PHILADELPHIA, October 1, 2015: Something funny happened on the way to the first overall pick: the Phillies won.
The surprising win over the New York Mets and their surprisingly effective rookie hurler Logan Verrett ended what was a string of well-timed losses, putting the Phillies in the driver's seat for the most heralded prize of the offseason, four games up on the Atlanta Braves and the Cincinnati Reds. Now, with four games left, their margin of error is at two games, but newly anointed manager Pete Mackanin isn't nervous.
"Nah, I don't think the guys are having any problems," Mackanin said, speaking after the game. "We're just executing when we probably should be executing less, seeing some balls that should be outs drop in, and turning it on in the last few innings of the game, when we should really be trying to protect a 5-2 deficit. Just fundamental baseball stuff mixed in with some back luck."
"It's a long season," Mack added; "guys sometimes have a hard time keeping consistent."
Phillies pitcher Alec Asher, one of the six players brought over in the Cole Hamels deal with the Texas Rangers, did his part to add to the losing side of the register, pitching .2 innings of brilliantly ineffective ball, with two homeruns, two walks, and no strikeouts. When he left the mound, the Phillies were in a 5-nothing hole.
"I just try to do my job and give up runs when I'm out there," Asher said. "Nothing much else I can do except head out there when my number's called and do my best to lose. None of my pitches were working today, so that was huge for me."
Unfortunately for Asher, the rest of the Phillies who pitched after him were unable to give up any runs, pitching 8.1 innings with 6 strikeouts, 2 walks, and, of course, zero earned runs.
"Yeah," pitching coach Bob McClure said, "they just kind of had the Mets' number today, and there's not much you can do to lose to a team when that happens. Just kind of have to hope for a bloop and a blast, or that their lead will hold. Asher did all he could today to make that happen, but it was just too little too late. That's baseball."
Phillies pitcher Jerome Williams was, for his part, surprised by the outcome. "I didn't really mean to strike out two guys," Williams said after the game, "did I really do that? Haha, wow. Weird."
Justin De Fratus also played a role in the unfortunate win, as he hit Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets' star acquisition at the trading deadline, in the wrist. Cespedes was found to have no broken bones, but the Mets star was removed in favor of the light hitting Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
"Absolutely not," De Fratus answered when asked if the hit by pitch was intentional. "You never want to take a good hitter out of the game when you're trying to lose. That's Baseball 101. Total accident, and I really was kicking myself afterward."
"Justin's a good kid," McClure said when asked about the Cespedes hit. "He knows this wasn't great for the team, but we know it wasn't his fault. Ball ran in a bit; that's how it goes. I think if we could do it all over, we'd try to pitch a little closer to the meat of the plate, a pitch he can really dig into, you know?"
While the Mets pitching staff was good enough to win tonight, Verrett gave up four runs and had to leave after 4.1 innings, which set up Mets manager Terry Collins' trump card. After getting out of a fifth inning jam, Collins put Mauricio Robles in to pitch. Robles was not great, but was okay, giving up only one run and getting an out. At this point, though, Collins played his masterstroke.
"Smart, really smart," Mackanin said of the intentional pitch in and high to get Robles and Collins ejected. "Terry knew that Robles was probably going to get the outs we needed, and he found a way to put in Bobby Parnell instead. And I mean, that was all she wrote: tough not to run into some of those guy's pitches. Before I knew what had happened, we had the lead."
"That's why a manager matters," Mackanin smiled; "intentionally getting your own guy ejected so you can better lose a game? No numbers are gonna tell you to do that. That's instinct from a great manager."
"I didn't mean to hit the ball so well," Freddy Galvis said via translator after the game. "It's just that it was pretty much right there for me, and when I swung, I saw it went to the wall. I was thinking ‘Oh no, this is going to tie the game' and unfortunately I was right."
While the loss to the Mets puts the fear of god into some Phillies fans, Mackanin and crew are not panicking. Second baseman Darnell Sweeney laughed when we asked him about the race for first overall.
"Aw man, we're just gonna do our best out there. I don't think any of the guys are really gonna be scoreboard watching. Maybe we'll check it out on ESPN later [laughing]. But nah, nah, I think we're gonna focus on losing games on the field."
The Phillies can afford to win two more of their next four games, but the dreadful Cincinnati Reds are coming up fast behind them, having lost 11 in a row coming in to today's play. If they tie the Reds' record, they will still get the higher pick, but any more than that, and they'll be on the outside looking in. And while losing all four games is ideal, it's not very likely. Mackanin, however, seems to think that anything's possible.
"People act like we don't have the two game lead on worst record in the majors. Folks, let me assure you, we do. And this team can lose against anybody. Just wait. We got a top three pick locked up today - that's what, that's what Clurey [McClure] is telling me - but we're not gonna celebrate until number one."
"Hell," he smiled, "waiting to celebrate worked for the Blue Jays. Why can't us?"