The day was off to a weird start.
Ryan Howard in a Braves uniform (HD version) pic.twitter.com/jGRGHZJVIj— Braves Prospects (@ProspectsBraves) April 15, 2017
Ryan Howard in the deeply despicable blue of the NL East’s worst franchise was enough to ruin your Easter, and the Nationals’ early lead made the ham turn to ash in our mouths. A Phillies offense stringing hits together through a six-inning fit of ground-outs made a second straight miraculous series win against the division favorites a reality. But Bryce Harper, of course, lives in his own reality, and drags us along with him as he smashes his way through it.
Jerad Eickhoff, the Phillies’ only deep game-dweller, took the mound for the steamy rubber match. Cesar Hernandez shattered the narrative haunting the Phillies’ best young starter with an early dosage of run support: a solo shot on the game’s first pitch. From there, it became clear that Eickhoff was on his own, as the Phillies popped and flailed at the plate, stranding what few runners they snuck on base. Eickhoff should be allowed to give up three runs and eight hits in six innings of work and not have the effort filed under “automatic loss,” but with an 0-for-5 day for Maikel Franco and two poorly timed K’s for Cameron Rupp, not even Cesar Hernandez’s three hits and a walk could help the pitcher out.
Eickhoff battled back the Nationals’ dangerous offense, but Anthony Rendon tagged him with an RBI ground rule double in the first to tie the game immediately, and Bryce Harper nailed a pitch that made it 3-1 for most of the contest. Eickhoff compiled his own highlight reel, however, striking out the side and totaling five K’s on the day with just one walk.
It was getting late, however, and post-Easter dinner naps were coming to an end. Bleary-eyed Phillies fans awoke in their recliners and returned inside from wiffle ball games to see the team’s hottest bat, Daniel Nava for no reason, at the plate with Hernandez on second. Jayson Werth lost the ball in his beard and Hernandez was able to come around and score, cutting the lead to 3-2. That knocked Washington starter Gio Gonzalez out of the game and brought on Koda Glover, who sent Franco back to the bench with a strikeout before Tommy Joseph smacked a ground ball to left, hoping for another brain fart from Werth. Nava was able to score from second and the game was tied.
The Phillies had them right where they wanted them, if they had had a bullpen, especially after an Aaron Altherr double led off the ninth. Altherr actually managed to score after a pair of fielder’s choices, one from Odubel Herrera, who came up lame on the ground-out and left to attend a private clubhouse party with a trainer, and Freddy Galvis. Joely Rodriguez and Pat Neshek combined for two innings of relief, eerily allowing one hit and no earned runs or walks combined. That meant the game would, naturally, come down to the Phillies closer’s role, which is currently being filled by Joaquin Benoit, whose job security took its first hit.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
The Phillies had the Nationals down to their last out, and up strolled to the plate Bryce Harper, an exploding grenade constantly requiring the stifling coverage of an elite pitcher and a stoic defense, neither of which the Phillies have. Already with one home run on the day and more than enough runners on base after Benoit allowed a walk and a single, Harper stroked exactly the walk-off bomb that will be so much more tolerable when he is in the Phillies’ lineup.
The Phillies are quickly wearing off the novelty of baseball with five losses in their last six games.
It is April 17.