The Phillies jumped all over the Diamondbacks early on Monday night, putting up eight runs in the series opener. J.T. Realmuto hit for the first Phillies cycle in 19 years, but pitching implosions and Rob Thomson’s mismanagement cost the Phils an easily winnable game.
Realmuto got the Phils on the board in the top of the second, launching a solo homer to right field. He was back at it again in the third with a two-run triple, and came around to score on a double from Alec Bohm. Usually useless Josh Harrison came through with an RBI knock, and the Phillies were on top 5-1.
That was the peak of their powers however, as the D-Backs came charging back in the bottom of the third. Pavin Smith knocked in two with a two-out single off of Matt Strahm. One inning later Emmanuel Rivera drove in Ketel Marte with two outs, and Rookie of the Year frontrunner Corbin Carroll tripled to tie things up at five.
The wheels really came off in the sixth when Rivera gave the Snakes a 6-5 lead with a sacrifice fly. With two on and two out Andrew Vasquez left a 2-2 slider over the middle of the plate and Evan Longoria blasted an absolute moonshot into center field. It was all over after that, as the Phils couldn’t overcome the 9-5 deficit, clawing their way back to within one, but falling nonetheless.
It was an utterly heartbreaking affair in so many regards. The early blown lead. Realmuto’s futile cycle. Bryce Harper’s brutal strikeouts with men on base. And worst of all, with two outs in the top of the ninth in a 9-8 game, Kody Clemens smoked a line drive into the right field corner that looked to be a home run, giving the Phillies a 10-9 lead. Unfortunately, after review it was ruled a foul ball, and Clemens punched out on the next pitch to end the game.
This game was one of the most deflating of the season. There are plenty of villains, chief among them Rob Thomson. In a designated bullpen game Thomson pushed every wrong button. He left Strahm in for the third inning, even after a lengthy delay from a silly benches clearing incident. In fact, Thomson neglected to even warm up a reliever. When he finally did pull Strahm, only after he allowed two more runs, he put in the usual punching bag, Yunior Marte. A fireballer with serious command issues, Marte is better suited for mop up work, not high-leverage situations. And yet, he was Rob Thomson’s first choice in a close game. Predictably, Marte surrendered two runs of his own in only 1.1 innings of work.
Thomson then turned to Dylan Covey, the man with the worst ERA of any pitcher in baseball history with more than 250 innings pitched, to keep the game tied. In typical Covey fashion, he yielded two more runs in only 1.1 frames, taking a well-deserved loss.
It wasn’t just the bullpen mismanagement that indicted Thomson in this one, as his bench moves, or lack thereof, made no sense. He left Josh Harrison and Dalton Guthrie, who shouldn’t have been in the starting lineup to begin with, out there to hit against righties, despite having decent lefty bats on the bench in Clemens and Brandon Marsh.
Rob Thomson isn’t a terrible manager who needs to be fired. He’s not Joe Girardi. He’s not even the only reason the Phillies lost this game. Yes, he pulled the strings, but ultimately the pitchers on the mound were the ones that turned an offensive outburst and a cycle into a futile effort.
This kind of thing is bound to happen when a team with World Series aspirations pitches a bullpen game every fifth day. The league as a whole is experiencing a starting pitching shortage, but for the Phillies to only have four viable starters is wholly unacceptable. A team with a top-five payroll in all of baseball should be embarrassed to have such a glaring hole on its roster. The answer might not be easy to find, it could be internal or it could be external, but something needs to change.