PHILADELPHIA -- Joe Girardi outsmarted the weather.
But he could not stop the Dodgers on Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park. He could not prevent Cody Bellinger from finishing a 13-pitch at-bat against Kyle Gibson with a home run to send the Phillies to an 8-2 loss, dropping them into a first-place tie with the Braves in the National League East.
The Mets are just one game back.
The Phillies, who entered the series riding an eight-game winning streak, need to win Thursday to avoid a sweep.
“It’s kind of what you go through,” Girardi said. “We’ve been through this a lot this season.”
Everything seemed to be falling in line early for the Phillies. Gibson had been scheduled to start, but the Phillies announced shortly before first pitch that right-hander Connor Brogdon would pitch instead. The Phillies looked at the weather forecast throughout the afternoon and noticed a massive blotch of red on the radar headed their way.
Girardi made a final check at 6:30 p.m. ET. He was told to expect rain sometime between 7:45 and 8:15. After Aaron Nola’s start got cut short Tuesday following four scoreless innings because of a 1-hour, 44-minute rain delay, the Phillies took a shot and told Gibson to stand down.
“If we only got three innings out of Gibby, our bullpen was pretty compromised,” Girardi said.
Girardi and pitching coach Caleb Cotham told Gibson about their plan just before he walked onto the field to begin his pregame work.
“I said I think it’s a good idea,” Gibson said. “We put a lot of pressure on the bullpen last night. Anything to kind of avoid that scenario tonight was a good idea.”
Brogdon threw a scoreless first inning. Héctor Neris threw a scoreless second.
Then, on cue, the rain came, causing a 57-minute delay.
“Had it not rained, it would have been a bigger issue because I probably would have been coming out for the third or fourth and not been able to play the long toss I normally throw and stuff like that,” Gibson said. “But because of the rain delay, I was able to get in an extra stretch and normal throwing and I really treated it as start time. It just so happened to be the third inning.”
Girardi did something like this with the Yankees in 2008 in Kansas City. He scratched Ian Kennedy, who coincidentally just joined the Phillies as their new closer, and started Brian Bruney for the first time in his career. The rain came as predicted, but the umpires never called for a delay. Kennedy entered the game in the sixth inning, but the Yankees already trailed and lost.
That is not what happened Wednesday. Gibson pitched a scoreless third, but he walked Corey Seager to start the fourth. Two batters later, Gibson and Bellinger squared off. Bellinger fouled off nine pitches before Gibson threw the 13th pitch of the at-bat -- a 3-2 sinker -- which Bellinger hit to left-center field for a two-run home run to make it 2-0. It tied Gibson’s longest plate appearance of his career. It was Bellinger’s longest.
It also tied the longest at-bat by a Phillies pitcher that ended with a home run since at least 1916, according to Baseball Reference. Kyle Abbott allowed a grand slam to the Cubs' Gary Scott on April 20, 1992, at Wrigley Field, and Vicente Padilla allowed a two-run homer to the Marlins' Miguel Cabrera on Sept. 23, 2004, at Pro Player Stadium.
"He fought really hard, fouled off and wasted a lot of really good pitches and eventually got the better of me,” Gibson said. “I probably left that one a little bit more middle than I wanted to, but it was down in the zone.
“I felt like, for the most part, that was probably as good of a string of executed pitches that I had all night. It probably sounds crazy, but to go 3-2 and throw eight straight pitches that a guy is fouling off and not able to square up and not take for ball four, that's a pretty good string of pitches there. It's unfortunate obviously, the end result on pitch No. 13, but there's times I'm going to be really critical of myself, but that was just one guy against another. I threw my best pitch, sinker down and away, and he put his best swing on it."
The Dodgers scored another run in the fourth. Gibson put two more runners on to start the seventh, but an Alec Bohm error and a passed ball led to three unearned runs to hand Los Angeles a 6-2 lead.
Now, the Phillies must hope that Ranger Suárez can pitch well on Thursday to hold onto first place.