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: Aaron Judge hits mammoth homer in Yankees' win over Mets

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Best of MLB: Aaron Judge hits mammoth homer in Yankees' win over Mets

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge launched a titanic homer, Didi Gregorius snapped a seventh-inning tie with a two-run double and the New York Yankees beat the Mets 5-3 on Wednesday night for their third straight victory in the Subway Series.

After taking the first two matchups in the Bronx this week, the Yankees kept up their winning ways when the crosstown rivalry shifted to Queens. Judge enjoyed his first game at Citi Field, hitting a solo drive into the rarely reached third deck in left.

Mets left fielder Yoenis Cespedes never even budged as Judge's AL-leading 37th home run, projected at 457 feet, soared way over his head.

The rookie slugger also singled and scored on Chase Headley's sacrifice fly. But he struck out in the ninth inning to extend a dubious streak: Judge has fanned in 33 consecutive games, three shy of the record for a position player set by Adam Dunn from 2011-2012 (see full recap).

Alonso, Rzepczynski help seal Mariners’ victory
SEATTLE -- Recently acquired Yonder Alonso hit his first homer for Seattle and drove in three runs, and Marc Rzepczynski struck out Chris Davis with the bases loaded to end the Mariners' 7-6 win over the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday.

Alonso, acquired in a trade with Oakland on Aug. 6, hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning, his 23rd of the season. He added an RBI single during a three-run fifth and also singled in the seventh.

Leonys Martin opened the sixth with his third home run to put Seattle up 7-4.

Seattle closer Edwin Diaz came on in the ninth and walked the first three hitters. Manny Machado followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 7-5, but Martin prevented an extra-base hit with a sensational diving catch in right field.

Diaz struck out Jonathan Schoop, but then hit both Trey Mancini and Mark Trumbo to force in another run. Rzepczynski relieved and fanned Davis on three pitches for his first save.

Tony Zych (6-3) pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings in relief. Ubaldo Jimenez (5-8) allowed six runs in 4 1/3 innings (see full recap).

Gordon’s single in 9th lifts Royals over A’s
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Alex Gordon hit a go-ahead RBI single in the top of the ninth after Oakland tied it in the bottom of the eighth, and the Kansas City Royals beat the Athletics 7-6 on Wednesday.

Alcides Escobar doubled to start the ninth against Blake Treinen (1-1), matching his season high with three hits. Then Gordon delivered his second run-scoring single of the series finale.

Oakland's Matt Chapman hit a tying two-run homer in the eighth against Brandon Maurer (1-1), who wound up the winner.

Lorenzo Cain hit a two-run homer in the fourth and Danny Duffy struck out eight over five innings but the Royals couldn't hold a late lead again before holding on -- a day after squandering a four-run advantage in a 10-8 defeat.

Cain added a key RBI single in the eighth for the Royals, who began the day tied with Minnesota six games behind AL Central-leading Cleveland (see full recap).

Nick Pivetta takes his 'demotion' in stride after putting up big strikeout totals

Nick Pivetta takes his 'demotion' in stride after putting up big strikeout totals

SAN DIEGO — Odubel Herrera has missed the Phillies' last two games with a sore left hamstring and the team could sure use his bat.

Will he be available Thursday in San Francisco?

Herrera was asked about his condition as he hurried out of the clubhouse and off to the team bus after Wednesday's 3-0 loss to the San Diego Padres (see Instant Replay).

"Better," he said, indicating some improvement.

Could he play in the next day or so?

"Maybe," he said.

As a contingency, the Phillies will add a position player — Brock Stassi makes sense — to their roster for Thursday's game while they continue to evaluate Herrera. If Herrera can't go in a couple of days, he could end up on the disabled list. He injured the hamstring late in Monday night's game. He improved his hitting streak to 17 games earlier that night.

In order to add a player to the roster without placing Herrera on the DL, the Phillies had to clear a roster spot. They took the unusual step of sending Nick Pivetta to Triple A moments after he struck out a career-high 11 batters on Wednesday.

It appears to be simply a procedural move. The Phillies play a doubleheader Tuesday against Miami and will be allowed to add a 26th man that day. Ordinarily, a player sent to the minors could not return for 10 days unless he replaces an injured player. By rule, Pivetta could come back and be the 26th man on Tuesday. He then would have to return to Triple A to complete the 10-day stint in the minors. The bottom line is he might not even miss a turn in the major-league rotation.

"With Herrera on the blocks, not knowing where he's at, we need a position player," Mackanin said. "With the doubleheader coming up, we have the option of adding an extra pitcher on the 22nd. So that's the reasoning there."

Pivetta took the move in stride.

"It is what it is," the 24-year-old righty said. "I know about as much as you guys. I'm going to go down and work hard. It will be fine. I'm going to be back up eventually. So we'll just keep moving day by day there."

Pivetta struck out eight of the first nine batters he faced on Wednesday. When the ninth batter, rival pitcher Clayton Richard, came to the plate, he asked catcher Cameron Rupp a question.

"Did he strike everybody out?" Richard asked.

Richard struck out, but eventually got the upper hand. He pitched a three-hit shutout to finish off a San Diego sweep (see story).

"It looked to me like Pivetta was going to have a Kerry Wood performance today," Mackanin said. "Eight strikeouts in the first three innings. He ended up with 11. He threw a lot of good secondary stuff for strikes, which is one of the goals we're working on for him to do. He carried it for a while. He needs to understand how to continue to carry that through five, six, seven or even eight innings. 

"He's a young pitcher. It's his first year in the big leagues. He's going to get it. He's going to be good. He needs to learn how to sustain that through more than five or six innings. That's when you get to be a real solid starter."