Harper ejection summarizes bizarre extra-innings loss

May 25th, 2024

DENVER -- The Phillies’ series opener against the Rockies at Coors Field on Friday night was weird. And not in a good way for Philadelphia.

In a 3-2, 11-inning loss to the team with the worst record in the National League, the team with MLB’s best record couldn’t find a way to extend its winning streak to seven games after winning 17 of its first 20 in May.

The weirdness began with the third batter of the game. struck out on three pitches against Rockies starter Ty Blach, and he wasn’t happy about it -- particularly a called strike two that he felt was down and in.

Harper spiked his helmet and began to take off his Phanatic green batting gloves while speaking to home plate umpire Brian Walsh, who ejected him from the game. It was the 21st ejection of Harper’s career.

“Obviously, I spiked my helmet, but that wasn’t from frustration over the call,” Harper said. “I just asked [Walsh], ‘Hey, that [second] strike, where do you have it? Just so I know.’ … And then he threw me out, and I just told him, ‘I just wanted to have a conversation with you.’ I didn’t cuss or scream or anything, really.”

After the game, crew chief Vic Carapazza told a pool of reporters that the helmet spike was a big reason for the ejection.

“Bryce Harper was clearly upset about the pitches, and Brian gave him a long leash,” Carapazza said. “He kept him in the game, and Bryce just kept arguing about balls and strikes. And at the end of the day, equipment violation is basically a big warning, and if you continue to talk about pitches, then Brian and I had to handle it.”

A bizarre moment that set the tone for a bizarre game.

In the most hitter-friendly park in the Majors, the Phillies, who averaged 6.5 runs per game this month coming into the contest, mustered only two runs on solo homers from Nick Castellanos and Edmundo Sosa in the fifth inning.

Cristopher Sánchez was solid over 5 1/3 innings before turning the ball over to the Phillies’ bullpen when he got into some trouble in the sixth. He yielded one run on seven hits, walking one and striking out two.

Philadelphia’s relief corps kept Colorado’s bats at bay until there were two outs in the ninth inning, with the Phils leading, 2-1. Pinch-hitter Jacob Stallings came to the plate against left-hander José Alvarado, who was on the verge of a 1-2-3 ninth to close it out.

Stallings, who entered the game with 26 career home runs over nine seasons, launched the first pitch he saw from Alvarado into the left-center field bleachers to tie the game. It was Stallings’ first career pinch-hit homer, and the third time in Rockies history that they tied a game on a pinch-hit homer with two outs in the ninth inning or later.

Philadelphia’s lineup went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position on the night, and it couldn’t push across the go-ahead run in the 10th or 11th innings, setting up a dramatic finish for a Colorado club that is used to them -- just a day prior, the Rockies blew a four-run lead twice after the seventh inning in a 10-9 loss to the A’s.

In the bottom of the 11th, Gregory Soto intentionally walked Jordan Beck to set up a forceout everywhere but home plate. With the automatic runner, Brenton Doyle, at second, and Beck at first, Soto struck out pinch-hitter Jake Cave, but then walked pinch-hitter Ryan McMahon to load the bases.

Ezequiel Tovar then singled to left to win it for the Rockies, marking the first time the Phillies had lost a game this season when leading after eight innings -- they had been 32-0.

It was all so … weird.

“I would say so,” said Phillies manager Rob Thomson. “… We did have some opportunities. We hit some balls hard, just right at people, and they made some plays on defense.”

When asked about the Harper ejection, Thomson said he thought Walsh had “kind of a quick trigger.” Then he summed up the evening perhaps the best way anyone could.

“That’s baseball,” he said. “… You’ve got to play better to overcome situations, umpires and bad hops or whatever. So, we’ve got to play better.”

For a team that is on pace to win 115 games, that statement was perhaps the weirdest part of all.