By Sam Bush
Let the record reflect that the Phillies’ quixotic 2018 run at the playoffs all but ended yesterday and last night at Citizens Bank Park.
Not officially, of course.
Because after losing a doubleheader at CBP, the Phillies record fell to 74-70, six and half games behind the NL-East leading Braves, who beat the Giants.
That means they have 18 games left to make up the gap, which is difficult because the last month and a half has been a gut-wrenching nightmare when it comes to scoring runs.
They are also six and a half games out of the wild card spots.
The Nats rookie Juan Soto made a leaping catch in foul territory in the first game of a doubleheader and ended eight hours of baseball with a milestone homer in the second game.
Soto hit a solo home run in the 10th inning, his second of the game, to lead the Washington Nationals to a 7-6 win over the Phillies and a doubleheader sweep.
“I’ve never seen a 19 year old swing and be that patient at the plate,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “He’s 19 but he plays like he’s been in the league a long time.”
The Nationals rallied for three runs in the ninth inning off Seranthony Dominguez to tie the game at 6-all. Soto, who hit a two-run shot in the fourth, connected off Yacksel Rios (3-2) with one out in the 10th for the winner.
Greg Holland retired the first batters in the 10th before he walked the next two. Holland got Cesar Hernandez to fly out to end the game for his third save. Wander Suero (3-0) got the win.
In the first game, Spencer Kieboom hit his first major league home run after losing a tooth earlier in the day, Erick Fedde pitched shutout ball into the sixth inning and the Nationals beat Phillies 3-1.
The doubleheader was needed once Monday’s night’s game was postponed because of poor field conditions from weekend rain. The grounds crew used blow torches to dry a field that had not been covered with a tarp and players described as “spongy” and “soft.”
The Phillies, who were 15 games over .500 in early August and in the thick of NL playoff race, have lost four straight games and are 6-16 since Aug. 18. They fell 6 ½ games behind Atlanta in the NL East and 6 ½ games behind St. Louis in the race for the second wild card spot.
The Nationals (73-72) also swept a doubleheader on Saturday and just may pass the slumping Phillies (74-70) in the final standings.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it. We’re not playing good baseball right now,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said.
The second game ended 8 1/2 hours after the first pitch in the opener — and with only a smattering of fans at the park each time.
“I feel beat up right now and I just stood there,” Martinez said.
The Phillies seemed poised to win the nightcap and get some sort of spark going to stay in the NL playoff picture. They scored five runs in the fourth inning off starter Tanner Roark, and Jose Bautista hit a solo shot in the eighth to make it 6-3.
But Dominguez failed them and Kapler let his closer labor through 43 pitches before pulling him. With 20 active pitchers, Kapler nearly gave them all a turn during the day — except when Dominguez needed help.
The Phillies loaded the bases in the ninth, but the rally was snuffed when Bautista flied out.
Soto had three hits and four RBIs in the nightcap and passed Ken Griffey Jr. for fourth on the career list for homers by a teenager with 18. He also has the most multi-homer games by a teenager in baseball history with three.
“Can’t wait to talk to 2-2 over there,” Roark said in the Nationals clubhouse.
The Nats had reason to smile — even if Kieboom, a rookie catcher, was missing a tooth. Kieboom is waiting on veneers and lost half a temporary tooth earlier at breakfast when he bit into a baguette. The other half was stuck in his gums.
He looked as if he spit out a tooth while he walked to the plate in the fifth in the opener. It was just a big spitball. He pointed to the gap as he jogged back to the dugout after the solo homer.
“I just popped it off,” he said, laughing. “I’ve got to roll with this for a little while but that’s fine. The Caps, those boys play with no teeth. I can play with no teeth.”
Phillies starter Nick Pivetta (7-12) was one of seven pitchers to work the opener.
Fedde (2-3), making his second start since he missed two months with a sore right shoulder, tossed one-hit ball through five.
The late afternoon start resulted in a sparse crowd for the first pitch. The 40-plus-person Phillies contingent in front of the dugout for the national anthem was larger than the bunch of fans in the upper deck.
“One thing that we continue to focus on is who can perform best under sub-optimal conditions,” Kapler said. “So optimal conditions are a packed house and really fired up and energetic and suboptimal conditions are when you have more challenging situations. And I think today was a more challenging situation and we always challenge our guys to do the best under those circumstances that they possibly can.”