About three hours before the start of Tuesday night’s game with the Nationals, Phils manager Joe Girardi stood in the concourse of Citizens Bank Park for his pregame availability. He answered questions about Major League Baseball’s crackdown on sticky substances (wait for it) and his team’s weekend pitching plans. He also provided some injury updates.
When the topic of the Phillies’ pivotal week came up, I started this brief exchange:
Crossing Broad: Do you put any added emphasis on that (the big week) with them, or is it just implied that they know the deal. Does it have to be said?
Girardi: Well, if they don’t know, their head is in the sand (laughs). Because I’m sure it will be talked about all week and all the guys in that room, for the most part, have been through this before.
The Phillies may know these games mean a little bit more, but they failed to convert in the clutch late and they didn’t play well enough early to win the opener of a pivotal stretch.
Out of the gate, Zack Wheeler, who now has a surprisingly poor 6.00 ERA in the first inning of his 15 starts this season, struggled through a 36-pitch opening frame that quickly put the Nationals ahead by a 2-0 score.
The Nationals wouldn’t do much more scoring, but the Phillies still failed to overcome the short early deficit. Their bats fell totally asleep in the middle innings before squandering a scoring opportunity with the bases loaded in the ninth en route to a 3-2 loss.
- Rhys Hoskins, Bryce Harper, Brad Miller: 4-for-10, 2 RS, 2 RBI, 2 HR, 3 BB
- All other Phillies: 2-for-23, 1 BB, 1 HBP
And yet, absolutely nobody will be talking about the Phillies failing to find a way late (again) because Nationals starter Max Scherzer was checked three times for sticky stuff, at one point appeared poised to take off his pants, and later stared down Girardi. That, along with some Nationals coaches going at Girardi, prompted the Phils manager to come out of the dugout and get himself ejected.
You know, they say you see something new every time you come down to the old ball yard.
Let Me See Your…
Following the final out of the top of the first inning, Wheeler was inspected by umpires for foreign substances. He passed the search.
Meanwhile, Scherzer, who had been previously linked to obtaining sticky substances in a Sports Illustrated story, had a much different start to his night. He needed just 17 pitches to mow through Odubel Herrera, Rhys Hoskins, and J.T. Realmuto on strikes.
Predictably, he, too, was inspected for substances. He totally took it all in stride:
Max Scherzer: not a fan of sticky substance checks. 🤣 pic.twitter.com/ErQq9TmnGH
— Danny Vietti (@DannyVietti) June 22, 2021
Kidding. But while I thought Scherzer’s reaction to the first inspection was ridiculous, he was justifiably agitated during a second search following the third inning.
Oh no. We are roughly one Max Scherzer sticky check away from seeing an umpire get choked out. pic.twitter.com/f6to1AxDLv
— Jared Carrabis (@Jared_Carrabis) June 23, 2021
In the fourth, Girardi requested a third check. It was a move by the manager that took some balls, a move that almost resulted in Scherzer showing his to the 19,652 fans in attendance.
This is actually absurd. Max Scherzer just got checked AGAIN in the middle of the inning and is about to pull his pants down to get these people to leave him alone. pic.twitter.com/v6OXMpPOBn
— Jared Carrabis (@Jared_Carrabis) June 23, 2021
It was here when I thought to myself as I watched from the press box, “Wow. He’s seriously going to…he’s gonna whip it out.”
Gotta say, that’s not something I expected to think at any point as I was driving over to the stadium before the game.
So, what prompted Girardi to go after Scherzer mid-inning?
“I’ve seen Max a long time, since 2010. Obviously, he’s going to be a Hall of Famer, but I’ve never seen him wipe his head like he was doing tonight. Ever,” Girardi said. “It was suspicious for me. He did it about four or five times, it was suspicious. I didn’t mean to offend anyone, I just gotta do what’s right for our club.”
Here’s Scherzer on what went down:
Max Scherzer: “I’d have to be an absolute fool to use anything tonight.” pic.twitter.com/BnmFSGaU3J
— Rob Maaddi (@RobMaaddi) June 23, 2021
I see Girardi is taking a lot of criticism out there following this mess. But why? These are the rules now and this is on Major League Baseball. If he thinks the guy is doing something wrong — and doesn’t think his guy is doing anything wrong — he should call it out. Either this shit gets cleaned up, or it forces league execs to realize they’ve created a ridiculous situation and seek an alternative solution.
Wheeler’s Short Night
Wheeler, who entered the night with a pristine 1.70 ERA and 0.686 WHIP at Citizens Bank Park this season, rebounded in the second inning, needing just nine pitches to retire the Nationals in order, but his command issues returned during a 27-pitch third.
After surrendering a run, he worked out of a bases-loaded jam to escape further damage, but his night was done. He allowed eight of the 17 Nationals batters he faced to reach base and three of them to score before exiting. After averaging more than seven innings per start at home this season, he was done after just 73 pitches.
“He was off. We didn’t see the life to his fastball either, and that was the reason that I pulled him,” Girardi said. “He worked hard for three innings. He said he felt fine and he could go back out, but I just didn’t like what I saw.”
If you’re wondering whether or not a lack of foreign substances played a roll in Wheeler’s struggles, that’s fair, but it doesn’t look like it:
Zack Wheeler only goes 3 innings, his shortest start of 2021. But the spin-rate detectives can stand down.
His spin rate was actually slightly higher than his season average on his 4-seamer, slider, curve and changeup. pic.twitter.com/9Xr67v1mWh
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) June 23, 2021
The Two Highlights
Not many highlights for the Phillies beyond pissing off Scherzer, but Harper provided a momentary jolt during the home half of the second:
Bryce Harper CRUSHED this HR 😳
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 22, 2021
That’s a second-tank blast, one that traveled 431 feet at 111.6 mph off the bat. The guess here is that one probably felt extra nice given he entered the night just 1-for-7 with five strikeouts off his ex-teammate.
Harper’s homer would be the only run Scherzer would surrender over his five innings of work. In fact, it was just one of two hits surrendered by Scherzer. For all the drama, he managed to yield only a pair of hits and three walks while striking out eight Phillies hitters.
After Hoskins doubled in the third, the Phillies were held hitless until the eighth when he came to the dish and brought his team to within one with his 16th homer of the season.
Rhys Hoskins makes it a one run game. pic.twitter.com/EgdutGc1tV
— Justin Groc (@jgroc) June 23, 2021
Following an atrocious 0-for-33 stretch, the roller coaster ride that is Hoskins’ 2021 season is back on its latest upswing. The first baseman has now homered four times in five games. He’s on pace for 37 home runs and 99 RBI.
However, Hoskins would make the game’s final out, working a full count against Nationals reliever Brad Hand with the bases loaded before bouncing out to Trea Turner to end it.
“I felt really good, I was excited for the opportunity,” Hoskins said. “Obviously, Hand has got a great slider, right, so just trying to something up out over the plate. I took a couple of good pitches late in the at-bat to work it to a full count and I got a good pitch to hit. I thought I put a pretty good swing on it, hit it pretty well, and sometimes it just doesn’t fall.”