Extra-inning collapse dooms Phillies to Cubs

When the Phillies swept the Marlins in Miami just before the All-Star break, they were playing pristine baseball. They haven’t made any mistakes in this series. In their opener, they secured a 2-1 win despite an unusually shaky performance from closer Seranthony Domínguez. It didn’t seem like a possible outcome earlier in the season.

In their first two games against the Cubs — a team they theoretically have no reason to lose — they looked like the Phillies went 10-18 in May. After a 15-2 loss on Friday night, they lost a one-run performance from starter Zack Wheeler on Saturday night, recording just six hits and two runs. When the game went into extra innings, they collapsed en route to a 6-2 loss.

In the top of the 10th, with Cubs shortstop Nico Hoerner at third base, Frank Schwindel hit a ball that bounced high to third baseman Alec Bohm. He jumped to catch it and fired home for receiver JT Realmuto, but his throw was wide and Hoerner scored to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead.

The Cubs — who entered this series with a 35-57 record — ended up scoring five runs this inning. On the next bat, David Bote hit a double that deflected Bohm’s glove. All runners were safe and sound.

Then came an RBI single, a fielding error from Bohm that scored two runs and a double RBI. It wasn’t the brand of baseball we used to see from this team in the Rob Thomson days.

“I think the ball on the line, it was a tough game,” Thomson said. “He did everything to make it happen. But I think the ball on his glove side, Alec would probably say, ‘I should have made that play.’ And he’s played it a lot of times. He plays really well. even the play in the 10th, the chopper in the third where he came to home plate, that was actually a good play, he just kinda pulled the pitch from JT’s pitching side so I think normally , he makes this game.”

It wouldn’t be a big deal in April, but after the All-Star break, every game counts for a playoff-seeking team. The Phillies are blessed with a flexible schedule for these last 68 games, but the team they compete with for the NL’s third wildcard spot, the Cardinals, have an even more flexible schedule. So it’s especially important to beat teams below 0.500 when you can.

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With Saturday’s loss, the Phillies are 49-45. After one more game against the Cubs on Sunday, they face the Braves for a three-game home set starting Monday. After that, three of their next four series are against teams with losing records. Whether they will benefit from it remains to be seen.

It’s hard to miss the Phillies 2022 mantra as you enter Citizens Bank Park. It used to be “Ring the Bell”, but after signing Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos, “Ring the Bell” was changed to “Smash the Bell”. You can find “Smash the Bell” on the banners that line Darien Street and Pattison Avenue. It’s outside the stadium, inside the stadium, in trending videos and on action figure collections.

It’s ironic that this message is literally everywhere because 94 games into the season, it was the Phillies pitch that put them in playoff contention. On the contrary, the bats held them back. It was no different on Saturday night.

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What made this loss worse was that Wheeler put his team in a good position to win. After allowing a solo home run in the second inning to Hoerner, he rebounded well, allowing no runs in his next five innings of work. The previous night, the Phillies allowed 15 runs between starter Kyle Gibson and the four relievers (and one backup receiver) who followed him. Saturday’s game, on the other hand, was entirely winnable. The Phillies would have only had to score two runs to win in regulation. But they only managed one.

Their closest game of opportunity late in the seventh inning. Darick Hall started things off with a hard-hit double, and Realmuto brought it home with a hard-hit single. Bryson Stott walked to put the runners first and second with no outs. But Didi Gregorius retired and Bohm went on a double play to end the inning.

Late in the eighth, Matt Vierling hit a brace to start things off, but the top of the order faded behind him. Schwarber retired, Rhys Hoskins was knocked out, and Castellanos was called out. End of round.

“We didn’t swing the bats,” Hoskins said. “That’s it, plain and simple. We haven’t done much at the top of the roster, just have guys on base like we have been. And you have to have guys on base if you want to score in clusters. So, yeah, look, obviously it didn’t go the way we wanted to start with. But it’s two games. It’s two games. We’re not going to panic here. We have a chance to save the series, to build momentum for the Braves. A great tomorrow.

The Phillies decided to give Wheeler an extra day off after the all-star break, and on Saturday it seemed to pay off. The right-handed starter was coming off his worst start to the season, in which he allowed seven hits, six earned runs and walked one in 4⅔ innings in Toronto.

On Saturday, he didn’t find much trouble aside from Hoerner’s solo circuit. He allowed three hits, one earned run and no walks with six strikeouts in seven innings. He counted his pitch a bit; Wheeler threw 106 pitches, including 69 strikes.

Domínguez hadn’t looked the same in his last two outings. On July 10 at St. Louis, he allowed an earned run — his second of the month, which is the most earned runs he’s allowed in a month since April, when he allowed three. On July 15 in Miami, he walked three batters for the first time this season.

Domínguez is missing all of 2020 and most of 2021 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, so it was only fair to worry if the Phillies might have pushed him a bit too hard. But on Saturday night, he looked like he was back to normal. He knocked out two of the Cubs’ best hitters — Seiya Suzuki and Ian Happ — and forced Hoerner out for a quick 1-2-3 inning.

Ahead of Saturday’s game, Thomson said if Castellanos kept hitting hard he would retain his spot at the top of the roster. And Castellanos, to his credit, made the second toughest contact of the night – a 104.9 mph lineout to right field in the first inning. But for the second night in a row, he went 0 for 4, which isn’t what you want to see from your $100 million man. Castellanos is now batting .179/.207/.250 over his last seven games.

Castellanos heard boos in the eighth inning, and when asked about it by NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury, Castellanos went on the defensive.

“Come on man, that’s a stupid question,” he said. “Can someone else answer for him [why it’s a stupid question?] Sure [I heard them]. What do boos look like? It is what it is, man.

“I mean, it’s just different,” Castellanos said when asked if there’s a lot of pressure to play in Philadelphia. “It’s very similar to my freshman year in Cincinnati. New organization, new faces, new philosophies, new city, new energy. New fan base. There’s nothing I can’t adapt to.

Castellanos said he would strike anywhere. He said he didn’t feel like where he hit in the lineup had any impact on how he hit.

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