BOSTON — As the hours and the minutes and the seconds tick down to 4 p.m. Tuesday and the deadline to make trades without waivers, Phillies officials are debating a complicated question.
Is it worth pursuing upgrades on the margins of the roster for a division-leading team even if it comes at the expense of playing time for some young players?
It's a fascinating discussion. Reasonable arguments can be made on both sides. But when Maikel Franco is coming to the plate with two on and two out in the sixth inning against one of the toughest pitchers on the best team in baseball, and when Seranthony Dominguez is facing the middle of that team's lineup in the ninth inning of a tie game in front of a Fenway Park crowd still roaring after a chorus of "Shipping Up To Boston," it's difficult to overstate how much they are gaining from the mere experience.
Those were two of the scenes here Monday night. Here was another: Nine Phillies players trudging off the field in the 13th inning after Blake Swihart's one-out ground-rule double on a first-pitch fastball from reliever Luis Garcia gave the Boston Red Sox a 2-1 victory and wasted what manager Gabe Kapler called "probably the pitching performance of the year" from brilliant ace Aaron Nola.
"It stinks. It's a punch in the face," Kapler said after the Phillies' fourth consecutive loss matched their season-long losing skid and cut their National League East lead to a half-game over the Atlanta Braves. "But we've gotten punched in the face many times this season. We've come back the next day prepared to fight again. That's the M.O. of this team. It's what defines us."
By the time the Phillies return to Fenway on Tuesday, general manager Matt Klentak might have traded for another relief pitcher or perhaps another bat for the bench. The Phillies have cast a wide net for help in both areas, making inquiries with several teams about dozens of players. Relievers, in particular, figure to be a popular commodity before the deadline. Far more teams are determined to sell rather than to buy leaving no shortage of available options, some of which won't come at great cost.
But the Phillies are also committed to their process. They have the youngest roster in baseball, and it already includes several core members of their next great team.
Youth will make mistakes, though, such as Odubel Herrera's baserunning misadventure in the third inning and his center-field misplay in the fifth. It will endure tough losses, too, and it doesn't get much tougher than hanging with the 75-33 Red Sox on their home turf for 12 innings only to leave with a loss.
"It's definitely a tough loss when you go extra innings, especially against a team like that," Nola said. "We played pretty good baseball. They got the late hit when they needed it."
The Phillies haven't gotten a big hit since, well, last Thursday? They finished with 10 hits, but only three after the sixth inning when Red Sox starter David Price struck out Franco to leave two runners on base.
Leading 1-0 in the third inning, Herrera ran the Phillies out of a potential run. With Rhys Hoskins on third base and Herrera on first, Hoskins broke for the plate on Carlos Santana's grounder to third. When the Red Sox got Hoskins in a rundown, Herrera tried to sneak over to third base without sliding. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts tagged him out and threw to third baseman Eduardo Nunez, who tagged Hoskins for a double play to end the inning.
"I feel that I should've slid into third, make it a harder play for the third baseman or whoever tagged me," Herrera said through a team translator after a postgame meeting with Kapler. "I should have done better."
Said Kapler: "He did everything right. The only thing he needed to do was slide hard into third base, which I think he understands at this point."
Herrera made another gaffe in the fifth inning, misjudging Nunez's line drive to center field. It sailed over Herrera's head and went for a score-tying RBI triple. Kapler called it a "human error play."
"It was a straight line drive that I didn't read well," Herrera said. "Again, I should've done better on that one, too."
Nola vs. Price had all the makings of must-see TV. It didn't disappoint.
In particular, Nola was magnificent. He pounded the strike zone, as usual, almost always staying ahead in the count and leaned heavily on his curveball and change-up. He held baseball's highest-scoring offense to a measly infield hit through four innings and got 15 swings and misses overall.
Nola saved his best work for the bottom of the eighth. With the go-ahead run on second base and his pitch count climbing into triple digits, he struck out Mookie Betts and got Andrew Benintendi to line out to center field.
"I felt good. All my pitches were working," Nola said. "Change-up was good. I felt like I sped them up and slowed them down when I needed to."
Kapler was as effusive in his praise of Nola and he was disappointed in the outcome of the game.
"That might be the best offense in baseball. To do what he did to the middle of their lineup in particular is absolutely spectacular," Kapler said. "He essentially controlled everything he could possibly control. He deserved a better outcome. It's not how baseball works."