Bruce after Phillies' loss: 'Gotta win, period'

Club falls 5 games back of final NL Wild Card spot with 10 remaining

September 21st, 2019

CLEVELAND -- Ignore the lie the calendar tries to tell you. It’s October here at Progressive Field, where the Phillies and Indians both entered a late-season Interleague slate Friday with the understanding that every inning, every at-bat, every outcome has major mathematical magnitude for both ballclubs.

It's just win, baby. And the Phillies just lost. Their 5-2 defeat at the hands of Shane Bieber and the Tribe in the series opener was their second in as many days, their ninth in 18 games this month and another big dagger in a season invaded by injury and unmet expectation. Combined with the Brewers’ win over the Pirates, Philadelphia’s Wild Card deficit is five games and its elimination number is five, as well.

Resolve has not totally given way to resignation, but the math isn’t pretty.

“Gotta win, period,” outfielder  said. “You can’t worry about anything else. You listen, you read, you concern yourself too much about it, and it doesn’t do you any good.”

Bruce, dealing with an elbow strain, has been one of the many walking wounded Phillies. His start Friday night was just his second since July 16. And the lineup itself, with so much at stake, was the subject of much pregame discourse, what with star catcher  getting a rare break (he had started nine straight games) and Bruce, not Realmuto, filling the DH spot in the AL park.

Shortstop Jean Segura was also a late scratch with a lingering left ankle issue -- just another bang-up and hang-up to add to the Philly pile.

Even at full strength, the Phillies would have had their hands full against Bieber, one of the breakout stars of this 2019 season. The 24-year-old reached the 250-strikeout mark in this one by mostly befuddling the Philly bats in the leverage moments across 7 1/3 innings in which he allowed just a pair of runs on seven hits.

“Some chase below the zone,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He showed why he’s one of the best young pitchers in baseball. He brought his A-game tonight. He was able to execute all his pitches. Threw strikes, attacked the zone and had some wipeout stuff below the zone, as well.”

The results were nowhere near as pleasant for left-hander Drew Smyly, who allowed four quick runs across the game’s first two innings and was yanked after a leadoff walk in the third. Command was absent for Smyly on a night in which he walked Francisco Lindor, the very first batter he faced, and then gave up a run-scoring double to No. 2 hitter Oscar Mercado.

It didn’t get any better from there (totaling three walks and five hits in two-plus innings), and the angst was amplified.

“Everybody knows where we’re at,” Smyly said. “It’s a playoff game every night for us. I just had much higher expectations for myself. It stinks that this late in the season, I just didn’t bring it. I didn’t have my good stuff tonight.”

The Phillies managed to make it interesting in the fifth, when Maikel Franco, who was only inserted into the starting lineup after Segura was scratched, ripped a two-run double to make it 4-2.

But the Indians got a key insurance run in the seventh off reliever Jared Hughes. With a runner on third and two outs, the Phillies intentionally walked Lindor, only to see Mercado come through with a line-drive RBI single.

Andrew Knapp, filling in for Realmuto, led off the eighth with a double, and the Phillies had runners on the corners with two out against reliever and one-time Phillies prospect Carlos Carrasco. But Bruce grounded out to end the threat.

“We can’t get where we want to go,” said Bruce, “if we don’t win.”

The Phillies just haven’t done enough of that at a time when every day is essentially October.