Win streak ends with wild loss in extras

May 9th, 2021

Héctor Neris called this an emotional loss.

He could have called it frustrating, maddening and unbelievable, too.

It all fit.

After everything broke the Phillies’ way this week, they blew a two-run lead in the ninth inning, a one-run lead in the 11th and a three-run lead in the 12th in Saturday night’s 8-7 loss to Braves at Truist Park. It ended the Phillies’ shot at their first six-game winning streak since 2018.

“I don’t think it will affect our mentality,” Neris said. “I just think it will make us stronger to come back tomorrow and get a win.”

It would be a remarkable statement if the Phillies win on Sunday. Because they truly lost in incredible fashion on Saturday.

Neris carried a two-run lead into the ninth. He walked Ehire Adrianza with two outs, then threw a 1-2 fastball down the heart of the plate to pinch-hitter Pablo Sandoval, who crushed a game-tying two-run home run to right-center field.

Neris’ moneymaker is his splitter, but he said he liked the fastball there.

“I wanted that pitch up,” Neris said. “I missed middle-middle.”

Neris is 1-3 with a 2.93 ERA and six saves in eight opportunities this season. He has allowed runs in only four of his 13 appearances, but his bad nights tend to be dramatic ones. In two of his losses and in Saturday’s blown save, he has allowed big home runs.

But Phillies manager Joe Girardi said he remains committed to Neris as his closer. Of course, anything can happen, and it isn’t like the Phillies don’t have options. Just this week, José Alvarado and Sam Coonrod earned saves while Neris recovered from a five-out save on Monday. Brandon Kintzler and Archie Bradley, who hopes to return from the IL after the road trip, can close, too.

“Héctor’s done a good job for us,” Girardi said. “He’s pitched well for us. So, yeah.”

The Phillies wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the 10th. After the Braves advanced the automatic runner to third with one out, the Phillies intentionally walked the bases loaded. Girardi then employed a five-man infield for what he thought was just the second time in his career. Bryce Harper moved from right field to first base to complete an infield that included Alec Bohm, Didi Gregorius, Scott Kingery and Nick Maton.

Girardi said he liked Harper at first because he has seen him play in the infield before, including an inning at third base when baseball resumed last summer with workouts at Citizens Bank Park.

The strategy worked. The Phillies got out of the inning with Bohm fielding a ground ball and throwing home for the forceout and Kintzler striking out Cristian Pache to end the inning.

Maton’s two-out double in the 11th scored a run to give the Phillies a one-run lead, but Gregorius’ throwing error in the bottom of the frame allowed the Braves to tie it.

Then the real nuttiness started.

Andrew McCutchen hit a ball off the chest of Braves third baseman Austin Riley to put runners on first and second in the 12th. Pinch-hitter Andrew Knapp dropped a perfect bunt in front of the plate, which Braves catcher William Contreras could not handle to load the bases.

Harper bounced a ball back to Braves pitcher Jacob Webb. He fielded the ball cleanly, but he threw wide to home plate. It scored Scott Kingery. Webb was so upset with himself that he failed to cover home plate. McCutchen scored, too.

The Phillies scored another run to make it 7-4.

“You feel really good after you get the three [runs],” Girardi said. “They make a couple errors that create an opportunity for us.”

But Enyel De Los Santos, making just his second appearance this season, fell apart in the 12th. He allowed a walk, single and double to clear the bases and tie the game. The Phillies lost two batters later, when Adrianza singled to right to score the winning run.

The Phillies need to recover quickly. But how?

“I think momentum is only as good as your starting pitcher the next day,” Girardi said.

The Phillies have Aaron Nola on the mound on Sunday night. So there is that.

“I still feel good about how hard our guys fought, and the energy and the passion that they’re playing with,” Girardi said. “No one is going to be perfect and there are going to be days when things don’t go our way, but I still love the way that we’re playing."