LOS ANGELES — Hector Neris threw his 11th pitch on Saturday night, looked behind his right shoulder, and watched a three-run lead disappear.
Another home run crashed into the stands and Dodger Stadium came unglued. Eleven pitches is all Neris needed to allow homers to the first three batters he faced and seal a crushing 6-5 loss to the Dodgers.
“It's one of the worst losses I've ever been associated with,” said manager Pete Mackanin, who has been in professional baseball for 49 years. “The way we lost. The way they tied it. It was tough to take. A real let down."
Yasiel Puig homered to left. Cody Bellinger smacked a homer of the foul pole in right, and Justin Turner tied it with a blow to left field. It seemed like rapid fire. Neris was pulled two batters later and the winning run scored against Joely Rodriguez.
The Phillies were three outs away from their eighth win in their last 10 games. It instead was their second-straight loss and a sign that their quick start to the season may be fading.
"Those weren't wind blown home runs. They were bombs,” Mackanin said. “It's tough to take. I'm not real happy with the outcome."
Neris has allowed a run in four of his last five outings. Mackanin never named a closer after removing Jeanmar Gomez, but Neris has seemed to crack after being unofficially placed in that role. The ninth inning has been a minefield. The Phillies have a 8.83 ERA this season in the ninth and a 5.00 ERA in save situations. Saturday was their fifth blown save.
“It’s a game. You can’t control the situation that happens,” Neris said. “I’m here. My head is never down.”
Neris got away from his splitter — the pitch that was nearly unhittable last season — and relied Saturday on his fastball. Two of his three homers were fastballs without command. Mackanin said the coaching staff will talk to Neris on Sunday morning about the splitter.
"I'd like to have a lights-out closer but we don't have one right now," Mackanin said. "We'll continue to look at it. Once again I think Neris is capable of being a closer but for some reason he's just not throwing his split as often as he did and that's his out pitch. The pitch that makes him who he is, who he was, and he's gotten away from it and throwing more fastballs."
Rodriguez inherited a runner on first and one out. He induced a pop up but then yielded a single to Corey Seager. Adrian Gonzalez then poked a grounder to third base, but the ball bounced off Maikel Franco’s glove. Franco moved to his left and reached for it but came up empty. He said he could not dive because of the way the ball was bouncing.
“I did everything that I can on that play,” Franco said.
The ninth inning wasted a brilliant effort from Zach Eflin, who allowed just two runs in seven innings. He gave up a homer to the first batter he faced and then did not allow another run until the seventh. The righthander cruised, recording 16 of his outs by groundout or strikeout. He threw a career-high 103 pitches, 68 of which were strikes. Eflin allowed just four hits and walked none. He has allowed just three runs this season in 19 innings.
“I just didn’t let it get to me,” Eflin said about his leadoff homer. “I think I do a pretty good job of that, just kind of sticking to the game plan and going after hitters, not shying away. That’s what I did in New York when I had the three walks in the first inning. I wasn’t pitching the way I normally do and made sure I stuck to what I was trying to do.”
Eflin ended his night by retiring the final two batters he faced. Andrew Knapp soon hit his first-career homer and a win seemed sealed. The pitcher watched the ninth inning from a television in the clubhouse. The win was anything but sealed.
“It’s just a crazy way it happened,” Eflin said. “It’s baseball. Forget about it, come tomorrow with a new attitude, a new mindset and just completely forget about it.”