The up-and-coming Phillies have progressed to the point where they are playing big, meaningful games after the All-Star break. That is a good thing because it has been too long between pennant races around here.
The increase in the importance and intensity of the games means that little missteps no longer get dismissed as things a young team needs to improve on.
No. The glare is getting hotter with each day and when little things go wrong, they not only get noticed, they cost you an important ballgame.
That was the plight of the rising Phillies on Monday night as they let one slip away in a 7-6 loss to Chase Utley, Manny Machado and the Los Angeles Dodgers in front of 33,753 at Citizens Bank Park (see first take).
"Extremely tough loss," manager Gabe Kapler said.
It sure was. There was an electricity in the building that was reminiscent of the title years from 2007 to 2011. Part of that had to do with a former Phillie (Utley) being back in town (see story), part of it had to do with a possible future Phillie (Machado) being in town and a whole lot of it had to do with playoff-intensity baseball being back in town. Both teams entered the game in first place in their respective divisions. The loss dropped the Phillies (55-44) back into a first-place tie with Atlanta in the NL East.
The Phillies did some good things in this game. Most notable was Rhys Hoskins clubbing a two-out, game-tying, three-run home run to rescue the Phillies from a 4-1 deficit in the fifth inning and Odubel Herrera following with a solo shot to put the Phillies ahead, 5-4. Yacksel Rios kept the game close out of the bullpen and Austin Davis did a nice job protecting a lead.
But, ultimately, the Phillies did too many things wrong to win the game.
• Starter Zach Eflin, pitching for the first time in two weeks, was rusty. He gave up five hits, including three solo homers, and three walks in 2 2/3 innings.
"It's on me," Eflin said of the loss. "I did a horrible job of setting the tone for the game."
• In the seventh inning, the Phillies lost their one-run lead when Herrera hesitated ever so slightly after catching a fly ball to shallow center field by Max Muncy and that allowed Machado, who had tripled with one out against Tommy Hunter, to daringly race home with the tying run.
After the game, Herrera confirmed that he did hesitate. He said he did not immediately get a good grip on the ball and had to reset. That split-second proved huge as Machado slid headfirst across the plate, just in front of Jorge Alfaro's tag.
• The Dodgers rallied for two runs in the top of the ninth inning after bullpen ace Seranthony Dominguez could not throw strikes and Alfaro could not catch a fastball that ran off the plate. The resulting bases-loaded wild pitch allowed the go-ahead run to score from third base. Dominguez faced five batters in the inning. He gave up three walks and a single. The fatal wild pitch could actually have been scored a passed ball on Alfaro.
"I should have caught it," Alfaro said. "I should catch that ball, at least keep it in front. There's nothing else I can say about it."
Before the inning ended, Dominguez was charged with a second run when Matt Kemp stroked an RBI single against Luis Garcia to put the Dodgers ahead, 7-5. That proved to be a big run because Maikel Franco made it a one-run game with his second homer of the night in the bottom of the ninth.
Kemp's hit scored Joc Pederson. He had reached base on a base hit against Dominguez. The hit, a hard one-hopper, went through the heart of shortstop, which was uncovered because the Phillies were in a defensive shift. If the Phillies were aligned straight up, they might have been able to turn a double play and everything might have turned out differently.
Little things become big things when the stakes are high.
"I'm really, really proud of the way our guys fought tooth and nail," Kapler said. "I never felt like they were out of it being down to a strong opponent with a ferocious lineup. We never felt like we were out of the game. We battled to the last pitch.
"The Rhys home run and the Odubel home run created a playoff-like atmosphere in the ballpark. The momentum shifted in our direction and I think we all felt like we could win that baseball game and we were in a position to win that baseball game."
Indeed, they were.
But it didn't happen.
"We're going to make mistakes," Alfaro said. "We're humans. We just have to let it go. We have two more games to win the series."