NEW YORK — It was a dreary day at Citi Field, no doubt about that. The level of grimness, however, all depended on your point of view.
If, for example, you were a New York Mets fan, a chilly September afternoon was made displeasing when news arrived near the end of a 27-minute rain delay that your ticket was no longer to see a Jacob deGrom start. Here in the Big Apple, they never take kindly to arriving for the show only to find out an understudy will be playing the leading role.
So instead of the top Cy Young Award candidate, the crowd of 24,153 got a rookie right-hander with a satanic 6.66 ERA. And, by the way, they did not start the game because it stopped raining. They started only because this was the Phillies' last trip to New York this season and there was no common idle date left on the calendar for a makeup game.
The Phillies, of course, were pleased to see that the Mets were going to protect deGrom's health by not letting him pitch in less-than-ideal conditions. They had faced him three times this season and managed just one unearned run in 18 innings. An afternoon against Corey Oswalt certainly seemed preferable.
And, yet, the Phillies still managed to have the darkest day of all, blowing an early two-run lead and losing 6-4 to the Mets as they failed yet again in a bid to win their first series since completing a four-game sweep of the Miami Marlins on Aug. 5. The Phillies fell to 4 1/2 games behind Atlanta, which rallied to beat Arizona later Sunday.
To update: The Phillies have lost nine straight times when they've had a chance to win a game that would have given them a series victory. They've been outscored 57-18 in those games. The overall team batting average in those games is .232 and the team average with runners in scoring position is .204. The starting pitchers' ERA in those nine games is 8.26.
"Yeah, we lose another series, that's what makes it a missed opportunity," left fielder Rhys Hoskins said. "Not because of deGrom. We didn't beat somebody else and it was just another series we let slip away."
You can blame this latest loss on Vince Velasquez, who continued to make the least of his opportunity to pitch in big games down the stretch. Hoskins sent Velasquez to the mound with a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning by blasting his third home run in as many games and his 30th of the season off Oswalt in the top of the first.
Velasquez immediately gave one run back in the bottom of the inning by allowing a leadoff triple to Amed Rosario and then failing to cover first base on what was ruled a one-out infield single by Michael Conforto.
Four innings later, Velasquez fully imploded, allowing a one-run lead to turn into a three-run deficit. Pinch-hitter Domonic Smith opened the inning with a double and Rosario reached base when Velasquez hit him despite being ahead in the count 1-2. A single by white-hot rookie Jeff McNeil evened the score at 2-2 and Conforto sent Velasquez's 73rd and final pitch of the rainy day over the left-field wall for a three-run home run.
"I was missing spots kind of the whole game," Velasquez said. "The conditions got the best of me. Can't let that happen. This is an unbelievable phase, but the season is not over yet. We still have more than two weeks. You'd be amazed what we could do within two weeks. I think we're capable of turning it around."
The Phillies decided at the trade deadline that they preferred seeing their three young starters – Velasquez, Zach Eflin, and Nick Pivetta – pitch under the pressure of a pennant race rather than adding a veteran starter. Since the deadline, the Phillies are 8-13 in games started by those three and the young trio has a combined ERA of 5.04.
Yes, indeed, it was a dreary day in Queens and even though the Phillies did not have to face deGrom, they still managed to find a way to lose another one they probably should have won. You probably won't be surprised to learn that Gabe Kapler can still see the light.