ATLANTA – It ended, as it often does, with a called third strike, an aggrieved batter, and an umpire who didn't want to hear it. And if you wanted emotion from the Phillies as their playoff hopes were reduced to a flicker Saturday night, look at Roman Quinn yelling at Gerry Davis, Gabe Kapler racing to Quinn's defense, and Rhys Hoskins sitting in a chair and staring into his locker until most of his teammates had left the clubhouse.
Then, there was reliever Pat Neshek, who ranted about three calls on close pitches in a fateful five-run inning that pushed the Atlanta Braves to a 6-5 victory and the brink of clinching the National League East title.
"I think Gerry Davis, he missed some calls to Dansby (Swanson). That really (messed) me up," Neshek said. "Yeah, there were two, and I looked on Brooks Baseball and they were strikes. That changed the game."
Neshek entered in the bottom of the seventh after the Phillies had taken a three-run lead in the top half of the inning. He faced five batters and recorded one out. He gave up three hits, a walk and four earned runs, one more than he had allowed in 28 previous outings combined this season.
It was a terrible time for an implosion, and make no mistake, that's exactly what this was. Kapler acknowledged that Neshek "didn't have his best stuff." Even Neshek conceded that the first-pitch sinker he threw to Ozzie Albies caught so much of the plate that "90 percent of the guys in the league would've hit that one out" for a two-run homer that cut the Phillies' lead to 4-3.
But Neshek also insisted he was wronged by Davis on back-to-back pitches to Swanson. The first, a 1-1 sinker, might've caught the inside corner. It's possible that the second, a 2-1 slider, nicked the outside edge. Either way, the pitches were borderline.
"Usually as an older guy when you're facing a rookie you'll get that call," Neshek said. "It's frustrating. I mean, what are you going to do? I can't win."
Swanson walked before pinch-hitting Lucas Duda singled through the left side of the infield with the Phillies playing a shift.
"I get the ground ball, I think it might be a double play, there's nobody there," Neshek said. "Shift. I didn't even know we had a shift. A lot of weird (stuff), man. I don't know what else to say."
There's not much left for the Phillies to say. Not after lefty reliever Luis Avilan replaced Neshek and allowed game-tying double to Ender Inciarte and a two-run single to Johan Camargo.
Despite five strong innings from starter Nick Pivetta and finally getting the offense going against Braves starter Julio Teheran when Wilson Ramos' two-run double carried over the head of leftfielder Ronald Acuna Jr., the Phillies lost for the 13th time in 19 games this month. It was their 27th loss in 42 games since Aug. 5 when, believe it or not, they were 15 games over .500 and leading the Braves by 1 1/2 games in the NL East.
The Braves' magic number was reduced to two, and they can clinch their first division title since 2013 with a victory here Saturday or Sunday.
"We knew what we had to do when we came to Atlanta," Kapler said. "It's disappointing that we haven't done that so far. I'm not going to get out any pom-poms here, but certainly, we have a chance. We are going to continue to fight, understanding that we have a difficult road ahead of us."
The reality certainly seems to be setting in. When Quinn struck out to end the game with the tying run on first base, he objected to Davis' call. As the Braves shook hands on the field, Kapler bolted from the dugout and had words for Davis.
"I saw it as an emotional, young player who was very competitive in the moment and was having his say," Kapler said. "I think, in that particular instance, I was upset because I thought it was the right time for Gerry to not be back in his face. This was about me protecting Roman Quinn, who I thought should have his say there."