A 'perfectly placed' ball costs Phillies in loss

April 11th, 2021

In the tightest of situations -- runners on the corners, one out and Freddie Freeman at the plate -- José Alvarado did his job. He got the reigning National League MVP Award winner to hit a weak chopper back to the mound.

It’s what happened next that haunted Alvarado and the Phillies in a 5-4 loss to the Braves on Saturday night at Truist Park.

Rather than throwing home, Alvarado’s first thought was to go for a double play, but there was nobody covering second base with the infield playing in. The runner at third, Ehire Adrianza, easily scored the game’s go-ahead run.

“It’s one of those things where it’s perfectly placed where the ball’s hit,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said, “and it cost us.”

What is now a cemented series loss in Atlanta has undone so much of the good the Phillies had created in sweeping the three-time defending NL East champions at the start of the season. Philadelphia went into this year thinking, and hoping, that a drastically rebuilt bullpen after last year’s late-innings disasters would be enough to push it into the postseason in a loaded NL East.

But now, the Phils' bullpen has suffered their first loss of 2021 in the strangest of ways. In addition to getting Freeman to beat the ball into the ground, Alvarado, who was acquired from the Rays in a December trade, also struck out Marcell Ozuna and Travis d’Arnaud. His triple-digit sinker was sizzling, and his stuff worked as intended against the middle of a tough Atlanta lineup.

And yet, that’s not what anybody will remember about this outing. Alvarado’s throws to home as a pitcher proved less important than his belated throw home as a fielder.

Was it Alvarado’s fault that it played out that way? Well, perhaps not.

Starting pitcher Zach Eflin blamed himself for the loss because he squandered leads of 2-0 and 4-3 over his six innings.

“I pitched us out of it twice,” he said. “That doesn’t sit well with me.”

Eflin showed poise in rebounding from a tough first inning in which Freeman took him deep for a two-run homer. He was efficient and effective from that point, but he gave up the tying run in the sixth on a Dansby Swanson RBI double. Girardi said Eflin would have been pitching the seventh had he not given up that run.

Instead, right-hander Archie Bradley took the mound and put the Phils in a precarious position by giving up Adrianza’s pinch-hit leadoff double and Ronald Acuña Jr.’s ensuing single. Bradley got Ozzie Albies to pop out before Alvarado was summoned.

With Freeman up to bat, the infield was drawn in, rather than sitting back at double-play depth. This proved significant when the chopper was hit back to Alvarado. Shortstop Didi Gregorius’ instinct was to come in on the ball in case it got past Alvarado, and Alvarado’s instinct was to go for the 1-6-3 double play, not realizing Gregorius was not positioned for such a play.

By the time Alvarado turned back toward the plate and threw home, it was too late to nab Adrianza.

“You can’t blame that on [Alvarado],” Gregorius said, “because he’s trying to make a play.”

Girardi said the same.

“I thought he had a chance to turn a double play, but Didi reacted to where the ball is hit and went toward the ball, thinking about if it got past Alvarado,” Girardi said. “It’s an instinctual play for Didi. I don’t have a problem with either one. Like I said, it’s the perfectly placed ball.”

Perfect enough to send the Phillies to their second loss in as many nights.