The margin of error is always so small when your team is so prone to playing in one-run games.
So Pete Mackanin’s decisions in the bottom of the seventh inning and top of the eighth are all the more magnified when the result - this one a 4-3 loss to the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay) - dictates the narrative.
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With Jeremy Hellickson cruising, having thrown only 79 pitches through seven innings, Mackanin opted to remove him from the game and send pinch-hitter Emmanuel Burriss, a .125 hitter, to the plate with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the seventh inning with the Phillies ahead, 2-1.
Burriss grounded out and Mackanin went to what’s been working, eighth-inning man Hector Neris, with the thought that he would provide the bridge to closer Jeanmar Gomez.
The burly righthander proceeded to have his worst inning of the year and the Phillies dropped their eighth in the last 10 games.
Neris entered Monday having not given up a run since May 6, a streak of nine and 2/3 innings. He started off by striking out Wilson Ramos with his nasty splitter.
Neris then walked Danny Espinosa before getting pinch-hitter Clint Robinson to line out for the inning’s second out. Espinosa may have been doubled off at first base, but Maikel Franco had trouble getting the ball out of his glove after making a leaping catch.
Command continued to be an issue for Neris. With a runner on first and two outs, Neris walked Ben Revere to keep the inning alive for Jayson Werth, who made him pay with a game-tying RBI single.
With two runners in scoring position, two outs, and the game tied, 2-2, Mackanin elected to keep Neris in the game.
“He’s our guy,” Mackanin said. “I didn’t want to go to my closer there. He’s one pitch away. If Franco holds on to the ball that he caught - great play. If he holds onto it, it’s double play, we’re out of the inning. Like I said, one man on first base and two outs, he’s always one pitch away from an easy ground ball or strikeout. The walks are what killed us.”
Mackanin said he also didn’t think about going to a lefty against the dangerous Murphy. No one was warming up except for the right-handed Gomez.
Murphy, who homered earlier in the game, smashed a go-ahead two-run single to put the Nationals ahead for good.
“Bad day for me,” Neris said. “I know I’m better than that.”
“He’s been so good for us,” Mackanin said of Neris. “Very reliable. Practically unhittable. But it happens.”
Hellickson was practically unhittable, too.
His line before being removed: seven innings, three hits, eight strikeouts, no walks and just one earned run, a fourth-inning home run off the bat of Murphy. He struck out the side in the sixth inning.
“I obviously would have loved to have a chance to finish that game,” Hellickson said. “I felt like it was my game to win or lose. But, at the same time, you don’t really question going to Hector in that situation.”
Mackanin said afterward that he thought about leaving Hellickson in the game and letting him hit with two outs.
“We’ve had such a good combination of Neris and (Jeanmar) Gomez,” Mackanin said. “We thought it was a good idea to get him out and go with the combination that’s been working so well for us.”
“The bottom line is, we scored (three) runs… Somebody asked me a while ago, can we sustain winning all these one-run games? It’s difficult. Things happen.”