all big-leaguers and they've earned their right to be big-leaguers. I was just trying to pitch to the team you're facing that day."

Leiter trusted his low-90s fastball and commanded it well. He mixed in his secondary stuff and kept the D-backs off-balance with his splitter. He scattered three hits, walked one and struck out five. He showed no fear.

"Great performance," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He made it look easy. He made a lot of good hitters look bad with his split. For him to come up and do that to a real good hitting team was outstanding."

Leiter's dad, Mark Sr., pitched for the Phillies in 1997 and 1998. He made the trip in from New Jersey to watch his son's first big-league start.

"I guess they found him on TV," Leiter said. "That's what they were telling me. I'm sure he wasn't too pleased they found him because he was probably stressed out. But I think it was probably worth him coming out here. He's probably happy."

How could he not be?

Leiter's teammates were definitely happy.

They treated Leiter to a raucous postgame dousing that included as many different condiments as could be found in the clubhouse dining room. One laughing player had a bottle of ketchup in his hands. Another had a squeeze bottle of honey.

And then there was the guacamole and mayo that Rupp mentioned.

"In his first major-league start, to come up here and do that in what is known as a good hitters’ park - that proves Mark is pretty strong between the ears," Tommy Joseph said. "He's been one of those under-the-radar guys that people have doubted, but his mentality and ability to prepare are second to none."

Joseph played a big role in the win, smacking a two-run homer in the ninth inning to give the Phillies some breathing room. Maikel Franco also had a big home run and Freddy Galvis contributed an important triple that led to a Phillies' run in the first inning.

The Phils still have the worst record in the majors at 24-48, but they've won two in a row, both on the back of good starting pitching performances. Aaron Nola pitched 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball on Thursday.

And Leiter delivered on Friday.

"It's good to see those back-to-back," Mackanin said.