NEW YORK — The Phillies bused home from Citi Field after Sunday night’s game. Apparently, there wasn’t a hearse big enough.
Nick Castellanos’ three-run homer in the eighth inning helped the Phillies overcome another bout of poor defense, but in the end, they suffered a 5-4 loss to the New York Mets when they couldn’t hold a ninth-inning lead for the second time in six games on a seven-game trip in which they went 2-5 but could easily have been 4-3.
“Good teams don’t do that,” said Bryce Harper, who saw his go-ahead two-run homer in the ninth go for naught Tuesday night in Atlanta. “Getting walked off twice in games we should have won. It’s tough. Big homer, big homer and lose. It’s crushing.”
Closer Corey Knebel blew Sunday night’s save chance when he allowed a game-tying homer to rookie Nick Plummer on the first pitch in the bottom of the ninth. It was Plummer’s first big-league hit. Eduardo Escobar won it for the Mets with a one-out double in the 10th.
“Extremely frustrating,” beleaguered manager Joe Girardi said.
The NL East-leading Mets swept the three-game series as the floundering Phillies lost for the 10th time in the last 14 games to sink six games under .500. They are 10½ games back in the division at the annual Memorial Day checkpoint and the temperature of Girardi’s seat has to be climbing because that’s what happens in this game when a high-priced team underachieves.
“I don’t worry about my job,” Girardi said when asked about the subject after the game. “I’ve never worried about my job. I don’t worry about my job. I’ve got to do my job. It’s the business of being a manager. I don’t worry about it.”
The Phillies have a team record payroll of over $230 million and huge pressure to break a 10-year postseason drought. It’s too early to say they are dead in the division race but it’s not too early to wonder if they might be, especially with the way the Mets are playing with their top two pitchers, Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, out of action but due back from the injured list in the second half. Whatever the case, it’s a good thing there are three wild-card playoff opportunities for the Phillies to chase. But even one of those will be difficult to attain if this team doesn’t get its you-know-what together.
The Phillies are 21-27 overall and 3-9 against the Mets.
“It’s a lot,” Harper said of the 10½-game deficit. “Everybody knows that. We just have to show up every day ready to play. The season is not over until we play 162.”
The Phillies had just three hits and scored just one run until Castellanos’ three-run homer with two outs in the top of the eighth.
That lack of offense makes playing good defense imperative and the Phillies did not do that in the first inning behind ace Zack Wheeler. He allowed three runs in the first but just two were earned after first baseman Rhys Hoskins committed an error.
Conservatively, defense probably cost the Phils a half dozen runs on the trip.
“We didn’t make a play (in the first inning) and it led to a couple of runs,” Girardi said. “It probably could have been a different game. It’s kind of what happened to us a little bit on this trip. We’ve got to clean it up. You can’t give extra outs and we did it on the trip.”
Wheeler survived the rocky first inning and did not give up another run the remainder of his six innings. By keeping the game close, the right-hander gave his team a chance and it materialized after Mets starter Chris Bassitt (six innings, two hits, one run) exited the game.
“There’s fight in that room,” Girardi said, referring to Castellanos’ late homer, which came on an 0-2 pitch.
Wheeler was asked if he was surprised that the Phillies were already six under .500 and 10½ games back in the division.
“It is surprising, but we’ve got to continue to battle and keep grinding and hopefully things will turn around soon,” the pitcher said. “It’s got to be soon. I think we all know that. We all know the talent in here and what we’re capable of. We just have to do it.”
The Phils return home Monday afternoon to play the San Francisco Giants, who are managed by Gabe Kapler. He certainly won’t have any sympathy for the struggling Phillies after they fired him for not winning enough games in 2018 and 2019.