Thomson's ejection, Wheeler's tough start part of fiery finale

Phillies cap 3-5 road trip with series loss to Orioles, but hold 8-game lead in NL East

June 16th, 2024

BALTIMORE -- There hasn't been much for the Phillies to get upset about this season -- but that certainly wasn't the case on Sunday afternoon at Camden Yards.

Manager Rob Thomson was ejected from the club's 8-3 loss to the O's in the rubber game following a heated argument.

With the Phils trailing by six runs in the top of the sixth inning, catcher Garrett Stubbs pulled his bat back on a bunt attempt and appeared to be hit on the left toe by a Corbin Burnes breaking ball in the dirt.

Home-plate umpire Mike Estabrook awarded Stubbs first base, but O’s manager Brandon Hyde emerged from the first-base dugout to protest, though it was unclear whether he was arguing if the ball missed Stubbs or if Stubbs’ foot was out of the batters’ box.

After a lengthy meeting, the base umpires overruled the initial call, saying the ball did not hit Stubbs' foot.

“You're telling me that from 200 feet or however far it is, you can tell if a ball hits a foot or not?” Thomson said after the game. “So they told me, 'Well, use your challenge.' But I said, 'You already awarded him first base, why don't you make them use their challenge?' That was it really.”

Added Stubbs: “I did get hit by the pitch. I wouldn't say I got hit by the pitch if I didn't.”

It was the first ejection of the season for the typically even-keeled Thomson and just his fourth since taking over as the Phillies' manager on June 3, 2022.

"First thing I did after the game was go up to him and say how much I appreciated it," Stubbs said. "It's not necessarily just for me, but in that moment, he's doing it for the team, too.”

While that play served as the tipping point, it wasn’t the only issue the Phillies had in the series finale.

Baltimore shortstop Gunnar Henderson’s leadoff homer off Philadelphia ace Zack Wheeler came only after a 2-2 pitch was called a ball despite appearing to be in the zone. Henderson eventually took Wheeler deep on the ninth pitch of the at-bat.

That proved to be the first of a career-high four home runs served up by Wheeler, who also matched a career high by allowing eight runs over 4 1/3 innings. Making the outing all the more frustrating is that it came opposite Corbin Burnes, who very narrowly edged out Wheeler for the 2021 NL Cy Young Award in a highly debated vote.

“It's just one of those days for me,” Wheeler said. “It's frustrating, but it's going to happen throughout the year. Just have to come back out strong next time.”

The Phillies also took exception with both of Burnes’ called strike threes. The most notable one came in the fifth, when Bryson Stott was rung up on a pitch off the plate to end a two-run rally and strand a runner with the Phils trailing by just two at that point.

“It was frustrating for everybody, me included,” Wheeler said. “ … I feel like [Thomson] got all of our anger out for us with that. It was great to see Rob standing up for us.”

Wheeler's career-worst outing came just three days after Aaron Nola also allowed a career-high-tying eight runs in Thursday's loss to the Red Sox. That was one day after catcher J.T. Realmuto underwent right knee surgery.

It all came during an eight-game, three-city intercontinental road trip on which the Phillies finished 3-5. They are 10-10 dating to the start of last month's West Coast swing in Colorado. Philadelphia went 35-10 over its previous 45 games.

"Lot of travel, good teams,” Thomson said. “Now, we go home in front of our fanbase and get back to playing baseball."

It’s also important to keep things in perspective.

Philadelphia (47-24) is 23 games above .500 despite playing the past six weeks without star shortstop Trea Turner, who is expected to be back on Monday.

Oh, and the Phillies have actually extended their division lead during their roughest stretch of the season.

When they departed for that West Coast road trip last month, the Phils had a six-game lead over the Braves in the NL East and a 4 1/2-game edge over the Dodgers for the best record in the NL. They returned home Sunday night with an eight-game lead in the East and four games ahead of the Dodgers.

“It stinks,” Wheeler said. “But it's OK. We've got a long season ahead of us and we've got a really good team. We'll be all right.”

Added Thomson: “We've got to play well, and I expect that we will.”