LOS ANGELES - The Phillies arrived in Hollywood as baseball's hottest team, winners of six straight games, and showing signs that they might be able to keep up their surprising start. The weekend visit - which ended Sunday with a 5-3 loss to the Dodgers - may prove to be what spoils their season.
The Phillies were swept for the second time this season as their bullpen collapsed for the second straight day. Jeanmar Gomez allowed a three-run homer to Andrew Toles in the sixth that sealed the team's fate. The former closer's ERA ballooned to 9.64. The magic Gomez found last year - when he racked up 37 saves - is gone. He is now a pitcher without a role.
"I won't use the word 'worried.' I think I'm more concerned," manager Pete Mackanin said about his bullpen. "I think we're going to get it together once our rotation is set in another week or 10 days and these guys start giving us the innings they're capable of."
The road does not get any easier. The Phillies flew to Chicago on Sunday night to play a four-game series against the defending champion Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Phillies were swept last year in Chicago, a series at the end of May that triggered a streak of 22 losses in 26 games. They'll be looking to avoid a repeat.
"It stinks. But at the same time we know what we're capable of," catcher Cameron Rupp said. "We know we're capable of beating good teams. We showed that when we beat the Mets and Washington. We've shown that we can compete with teams, despite what people think. Today, we came back and gave them a fight until the last out was made. That's all you can ask for."
The homer allowed by Gomez wasted a strong effort from Nick Pivetta, who survived his major-league debut even though he didn't have the best command of his secondary pitches. The righthander allowed two earned runs in five innings but limited the damage by stranding six runners. He struck out five, walked one, and allowed nine hits.
The Dodgers scored a run in the first when Justin Turner lined a flat curveball to left. Pivetta hung a slider in the second to Chris Taylor, who bashed it for a homer to left. They were forgivable mistakes in a major-league debut. It was his response that was more important. Pivetta kept the Phillies in the game and picked up big outs when he needed to.
"It was all nerves," Pivetta said. "It was 'Holy cow. I'm here. Now let's focus and do what you've been doing to get yourself here.' It was hard to differentiate those two things, but once I got into that fourth, fifth inning, it was good. I was good again. I was able to get ahead of hitters more. I was able to use my change-up, able to use my slider, and it felt a lot more comfortable."
The Phillies looked set to rally in the fifth when Rupp started the inning with a ground-rule double. The catcher represented the tying run but was quickly picked off second. Hyun-Jin Ryu threw a pitch high and catcher Yasmani Grandal grabbed it and fired to second to catch Rupp, who was far off the bag as Pivetta was trying to bunt him to third. It was designed play that Mackanin said he might have to try and use.
"Not being the speedster, I'm fighting hard to get to third base. It takes a pretty good bunt to get me there and I want to be able to get there," Rupp said. "Getting that extra second, they got me. It's like, oh no. I saw it coming and I was like, there's no way."
The next two batters went down with ease. The threat was finished. And an inning later, so were the Phillies' chances.