PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies needed more than one wild play to beat the Reds on Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, but for more than a few innings, it looked like it might be enough.
But then the little things added up in the Phillies’ 4-3 loss, snapping their four-game winning streak and cutting their lead in the National League East to one game over the Braves.
First, Bryce Harper got caught stealing home plate to end the fifth. Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez played off the bag for Hoskins, who fell behind Reds right-hander Sonny Gray in a 1-2 count. Suarez’s positioning gave Harper room to move down the line.
It also gave him an idea, especially with Gray pitching out of the windup. He took off on the pitch, but Gray sped up his delivery, and Reds catcher Curt Casali moved up in the box to apply the tag.
“Thought I had a good read, good jump,” Harper said. “I think if I just slid head-first, got my hand in there a little bit, it probably would have been better.”
“I thought he might try to do something,” Gray said. “I knew I was going from the windup, and I was kind of looking right at him. I knew once I got two strikes it was kind of a time where maybe he would.”
If Harper had slid head-first, if he had beaten Casali’s tag, Harper would have been praised for a heads up, aggressive play. Instead, he took the bat out of Hoskins’ hands. Hoskins is batting .217 with two home runs, 12 RBIs and a .666 OPS since May 7, but he remains one of the best hitters in baseball.
“[Harper] has been very aggressive on the bases as you guys have seen, and he’s won some games for us with his aggressive baserunning,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. “He and I spoke about it, and he understands that that was a little overaggressive.”
Harper said Kapler told him that he worried about his safety. If Hoskins had swung and connected and pulled the ball down the line, he could have injured Harper.
“I probably should know if my guy has a take sign or not just in case he swings and puts one right in my face," Harper said.
Casali was happy Hoskins did not swing, either.
"In that situation, I’m banking that he’s not going to swing, because I’m selling out for that,” he said. “Fortunately, before, it’s happened to me. [Jacoby] Ellsbury was safe the last time we did it, and I laid back a little bit. This time, I just sold out and gave him my best to go out and get it as quickly as I can and just kind of lay it on the plate there."
Despite all that, Phillies ace Aaron Nola carried a 3-1 lead into the seventh. He retired the first two batters before Casali reached on an infield single. The Reds sent pinch-hitter Josh VanMeter to the plate, and Nola walked him on four pitches, with the final three pitches not close to the strike zone.
“I shouldn’t have walked that guy,” Nola said. “That can’t happen right there. I’ve got two outs. I mean, walking the pinch-hitter on four pitches -- that’s tough.”
It ended Nola’s afternoon.
Kapler summoned left-hander Jose Alvarez from the bullpen to face the left-handed-hitting Jesse Winker and Joey Votto, if needed. Alvarez has quietly been on an impressive run. He entered the inning with a 0.54 ERA in 18 appearances since April 18, holding opponents to a .542 OPS.
But Reds manager David Bell pinch-hit Nick Senzel for Winker, and Senzel hit a soft ground ball toward shortstop Jean Segura for an infield single to load the bases. The ball had a .130 expected batting average, according to Statcast. Votto followed and hit a first-pitch slider to center field to score Casali and VanMeter to tie the game. Phillies right-hander Vince Velasquez replaced Alvarez, but he allowed a single to left field to Suarez to score Senzel for the go-ahead run.
“We understood the possibility that they might pop Senzel there, which they did,” Kapler said. “Alvarez was able to execute his pitch and get a weak ground ball. And to Votto, also some weak contact to the middle of the field. I think that whole sequence was fairly well executed. From the way baseball works, sometimes the ball doesn't bounce your way. That’s how I think about that inning.”