Four collective starts ago, Pete Mackanin and Bob McClure sat down Jerad Eickhoff and Aaron Nola for a little talk. We don’t know the details of the exchange, only that the points that were relayed were about how the two young Phillies starters had better reach something closer to the expectations around them in their next few starts, or... they would incur some form of baseball justice.
In Nola’s first start after the chat, he went eight innings against the Braves. In his next start, he threw a pitch that blew a game and pissed off Pete Mackanin. Entering tonight, the Phillies had been outscored 24-1 in games started by Eickhoff. Tonight, he didn’t retire the first two batters of an inning until the bottom of the fifth.
When the Phillies offense - stunningly alive tonight at Fenway Park - staked the kid a four-run lead in the first inning, nervous laughter was emitted from the Phillies faithful. Because while it was nice to see a crooked number, the higher that lead got, the move devastating it would be when Eickhoff lost it.
Which he did.
Eickhoff got around a lead-off double in the first that smelled like trouble, but didn’t fare as well in the second. Or the third or fourth. Andrew Benintendi was at the center of the trouble with a solo shot and an RBI single. Mookie Betts hit a double in there somewhere. Howie Kendrick, playing second base with Cesar Hernandez out dealing with oblique issues, had a throwing error that didn’t help matters. When the dust settled, it was a 4-4 game heading into the fifth. It was at this point that Aaron Altherr decided he didn’t want the game to be tied anymore and doubled, allowing himself to score on a perfect read of a subsequent Howie Kendrick single.
Eickhoff lasted through the sixth before Mackanin yanked him and deployed Pat Neshek, who needed seven pitches to get through the seventh and then was not sent back out for another. That led to Joaquin Benoit, and that led to, you guessed it, a less than ideal result.
A little bit later, Benoit was bent over in disgust as Hanley Ramirez smashed a game-tying home run in the eighth then danced around a lot at home plate. Casey Fien got the call next, the game now tied 5-5 in the eighth, and lasted through two innings without allowing a run.
Once again, the Phillies turned to Daniel Nava to be a hero. Fien allowed back-to-back singles to start off the bottom of the 10th, and when Jackie Bradley Jr. skied a foul ball to left field, everyone simply waited for it to drift out of play. But Nava, using what spectators credited to be an insider knowledge of the Fenway Park architecture, was able to track the ball and make a stellar jumping catch, doubling off Benintendi at second.
It was the best Phillies play I’ve seen in months. The box score of this one, as long as you didn’t read Boston’s side, was most encouraging. Five Phillies had multi-hit games, including Tommy Joseph and Maikel Franco. Kendrick and Nava had three each. Odubel Herrera continued his recent success and the Phillies had three two-out RBIs.
But it wasn’t enough. And it never will be. Casey Fien gave up a bunch of hits to the Red Sox in the 11th, but this is a career minor leaguer getting his shot because the bullpen’s been burnt through in early June. Sending him out there to throw pitch after pitch (while stifling the team’s best reliever to one single digit-pitch frame) was going to end in an inevitable result. The real story is Eickhoff’s continued struggles, because as long as an early four-run lead isn’t safe, the Phillies just aren’t going to win games.