First, there was history. Then, there was normalcy. It all played out over about 6 1/2 hours Thursday at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies were throttled, 24-4, in the opener of a doubleheader against the New York Mets. It marked their most lopsided loss in 89 years and featured two position players' combining to record the last nine — count 'em, nine — outs. But as they have done all season, the Phillies flushed a potentially demoralizing loss and posted a solid victory, 9-6, in the nightcap. And when it was all over, they actually gained ground in the standings, inching to within 1 1/2 games of the division-leading Atlanta Braves.
It should be an entertaining weekend of baseball, too. The top starting pitchers for both teams — Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta of the Phillies, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom of the Mets — will square off Friday night and Saturday, respectively. Then, the clubs will conclude their five-game series with a nationally televised game Sunday night in Williamsport after hanging out all day with players in the Little League World Series.
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Roman Quinn and Scott Kingery were sitting on the Phillies bench, minding their own business, in the middle innings of the first game Thursday when a member of the coaching staff came over and asked a question.
"If it comes down to it, can you guys throw strikes?"
Never mind that the Phillies had eight relievers in the bullpen, or that only two had been used through six innings of what was shaping up to be an ugly rout. There was still another game to play, and manager Gabe Kapler, always the progressive thinker, didn't want to burn through any other valuable arms. His solution: Get through the last three innings by putting position players on the mound.
Quinn went first. A speedy centerfielder with a checkered injury history in the minors, he gave up two runs on 16 pitches in the seventh inning, then came back out for the eighth. Quinn threw 42 pitches, five more than long reliever Mark Leiter Jr. had thrown earlier in the game, and got five outs before Kapler replaced him with Kingery.
Kingery's strategy: Lob the ball to the plate.
"That was on me," the shortstop said of his soft-toss approach. "I went in the cage and threw a couple and it was like [batting practice] speed. I thought, 'That's not going to work.' So, I figured if I slowed it down a bit it might throw them off a little bit. It was like softball."
Kingery threw so slowly that the radar gun didn't register a reading. He gave up two runs on four hits but somehow recorded four outs. And after the Phillies' worst loss since a 28-6 thumping by the St. Louis Cardinals on July 6, 1929, Kapler had to defend his decision. There was a lot to question. Leiter threw 54 pitches in an appearance two weeks ago in triple-A and was going to get optioned back after the doubleheader. The Phillies surely could've extended him for another inning.
"You [reporters] are going to spin this however you want to spin it, but the fact of the matter is, in the fifth inning when we're down 11 runs, we started to prepare for the second game," Kapler said. "We used strategy to best position the Phillies to win baseball games. We're going to continue to do that. My job is to protect the Phillies. That's it. That's what I did."
And here's the thing: Regardless of what outsiders thought, the players didn't seem to question Kapler's thinking.
"We use position players and even though it's pretty ugly, we have a stronger chance to win the second game, especially with the bullpen we have," leftfielder Rhys Hoskins said. "You trust Gabe. It's worked. There's not really much else to say. We don't see any madness in his method."
After all the craziness of the first game, Zach Eflin was money — about $20,000 worth — in the finale. It wasn't his best start, but it was what the Phillies needed.
Within the Phillies notebook, some news on relievers Austin Davis (back) and Aaron Loup (forearm), who were placed on the disabled list Thursday.
The Phillies hit six homers Thursday that accounted for eight of their 13 runs. Rhys Hoskins went deep twice. David Murphy believes the offense is simply geared for notoriously slugger-friendly Citizens Bank Park.
Andrew Brown is working on adding a curveball to his repertoire, as Ben Pope found out when he caught up with the righthander this week at low-A Lakewood.
Within Ben's minor-league notebook, there's news of Jake Scheiner's breakout season at Lakewood and a recent slump from power-hitting prospect Jhailyn Ortiz.
Tonight: Aces wild, as Phillies' Aaron Nola faces Mets' Noah Syndergaard, 6:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Another marquee matchup, Jake Arrieta vs. Jacob deGrom, 4:05 p.m.
Sunday: Phillies and Mets travel to Williamsport for Little League Classic, 7:10 p.m.
Monday: Day off for Phillies
Tuesday: Phillies open a three-game series in Washington, 7:05 p.m.
Maikel Franco homered again Thursday and has gone deep 20 times this season. For two months, he has been among the most productive third basemen in baseball. But this might say the most about the season he's having: Franco is one of only two players with at least 20 home runs and fewer than 60 strikeouts. The other is Cleveland Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez, an AL MVP candidate.
Bonus stat (because two games deserves two stats): Phillies shortstop Scott Kingery became the first player to pitch in the first game of a doubleheader and homer in the second since Rocky Colavito did it for the New York Yankees on Aug. 25, 1968.
Question: Do you think [Carlos] Santana has any trade value in the offseason? Can we flip him for an outfield bat or other need and move Rhys [Hoskins] back to first? Could improve offense and defense. My guess is, with that contract and subpar offense at first base, the Phils would get nothing back. We may be stuck hoping for a bounce back next season. — Roger A., via e-mail
Answer: Thanks for the note, Roger. You wouldn't believe how much we hear from fans who want Santana on the bench or off the roster. In the short term, I'll refer you to Gabe Kapler, who said this earlier in the week: "Santana's going to play every day. Santana's going to play regularly."
Has Santana had the year the Phillies expected when they signed him? No. But they continue to say how much they value his on-base ability. And for a guy who entered last night batting .215, he was tied for 26th among 70 qualified NL hitters with a .350 on-base percentage.