PHILADELPHIA -- The first two batters reached base in the ninth inning on Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park and it appeared for a moment that the Phillies were going to do exactly what Gabe Kapler said they would do just a few hours earlier: turn the page.
The Phillies limped through first game of Tuesday's doubleheader against the Nationals and then watched their bullpen turn a three-run lead into a tie game in the top of the ninth of the nightcap. But here they were, ready to turn the page.
But the page never turned. The rally fizzled and a 7-6 loss would soon be sealed. It was the type of day that felt to be enough to finish the team's season. They have lost 22 of their last 33 games. They lost another series and have not won one since Aug. 5. They are 0-10-1 in their last 11 series. It is not exactly the way division titles are won. The Braves are pulling away as the Phillies rack up losses.
The final blow came from a home run by Nationals rookie Juan Soto off Yacksel Rios in the tenth. But the real heartache came an inning earlier when the Nationals peppered Seranthony Dominguez.
The Phillies were three outs away from a win before Dominguez sputtered. Dominguez stayed in the game after retiring the final two batters of the eighth but it was clear he was out of bullets when he started the ninth with consecutive walks. Three outs would not come easy.
The Nationals tagged Dominguez for two runs and Dominguez exhausted 43 pitches before loading the bases with two outs. Luis Garcia entered, walked the first batter he faced to tie the game, and then struck out Bryce Harper to strand the bases loaded. The strikeout only delayed the loss.
Tuesday night became a needed win after the Phillies' limped to a 3-1 loss in the afternoon. The Phillies entered the nightcap trailing Atlanta by 5 1/2 games and a owned a record that was just five games above .500. It is now fair to wonder if the Phillies will even finish the season above that mark.
"When the last game doesn't go the way you want it to go, you turn the page and get ready for the next game," manager Gabe Kapler said outside his office before the second game.
The Phillies racked up 13 hits in the second game after totaling just five in the first. They seemed to turn the page. Rhys Hoskins' game-tying double highlighted a five-run fifth inning after the Phillies fell into an early three-run hole. Wilson Ramos had three hits and Asdrubal Cabrera added an RBI double.
Maikel Franco left the game in the eighth after falling headfirst over the guardrail in front of the visiting dugout while chasing a foul ball. It was a scary moment but Franco walked off on his own after being tended to by team trainers. In the bottom of the inning, Jose Bautista added some breathing room with a solo homer to left field.
If the Phillies were to make a run, this would have been the time. They play seven more games before flying to Atlanta for a four-game series with the Braves. The Phillies play seven of their final 11 games against Atlanta. But it is shaping up to be a challenge for those games to carry the meaning they once seemed guaranteed to hold.
"I think it's just focusing on game-to-game and day-to-day and not getting too caught up in everything else," said Nick Pivetta, who allowed two runs before being lifted in the fifth inning of the first game. "Those men in there are going to show up to the park every single day to do their jobs and what we can focus on is what we can control every single day."
The Phillies started the ninth with Andrew Knapp walking and Cesar Hernandez getting hit by a pitch. They had two runners on with the season on the line. Rhys Hoskins popped up, J.P. Crawford grounded into a fielder's choice, and Carlos Santana was intentionally walked to load the bases after new reliever Wander Suero nearly balked on his first pitch. Jose Bautista flew out to end the inning. The page was lifted, but it was unable to be turned.
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