LOS ANGELES – Maikel Franco stood near third base on Monday night as Dodger Stadium became unhinged. A Phillies lead was erased by a late, stunning Dodger rally and the crowd was rocking. This, Franco thought, felt eerily familiar.
The Dodgers scored three times in the eighth inning to deliver the Phillies a gut-punching 5-4 loss. Franco misplayed a ball, Cesar Hernandez lost a pop-up in the lights, Adam Morgan had a grounder skip off his glove and a loss was sealed.
As it all unfolded, it was almost impossible – even ask Franco – to not think back to the night last April when the Phillies suffered a crushing loss here and responded by winning just six of their next 30 games. The season spiraled that night in Dodger Stadium. A year later, the Phillies and their surprising start will be tested by similar circumstances.
Monday was the start of a 10-game road trip that will take the Phillies from Los Angeles to San Francisco to Chicago. The trip will be a way to measure if the Phillies are for real. And losses like Monday are the type of nights that can make everything unravel.
"Tomorrow is a new day. We'll come in with a new energy and expect to win," Franco said. "What happened last year is not going to happen. It's not going to be the same thing. Try to forget the day and be ready to go."
The Phillies entered the eighth inning ahead by two. Seranthony Dominguez had retired the four batters he faced after entering in the sixth inning but Gabe Kapler decided to not push the rookie any further. Kapler said he saw the two-run lead as a chance to preserve Dominguez. Plus, he thought righthander Luis Garcia had favorable match-ups in the eighth.
Yasiel Puig started the eighth with a grounder at Franco, who failed to make the stop. It was a tough play, Kapler said. The ball left Puig's bat at 107 mph. But Franco said there were no excuses. It was a play he had to make. A rally was born. Matt Kemp doubled in Puig and Garcia was finished after just two batters.
Keke Hernandez popped up against Adam Morgan for what appeared to be the first out of the inning. But Cesar Hernandez lost the ball in the lights and the pop-up dropped near second base. Hernandez reached first and Kemp moved to third. The rally rolled on.
"I've had that happen to me. It's a lonely feeling," Kapler said. "It's not something you can control. You look up searching for it and you just can't find it. The ball was hit sky high on a night when it was difficult to find the baseball. There's not much more to say about it than that."
Max Muncy tied the game with a chopper that bounced off Morgan's glove. The Phillies lead was gone. They jumped to a quick four-run lead after Hernandez hit a three-run homer in the second. But the Dodgers rally vanquished it.
"Sometimes, weird things happen," Kapler said. "Tonight, there were some weird things that unfolded that I wouldn't predict would happen many times."
With the game tied, a Phillies loss then seemed inevitable. Even Franco felt it coming. This is the same as last season, he thought to himself. Yasmani Grandal stroked a single that snuck through the left side of the infield and drove home the go-ahead run. The crowd was sent into a frenzy and "I Love L.A." blasted through the speakers after the Phillies went down in order in the ninth. It felt all too familiar. The challenge, for the young and upstart Phillies, comes Tuesday when they try to prevent what derailed them just a season ago.