It was hard to determine Tuesday night who was being booed as a 2-1 Phillies loss to the Red Sox began to unravel.
Perhaps the jeers were for Tommy Hunter, who served up a go-ahead home run to a hitter who had hit just one in the last 17 weeks. Maybe they were for the Phillies' offense, which continues to scuffle. Or were the boos an attempt to drown out the voracious Boston fans, who were likely as surprised by Brock Holt's homer as they were when a quarterback caught a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl against their favorite football team?
Regardless, the boos marked yet another dismal night for the Phils as they lost for the fifth time in seven games.
Gabe Kapler shuffled his lineup but the deck still flopped. They struck out 13 times, had just two hits, had seven 1-2-3 innings and did not place a runner in scoring position until there were two outs in the ninth inning.
The Phillies have scored two runs or fewer in four of their last five losses. Their offensive woes finally seem to be catching up to the Phils as they watched Atlanta increase their division lead to two games by winning for the 13th time in 17 games. If the Phillies do spiral, this feels like how it would begin.
"I think it's baseball. Until the last game is played you've just got to play baseball," Hunter said. "Teams go through down times, individuals go through some slumps, teams go through.slumps. To make a big deal about this one particular little stretch right here, I don't think it's as big a deal as what people are making it out to be if that's what they're doing. I don't read much, I don't read much what you guys write. Just play baseball and win as many games as you can and let it fall where they are."
The offense gave Hunter little room for error and his first-pitch cutter to Holt was a big mistake. The pitch hung over the plate and Holt clobbered it off the scoreboard in right field. Hunter said he wishes he would have fired the pitch more inside. It happens, he said. One misfired pitch was the margin for error he was granted as the offense continues to look punchless.
"I don't see us pressing. I see us competing," manager Gabe Kapler said. "I see us doing a good job of staying in baseball games and fighting until the very end. I thought tonight was a well-fought game. They beat us. That happens, right? They came out and played just a little bit better than us tonight. Tip your cap to one of the best teams in baseball."
If there was any way to jump start an offense, then re-ordering the lineup would be a good start. Rhys Hoskins moved from second to fourth. Nick Williams jumped to second. Carlos Santana was no longer batting clean-up and Odubel Herrera was hitting seventh. The Phillies scored eight runs in six games out West. This was a different look.
"I don't know if I would call it a lineup shake-up as much as trying something new we think might spark the offense a little bit," Kapler said before the game.
Anything new would be good, Hoskins said. For him, it was. Hoskins homered to start the fifth inning, giving the Phillies their first hit against Rick Porcello. But that was about all they could do. Porcello fooled them for seven innings with the movement on his fastball. The new-look lineup included five hitters who struck out twice and the Phils did not work a walk until Justin Bour walked to start the ninth. New lineup, but same results.
They wasted a strong night from Nick Pivetta, who limited baseball's highest-scoring offense to just one run in six innings. He struck out six, walked one, and allowed just three hits. His powerful fastball was paired with an effective curveball and slider as Pivetta displayed the ability to effectively use all three pitches. In three starts this month, Pivetta has allowed just three runs in 18 innings.
Pat Neshek handled the seventh as Kapler employed the righthander to tackle the heart of Boston's order. Neshek then handed the baton to Hunter, who was asked in the eighth to retire the bottom of the lineup. He erased his first batter and then Holt came off the bench to pinch hit. The boos were not far behind.
"I was actually just talking to a guy and he asked me if I was okay, and I was like, 'Man I'm good. I'm going to come out tomorrow and throw the exact same pitches that I threw tonight,' " Hunter said. "That's the difference between us and fans and us and writers. We have to do this every single day so like I'm not going to give a different effort because it's the Red Sox or just because it's the Yankees or the A's. I'm going to give you what I have every single night and let it lie how it will."