Neris, if he spoke, might have called the 5-4 loss to the Nationals one of the Phillies' worst losses of the season. The Phillies struck out 15 times in 6 1/3 innings against Max Scherzer, but Nationals manager Dave Martinez removed his ace in the seventh inning, in part because the Phillies made him throw 111 pitches. The Phillies gleefully pounced on the Nationals' bullpen and built a three-run lead, only to watch their own bullpen allow two runs in both the eighth and ninth innings to lose the game, the series and an opportunity to move into a first-place tie in the National League East.
"It sucks to lose this game," Phillies right-hander Jake Arrieta said. "But this kind of stuff happens. It would've been great to win a series against these guys on the road, a tremendous team who has been really close to getting to the World Series the past couple years. So, it's a test for us."
Scherzer and Arrieta both pitched well in an epic matchup. It was the first time two starters that won the previous three Cy Young Awards in their league had faced each other in a game since Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson in 2001.
Scherzer thrashed the Phillies, but Arrieta allowed just one run through six innings to keep it 1-0. Phillies manager Gabe Kapler had Nick Williams pinch-hit for Arrieta with a runner on second and one out in the seventh. Most times, if not almost every time, Scherzer faces Williams and continues from there. But Martinez pulled him because he had thrown so many pitches. Williams singled to center field against Sammy Solis to score Pedro Florimon to tie the game. Rhys Hoskins and Odubel Herrera followed with two-out hits in the inning to make it 3-1.
"It's kind of a deep breath," Hoskins said about Scherzer leaving the game. "Max is Max. He's got some of the best stuff in the game. We hadn't seen their whole bullpen, but any time you get a guy out of the game that's doing what he's doing, we feel like we've got a better chance for sure."
"We have a lot of faith in Hector," Kapler said. "We believe in him, and those are the situations that are made for him. So when we send him out on the mound, we have a ton of confidence."
Neris, who had converted 26 of 27 save opportunities since June 28, allowed a leadoff single to Matt Wieters, then threw wildly on a pickoff attempt to allow pinch-runner Rafael Bautista to reach third.
Neris could not throw a strike after that. He stopped throwing his splitter. He hit Howie Kendrick with a pitch to put runners at the corners. He walked Michael A. Taylor on five pitches to load the bases. He walked Pedro Severino on six pitches to score the tying run.
"I could have called better pitches, I could have done a better job," catcher Jorge Alfaro said. "I don't necessarily agree with you that he wasn't throwing strikes. It was more that they were being very selective."
Kapler went to the mound. He moved Scott Kingery from right field to the infield with Jesmuel Valentin and Herrera positioning themselves in right-center and left-center, respectively. Wilmer Difo smacked a ball between them to score the winning run and end the game.
Kapler said he never considered warming up anybody else, even with Neris showing he could not throw strikes.
"Those were Hector's outs," Kapler said. "He's the one that we want getting those big outs for us."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED Franco went 1-for-2 with an intentional walk against Scherzer. He then hit a solo home run to left-center field in the eighth inning to hand the Phillies a three-run lead. Franco is hitting .283 with five doubles, one triple, six home runs, 26 RBIs and an .856 OPS though his first 28 games. He is hitting .333 with four doubles, four home runs, 11 RBIs and a .975 OPS in 16 games since April 17.
SOUND SMART Herrera hit a two-out double in the first inning, extending his on-base streak to 35 consecutive games. It is the Phillies' longest streak since Chase Utley had a 35-game streak from June 23 to Aug. 3, 2006.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS Both Andrew Stevenson and Taylor tried to steal second base in the second inning, but Alfaro threw out both runners. Alfaro threw the ball 88.2 mph to catch Stevenson, making it the second-hardest throw on a caught stealing this season, according to Statcast™. Alfaro has the hardest throw, getting J.T. Realmuto on an 89.6 mph throw on Monday in Miami.
Alfaro has the strongest arm of any catcher in baseball with his "max effort" throws averaging 90.1 mph. Realmuto is a distant second at 87.6 mph.
It is the first time a Phillies catcher caught two runners stealing in the same inning since Carlos Ruiz on Aug. 27, 2010, in San Diego.
HE SAID IT "I think we use it as an opportunity to learn. We will replay probably every pitch of the game in some capacity and we'll use it to inform really good decisions going forward, both how we manage our players and how we make decisions in the dugout. A day like today is a real good challenge and an opportunity to learn." -- Kapler
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY The Phillies won their 10th challenge in 11 attempts, when they took a look at Hoskins' groundout in the ninth inning. Nationals shortstop Trea Turner threw high to Kendrick at first base, forcing Kendrick to make a swipe tag. First-base umpire Mike Winters called out Hoskins, but replay showed that Hoskins first touched the bag and the call was overturned.
UP NEXT The Phillies open a four-game series Monday night against the Giants at Citizens Bank Park at 7:05 p.m. ET. Phillies right-hander Zach Eflin (0-0, 1.50 ERA) faces Giants right-hander Jeff Samardzija (1-1, 5.27 ERA) in the series opener. Eflin allowed one run in six innings in his season debut Tuesday in Miami. He is pitching in place of Ben Lively, who is on the disabled list with a strained lower back.