Last night could have been about Aaron Altherr’s three-run blast that picked a stumbling Phillies team off the mat. It could have been about Dylan Cozens’ first career home run, a dramatic opposite field shot in the ninth that propelled the Phillies to what would have been, by far, their most impressive victory of the season.
Instead, Gabe Kapler yanked Seranthony Dominguez after he allowed a pair of base runners in the ninth inning of a 5-3 game to insert one Adam Morgan, and thus, the story became this:
Just when you think the Phillies couldn’t have a more vexing loss than the Hector Neris blown saves against the Nationals and Mets earlier this season, or their late meltdown in Los Angeles at the start of this road trip, they manage to go and completely outdo themselves. It was a maddening loss that once again exposed this team’s poor defense, its boom or bust offensive production, and, of course, its glaring inability to close games.
Lots of fans this morning will put this on Gabe Kapler. Why did he remove Dominguez? Had he not earned the chance to work his way out of the inning?
It’s a big ask to call on a rookie reliever to continually deliver multi-inning shut-down performances. It’s a bigger ask to call on him to do it on a night after he needlessly appeared in a 6-1 game. Dominguez, though sensational, is not Superman.
This game, no matter how much everybody is inclined to blame the manager, comes down to players executing in big moments. Adam Morgan, despite being placed in a decidedly favorable situation against an opponent that can’t hit left-handed pitching, didn’t execute.
I find it interesting how differently people interpret baseball. There are takes like this one that seemingly remove blame altogether, view players as tendency and matchup robots, and dismiss failure as an occasional unstoppable occurrence:
Since last August, Adam Morgan had been the fifth best reliever in baseball against left-handers. He missed his spot against a below-average lefty and paid for it.
That's a good situation to be in. Sometimes things go awry. Way she goes.
— Ben Harris (@byBenHarris) June 7, 2018
“That’s just the way the cookie crumbles,” with a short open-palm shoulder shrug. Takes like this one aren’t always wrong. Unexpected outcomes and bad luck happen in baseball. That’s true. I just don’t agree at all in this particular case.
Morgan actually entered last night’s game allowing a .441 OBP and .296 BA to left-handed hitters this season, but that’s not even the point. Morgan didn’t give up the lead because “that’s baseball,” “or that’s the way she goes sometimes.” He gave it up because he was scared to death:
Ricky Bottalico finished 301 games in his career.
He had A LOT to say about Adam Morgan’s inability to close this one. pic.twitter.com/BprGlLdtUP
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) June 7, 2018
The guy with 116 career saves nailed it. The moment Morgan stepped off the mound with two strikes and then couldn’t get on the same page with Jorge Alfaro, I looked over to my friend who I was with and quipped, “He’s fucked.”
He didn’t know what he wanted to do, didn’t have conviction in what he was doing, and a simple body scan of Morgan as he tap danced on and off the rubber correctly foreshadowed what felt like a loss.
As for the fix to this mess? Perhaps Kapler shouldn’t needlessly use the guy who can extinguish a mess like last night’s in 6-1 games. Otherwise, they will have to pray for Pat Neshek’s return, or remain afloat into late July when maybe a reinforcement who can navigate these situations comes by way of trade.
The Phillies have done a good job rallying themselves after bitterly disappointing losses all season long, and now now they’ll have to get by on strength of will and starting pitching. And when they get into situations like the one they faced last night, they better hope for things to blow their way.