ATLANTA — Odubel Herrera stood at second base Monday night with his hands on his hips, embarrassed at what had just happened. He smacked himself in the helmet. He barked an obscenity. And he stayed there for a moment, hoping something would change his fortune in a 2-1 loss to the Braves.
Herrera appeared to leg out a double in the third inning as he sprinted to second after grounding a ball to right field. But Herrera opted not to slide. He didn’t think he had to. Herrera stayed on his feet and Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson tagged him out with ease. Herrera was stunned. The blunder short-circuited what looked to be a budding rally. Herrera, if he was safe, would have given the Phillies runners on second and third with one out. The inning instead ended two batters later without a run scored.
Monday’s offensive struggles — the Phillies left 10 runners on base — cannot be solely pinned on Herrera. He provided the team’s lone run with a first-inning homer. But this felt like a critical mistake. The loss snapped a six-game winning streak and the Phillies failed to secure their first seven-game streak since 2012. The Phillies will have to win the final two games here to capture a fourth straight series.
The Phillies have learned to live with Herrera over the last three years. He’s been their best hitter since he arrived, but he’s also been maddening. This was just another chapter.
“I talked to Odubel about this,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “It’s a play that you have to slide on. He knows that and the next time he goes in, he’s going to slide for sure.”
The miscue stalled the big inning the Phillies sought for Aaron Nola, who allowed two runs in six innings. The righthander struck out two, walked one, and allowed four hits. He has allowed just six earned runs this season in his first 24 1/3 innings. Nola was his usual self. It wasn’t his fault he received such little support. Victor Arano relieved him to pitch the final two innings. The righthander retired each of the six batters he faced and has retired all 22 batters he has faced this season.
Nola’s second earned run scored on Herrera’s second blunder of the game. An inning after his lapse at second, Herrera failed to communicate with Aaron Altherr on a fly ball to shallow center. It was Herrera’s play to make, but he never called for it. Altherr, realizing the ball was falling to the grass, raced in and made a catch. He didn’t have a chance to center himself, so his throw home was rushed and off-balance as Ozzie Albies tagged from third. Herrera said later that he thought he could’ve had made the throw if he had made the catch. The manager spoke to Herrera about that play, too.
“I said ‘You’re always the captain of the outfielders as a centerfielder. So at that point, you call everybody off and you take that ball. You get behind it and you make your best throw to the plate,'” Kapler said. “He understands that well and the next time out, he’s going to throw his [butt] out at the plate.”
The Phillies mounted a threat in the seventh when Rhys Hoskins and Aaron Altherr reached on consecutive one-out walks. That rally stalled, too. Kapler pulled back J.P. Crawford, who already had two hits on Monday and is batting .438 in his last five games, for Pedro Florimon. Crawford has struggled against lefthanders and Florimon, Kapler said, gave them a better chance to reach base against Braves reliever A.J. Minter. Florimon struck out and Maikel Franco followed with an inning-ending fielder’s choice.
“It was a tough matchup in general for J.P.,” Kapler said. “He’s going to get a lot of opportunities. He’s going to get a lot of opportunities to face lefthanded pitching. It was just the spot in the game where we felt like we wanted to put our best option to get on base against the opposition’s pitcher. It was the right decision for us in the moment.”
Herrera returned to the dugout after his miscue on the base paths and quietly tucked away his batting helmet. He grabbed his glove and headed for the outfield. But before he reached center field, he crossed paths with Hoskins. If this young team has a leader, it is Hoskins, who played Monday in just his 65th major-league game. Hoskins is a great teammate, Kapler said. Hoskins and Kingery chatted in the outfield before the start of the inning. Herrera said it was he who approached Hoskins. He had something he wanted to say to the leader.
“I apologized,” Herrera said. “I said, ‘My bad, my bad.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry, man. We’ve got you.’ I felt bad. … That’s how baseball is sometimes, you know? All I can do now is learn from it and hopefully it won’t happen again.”