On a night when the Sixers and the Flyers were making news with offseason transactions, the Phillies lost again.
The Arizona Diamondbacks hung a 5-4 loss on baseball's worst team at Citizens Bank Park on Friday night (see Instant Replay).
It was a tough loss to swallow because, despite getting out-hit 12-5, the Phillies took a two-run lead in the bottom of the sixth inning on a two-run double by Maikel Franco.
All starting pitcher Aaron Nola had to do was put up a shutdown inning in the seventh and get the ball to the bullpen trio of Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris and the Phillies would take their chances from there.
But Nola could not deliver that shutdown inning. A season of hard lessons continued for the 24-year-old right-hander when he opened the seventh by allowing three straight hits, including a game-tying, two-run home run by Gregor Blanco on a hanging 2-2 curveball that screamed, "Hit me."
Blanco did just that. The next batter, David Peralta, singled against Nola and came around to score the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly after Nola had departed.
It was the second straight start that Nola has seen one of his outings unravel on just a few pitches. A three-run homer by Dexter Fowler in the fifth inning crushed him in his previous start in St. Louis.
It has been a frustrating season for Nola, dotted with injury, inconsistency and one tremendous outing three starts ago in Atlanta. He is 3-5 with a 4.76 ERA in nine starts.
"The one in Atlanta was pretty good, but the past couple I've had to battle," Nola said. "I'm not getting ahead of hitters like I need to and that makes you battle more and puts more stress on you. I need to get back to throwing first-pitch strikes.
"It's frustrating, but I know what I need to do. I'll work on it and have a better outing next time."
Nola made two mistakes with his curveball and paid for them both. In the fourth inning, he allowed a two-out RBI single to Jeff Mathis on an 0-2 curveball that caught way too much of the hitting zone. The hit might never have happened had third baseman Franco not failed to turn a double play earlier in that inning. But that was no solace to the frustrated Nola. He was pretty hard on himself.
"I would never blame anything on the position guys," he said. "I'm the one who made the mistakes. I made a big mistake in the seventh. That tied the ball game. The 0-2 pitch to Mathis with two guys on - I need to make a better pitch than that one."
Manager Pete Mackanin liked most of Nola's outing.
"Overall, a pretty good outing," Mackanin said. "He just hung a curveball and got burned."
Nola couldn't afford to make any mistakes, really, because the Phillies' offense produced just five hits. Three of them were extra-base hits that led to runs. Odubel Herrera tripled in the fourth and scored on a groundout. Cameron Rupp homered in the fifth to tie the game at 2-2. It was his first extra-base hit since May 19, a span of 47 at-bats. And Franco put the Phils ahead with his two-run double against Patrick Corbin in the sixth. Corbin threw three straight sliders before Franco clubbed the 0-2 pitch to the gap in left-center.
After the D-backs took the lead with three runs in the seventh, their bullpen shut the Phils down.
A year after going 69-93, Arizona has won eight of its last nine to run its record to 42-26. The D-Backs' pitching has improved dramatically, Paul Goldschmidt, though relatively quiet Friday night, is still Paul Goldschmidt, in others words, a perennial MVP candidate, and Archie Bradley has made a brilliant transition to the bullpen. The former starting pitching prospect pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings in this game, running his season totals to 31 innings and four runs.
The Phillies, meanwhile, are 22-44 with winless Jerad Eickhoff looking to cool off Arizona on Saturday.