Losses don’t get much more excruciating or infuriating than the one the Phillies suffered Thursday night.
They were one strike away — one bleeping strike — from opening a crucial seven-game homestand with a victory before the ol’ shinola hit the fan and they walked off the field with one of their worst and most costly defeats of the season.
“It hurts,” manager Joe Girardi said after the dispiriting, 4-3, loss to the Colorado Rockies. “A lot.”
On a night when the offense, other than Bryce Harper, continued to sputter, the Phils got an excellent start from Ranger Suarez and good bullpen work from Jose Alvarado and Hector Neris.
They took a 2-1 lead into the ninth inning. Ian Kennedy, acquired at the trade deadline to take the adventure out of that inning, got the first two outs then allowed a single and back-to-back home runs as the Rockies took a 4-2 lead.
The Phils scratched out a run in the bottom of the inning but pinch-hitter J.T. Realmuto, who had been held out of the starting lineup, struck out with the tying run at third to end the game.
The loss was the Phillies’ third in a row and it came at a horrible time because down in Atlanta, the Braves rallied to beat Washington in extra innings. The Phillies lost a game in the standings and now trail the first-place Braves by 3½ games in the NL East with 22 to play. The Phils are also 3½ back in the wild-card chase.
Kennedy’s blown save was the Phillies’ 30th of the season, the most in the majors and a single-season franchise record.
As a unit, the Phillies’ bullpen has allowed 78 homers, fifth-most in the majors.
Kennedy gave up just five homers in 32⅓ innings with Texas. Since coming to Philadelphia, he has a missile crisis. He has been tagged for six homers in 13⅔ innings.
Kennedy left the field to boos. Thank goodness the crowd was just 18,071 or they might have awakened people all the way up in Trenton.
After the game, Kennedy was unavailable for comment.
Colorado entered the game just 18-50 on the road this season. But the Rockies got a good start from Antonio Senzatela and they hung around all night until closing the gap in the ninth. With two outs in the inning, Colton Welker singled against Kennedy. Kennedy then went up, 0-2, on left-handed-hitting pinch-hitter Ryan McMahon before surrendering a two-run homer to right on a curveball. Kennedy had previously shown McMahon four fastballs in the at-bat and three of them were fouled off.
“Just bad execution on the pitch,” Girardi said. “It looked like it was middle-middle from where I was sitting. Mistakes over the plate have cost him.”
After McMahon’s homer, Kennedy gave up another to Sam Hilliard.
Is it time to put Neris back at closer? He’s been on an excellent roll for two months.
“I need to be able to deploy Hector when I need to,” Girardi said. “We need to be able to get to the ninth. We’ll look at it every day but (Kennedy) is our closer. He’s had some big saves for us, too, and some tough saves for us, too. Just tonight, he was one strike away. He got the first two guys out and executed pitches and then after that he didn’t. So, I don’t think he’s not capable of doing it because I’ve seen him do it. He just didn’t do it tonight.”
Kennedy was hardly the only problem. The offense generated just four hits through eight innings — Harper had two of them, including his 30th homer — and finished with six. The Phils had just 10 hits (and only one for extra bases) in losses Tuesday and Wednesday at Milwaukee.
“We’ve got a lot of guys struggling right now,” Girardi said. “The one guy who has been consistent has been Harper. But we’ve got a lot of guys who are struggling that need to come out and need to come out if it soon.”
Suarez pitched six innings of one-run ball. He walked one and struck out six. Girardi is trying to keep his starters to 100 pitches so they stay fresh down the stretch. Suarez threw 96. He got 15 swings and misses, eight on his changeup.
Suarez has filled three different roles this season — bullpen long man, closer and starter. He has always wanted to be a starter. He has made eight of them for the Phils this season and has allowed just seven earned runs in 37⅔ innings for a 1.67 ERA. His overall ERA in 78 innings is 1.38.
Suarez was in line for the win after the Phils capitalized on a defensive miscue to break a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the sixth. Harper had a big hit in that inning. The Phils might have gotten more if Odubel Herrera hadn’t run into the first out of the inning at third base.
Mistakes haunt teams when they don’t score enough runs and have little margin for error.
Just ask Ian Kennedy.
“We can’t change it,” Girardi said. “We have to come out and play better (Friday) and find a way to put a streak together.”