On Sunday night, the Phillies and New York Mets will travel upstate to Williamsport to play a regular-season game in front of a few thousand Little Leaguers. It's all part of a Major League Baseball initiative to inspire young players to excel in the game, reach for the stars and maybe get to the big leagues.
MLB better hope that the brand of ball played in the nationally televised game will be better than what masqueraded as baseball at the highest level early Thursday night.
The Phillies, a sloppy defensive team to begin with, played error-filled ball in the first game of a doubleheader and came away with an eyesore of a 24-4 loss (see first take). The Phillies' performance ranged from ugly to embarrassing to comical as the team made four errors, gave up 11 unearned runs and resorted to using two position players on the mound to cover the final three innings of the blowout.
Oft-injured outfielder Roman Quinn gave up six hits and seven runs in 1 2/3 innings and infielder Scott Kingery allowed four hits and two runs before the game mercifully ended.
During his stint as a mop-up reliever, Kingery lobbed the ball so slowly that it did not register on the stadium radar gun. Mets hitters dug in and teed off. Players in the Mets' dugout giggled. Fans, who had booed earlier in the day, also giggled. The whole thing, frankly, was an embarrassment to the sport.
But Phillies manager Gabe Kapler managed to keep it all in perspective, especially as it pertained to his use, or non-use, of the bullpen.
"You guys are going to spin this however you want, but the fact of the matter is, in the fifth inning when we're down 11 runs, we started to prepare for the second game," he said. "We used strategy to best position the Phillies to win baseball games. We're going to continue to do that. My job is to protect the Phillies. That's it. That's what I did.
"Our best relievers are not excited about coming into those kind of games, those lopsided games. On the flip side, a couple position players enjoyed it. A 24-4 game and a 5-4 game both count as a loss. And so our strategy is to be best positioned to win the next baseball game. If we end up using Luis (Garcia) or (Victor) Arano, they're going to be less effective in the second game. [Quinn and Kingery] got through it safely. We're in a much better position to win Game 2 as a result."
Kapler defended his use of Quinn, who has missed significant time in his career with a series of injuries.
"I don't have any concerns for Roman throwing the ball 78 miles an hour because that's what he does every day when he plays catch," Kapler said. "I don't have any concerns for Scotty doing the same thing. It's a strategy decision because we're trying to make the playoffs, we're trying to win the National League East, and the game was out of hand. We now have a bullpen that we can use effectively in Game 2 of this doubleheader.
"Down the road, we're going to look back on this and it's just going to be a time when we got our asses kicked and we had position players on the mound."
Kapler was asked if that is what fans really want to see, a couple of position players throwing batting practice. The Phillies entered the game with eight relievers and used just two for an inning apiece before Quinn took the mound.
"I think they were probably more entertained than they have been, frankly," he said. "I would bet that it is more entertaining to watch what we just saw than in the same kind of blowout game one of our relievers that we see regularly."
Maikel Franco made a pair of errors at third base in the opener. Catcher Jorge Alfaro made a throwing error and leftfielder Rhys Hoskins dropped a ball for another error. All the errors led to runs. Rookie starter Ranger Suarez gave up eight runs, four of which were unearned. Mark Leiter Jr. gave up four hits, including a grand slam, and seven runs in one inning, but all were unearned as the Phils made a pair of errors behind him.
Poor defense is nothing new for these Phillies. They entered the first game of the doubleheader ranked second to last in the majors in defensive runs saved (minus-85), according to Fangraphs. Only Baltimore at minus-95 was worse.
The four errors gave the Phils 92 on the season, tying them with St. Louis for most in the majors.
"We didn't play good defense," Kapler said. "We put a little additional pressure on our pitchers to get additional outs. These are major-league hitters. They're going to eventually drive the baseball and that's what they did."
The Mets had 25 hits in the first game. Eleven of the hits, including three homers, were for extra bases.
All four of the Phillies' runs in the first game came on solo homers by Hoskins, Franco, Alfaro and Nick Williams.
The Phillies rebounded to win the nightcap, 9-6 (see story).