It was a rare bad night for Jeanmar Gomez.
For the first time since June 12, the Phillies' closer blew a save, spoiling Aaron Nola’s stellar start (see game recap).
With two outs and Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto at first base in the top of the ninth, Gomez looked like he was about to record his 26th save of the season. But something was different Monday night.
Gomez’s sinker, a pitch he can normally rely on to induce groundballs in pressure situations, sailed very high several times. One bounced by Cameron Rupp, allowing the tying run to reach third base after Christian Yelich cut the Phillies' lead in half with an RBI double. Rupp trotted out three times during home run derby champion Giancarlo Stanton’s at-bat while Yelich stood on second, which ended in a walk and that aforementioned wild pitch.
“We were just trying to make sure we were on the same page and wanted to make sure we knew what we were doing and didn’t want anything to hit the fan," Rupp said. "And that was it, just trying to make sure we were on the same page."
Despite Rupp’s caution, Gomez simply wasn’t good enough against the Marlins, a rare occurrence this season. He followed up the wild pitch on the walk by allowing the next batter, Marcell Ozuna, to drive a single to center field for the tying run.
This was just Gomez's third blown save in 28 tries. After surprising everyone by taking over the closer role, Gomez has secured the role with consistent performances. He has not blown two straight save chances all season and has allowed runs in two consecutive appearances just one time, which was all the way back in April.
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Gomez’s 25 saves are the fifth-most in the National League, behind only Mets closer Jeurys Familia (32), the Marlins' A.J. Ramos (30), the Dodgers' Kenley Jansen (27) and the Pirates' Mark Melancon (27). What do all four of those pitchers have in common? They closed for their teams last season, much unlike Gomez, who had just one save in his career before 2016.
Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris pitched a perfect seventh and eighth inning, respectively, for the Phillies. Ramos impressed with an explosive fastball that topped out at 97 mph, while Neris showed off the nasty splitter that’s anchored his success this year. Both those pitchers appear to fit the conventional closer's mold more than Gomez, who doesn’t possess the same sort of dominant pitch or power. Gomez has struck out just 27 batters in 42 ⅔ innings but has excelled by limiting base runners, sporting a 1.08 WHIP.
“Ramos did a great job, Neris did a great job,” Pete Mackanin said. “Gomez had one of his few blown saves. We had 18 strikeouts tonight, and that’s what hurt us.”
While Mackanin obviously recognizes the raw ability of Ramos and Neris, he has continued with the reliable Gomez, acknowledging the weak offensive output's role in Monday's loss. After all, it's tough to win games when you only cobble together four hits.
But Gomez was handed a precious lead, something the Phillies struggled to maintain against the Marlins' ace, Jose Fernandez.
On most nights, Gomez, who now has a 2.53 ERA in 40 appearances, repays Mackanin’s trust when handed a lead. Monday was, unfortunately for the Phillies, not one of those nights.