NEW YORK — A lefthanded hitter came to the plate in the sixth inning of Tuesday’s 2-0 loss to the Mets and the Phillies did what they have done since spring training. Gabe Kapler’s Phillies, committed to playing the percentages, shifted their infield, and stacked the right side with an extra fielder.
Jay Bruce, the Mets batter, hit almost all of his ground balls last season to the right side. So shortstop J.P. Crawford moved across the bag to where second baseman Cesar Hernandez usually stands. Hernandez shaded closer to first. Bruce, with no outs and a man on first, hit a grounder off Ben Lively that went into the shift.
But Bruce hit it square at Crawford, who could not turn a double play because second base was uncovered. Crawford retired Bruce at first but Yoenis Cespedes advanced to second. The ground out likely would have yielded two outs had the Phillies been at normal double-play depth. It instead led to two runs.
“We have to shift Bruce in that position and that’s the one ball that we’re not going to be able to turn it on,” Kapler said. “But over the course of the time, we feel like that’s the best positioning for Jay Bruce.”
The bit of bad luck kept the Mets’ rally alive. Cespedes scored a batter later on a double by Todd Frazier. Adrian Gonzalez then grounded out for what would have been the final out of the inning had the Phillies turned a double play. The inning rolled on and Travis d’Arnaud singled home Cespedes. Those were the only two runs Lively allowed.
“That’s what the shift does,” Lively said. “You can’t really do anything about that. I had to focus on my next hitter. It [stinks] but you have to move past it. You can’t really think about it and get worked up. … It’s early in the year and once you start seeing hitters more and more, you’ll know where to place guys. You can’t do anything about it.”
Lively struck out five batters and allowed six hits in 5 2/3 innings. He stranded five runners on base and navigated his way out of the third inning after starting the inning by giving up a single to Matt Harvey and hitting the next batter. He kept the Phillies alive but the offense was of little help.
The Phillies went 3 for 31 and left seven runners on base. They struck out 11 times, three of which were by Jorge Alfaro. Their two hardest-hit balls against Mets starter Harvey were a pair of ground outs off Lively’s bat. The Phillies had leadoff runners in the second, third, fourth, sixth, and ninth innings but the threats were short-lived.
Hernandez led off the sixth with a single and Carlos Santana followed with a walk. The rally was quickly extinguished. Aaron Altherr lined out, Rhys Hoskins whiffed, and Odubel Herrera was retired on three curveballs from lefthander Jerry Blevins, who was brought in to face Herrera.
Altherr started the ninth with a four-pitch walk and moved to third on a one-out single by Herrera. But the runners would not advance any further. Scott Kingery and Andrew Knapp went down after battling Mets closer Jeurys Familia in long at-bats.
The Phillies used a grinding approach to chase Harvey, who dominated them for five scoreless innings but had to be lifted after throwing 86 pitches. The Phillies averaged 4.77 pitches per plate appearance against Harvey. They forced the Mets to open up their bullpen, but their luck stayed the same. They could not get a run for Lively, who gave the Phillies their longest start of the season. He threw 91 pitches and almost faced the entire lineup three times. But then he got hit with a shift of bad luck.
“I thought Lively was exceptional,” Kapler said. “We knew he was going to be gritty on a really cold night and show that tremendous competitiveness. That’s exactly what he did. He came out and gave us length and really did the Lively style of pitching, attack the strike zone with his fastball and landing that slower curveball, and was everything we hoped he’d be.”
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