The fans were on their feet, clapping, as they usually are when there are two strikes and two outs on a batter, and the home team is about to win a game.
They had just flashed the out-of-town scoreboard on the television screen too – the Atlanta Braves were losing, late in their contest.
You had that feeling – that finally, things were going to break in the Phillies’ favor in the National League East race, that they were going to move a game closer to Atlanta and the good momentum would be churning.
After all, this was the first game of a stretch of 14 of 17 at home against some of the worst teams in baseball.
Yes, that feeling was palpable.
Then, with one ill-conceived pitch, breaking from a pattern of success so far that inning, the whole apple cart was upset.
Supposed closer, and I use that term loosely, Ian Kennedy, inexplicably threw a two-strike curveball right over the heart of the plate, and Rockies pinch-hitter Ryan McMahon crushed it for a two-run home run to give the Rockies a ninth-inning lead:
Ryan McMahon put the Rockies up by 1 in the 9th inning.
This is the FIRST home run of McMahon's career on an 0-2 pitch.
— Inside Edge (@IE_MLB) September 10, 2021
McMahon was really struggling with Kennedy’s fastball. If you are going to throw the curveball here, fine, it just can’t be anywhere near the strike zone. It has to be to try and induce a chasing swing. I mean, McMahon had NEVER hit a home run on an 0-2 pitch before. This just can’t happen.
As if that wasn’t soul-crushing enough, Kennedy threw another non-competitive pitch to the next batter, the .186-hitting Sam Hilliard, and all he did was hit one of the longest home runs ever seen at Citizens Bank Park:
SAMUEL BEAUMAN HILLIARD
434 FEET 😳 pic.twitter.com/sSmG9nTzgO
— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) September 10, 2021
That was a gosh darn rocket. Seriously. I can’t think of many homers at CBP that went that far.
Now, the always scrappy Phillies managed to get a run back in the bottom of the ninth and got the tying run 90-fet away before pinch hitter J.T. Realmuto struck out to end the game, but the damage was done and they lost 4-3.
Meanwhile, the Braves overcame their deficit,, took the lead, and nearly blew the game themselves, but unlike the Phillies were able to pull one out in extra innings, beating Washington 5-4.
And now, the Phillies (71-69) have suddenly lost three straight games and fell to 3.5 games out with just 22 games to play.
It took all of about 10 minutes… and it could have ended their season.
For now, the Phillis no longer control their own destiny. Even though they have three games with Atlanta in the final week of the season, they now need help from other teams in the league.
Can it be done? Sure. We witnessed the Phillies overcoming a seven-game deficit with 17 to play back in 2007. But these Phillies are a far cry from those Phillies. And while these Braves aren’t a great team, they don’t have a moniker that starts with LOL like the Mets do, and aren’t as likely to completely implode like that New York team did 13 years ago.
In other words, it’s not over, but the Phillies probably used up their final mulligan Thursday.
It was their 30th blown save of the season, which is already a team record and is rapidly approaching a Major League record (35).
From here on out the Phillies are likely going to have to go something like 16-6 to have a shot at making the playoffs, something they have not done over a stretch of 22 games since April 20-May 14, 2016.
How did this happen? What can they do to try and pull off this miracle? Let’s tackle that, shall we?
Ian Kennedy is the Phillies’ closer, but probably shouldn’t be.
He really hasn’t done a good enough job in the role since being acquired at the trade deadline along with Kyle Gibson for Spencer Howard.
Kennedy has tossed just 13 2/3 innings for the Phillies in 14 appearances. In that span he has a 6.59 ERA, a 1.39 WHIP (meaning he’s allowing 12.5 baserunners every nine innings which isn’t great), and he’s allowed six home runs. He has two of those 30 blown saves, including Thursday.
Joe Girardi could claim his hands are tied, as the bullpen, although it has been better in the second half of the season, is still unreliable. But, with the way Hector Neris has been pitching lately – and he had another strong outing in a setup role Thursday, it might be time to give him his umpteenth shot in that role.
Yes, this will mean someone else will have to be the middle inning fireman, a role Neris has relished and succeeded with this season, but Sam Coonrod has looked good as well, maybe Coonrod and his ability to touch 101 MPH can fill that role.
Or, leave Neris where he is and have Coonrod close.
At this point, desperate times call for desperate measures, and the Phillies have seen enough out of Kennedy to know that he’s not the guy you feel most comfortable going to when protecting a one-run lead.
Not Enough Offense
The Phillies’ offense remains Bryce Harper and everyone else.
Harper did it again Tuesday and hit a first inning home run to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead:
Bryce Harper hits home run No. 30, and it’s another first inning home run to give the Phils an early 1-0 lead! pic.twitter.com/JfkJW6K6kH
— Philly Sports Reports (@PhlySprtsReprts) September 9, 2021
It was his 30th home run of the season, and league-leading 23rd solo homer.
That’s because the Phillies continue to struggle to get men on base in front of him. And when they do, because there is such inconsistency behind him in the lineup, the opposing teams give him nothing to hit.
Since Rhys Hoskins’ injury, 56% of the pitches Harper sees are out of the strike zone.
Somebody else needs to be productive. Someone. Anyone.
The Phillies are going to blow games like this if they let teams like Colorado hang around long enough. The Rockies offense was putrid Thursday until the ninth inning. They couldn’t hit Ranger Suarez, who had another strong six-inning performance. And they were helpless against Jose Alvarado and Neris in the seventh and eighth innings.
But if you don’t put them away, and the only other run you score is on a fortunate fielder’s choice that should have been a tailor-made double play, things like Thursday are going to happen.
No, Kennedy shouldn’t be absolved for his poor pitching, but when you leave pitchers zero margin for error game, after game, after game, it’s going to bite you.
The Phillies do seem to have a better approach at the plate when their backs are against the wall in the ninth inning – like Tuesday, when Brad Miller, otherwise a constant pull hitter, took a pitch the other way and beat the shift for a single while Andrew McCutchen, who can’t seem to hit righties otherwise, laced a double down the left-field line.
It shouldn’t come to that point before you start trying to have more professional at bats. That mentality needs to be in place from the first inning now. Harper is the only one who seems to have that approach outside of the come-from-behind moments.
The Phillies need to start that Friday night and do it every inning the rest of the way.
Although it might be too late at this point.