By Sam Bush
On a night when ace Zack Wheeler kept them in the games against the high-flying Tampa Bay Rays into the 9th, the Phils woeful bullpen came back to bite them.
Or at least the prospect of having to call in a reliever.
Why else would manager Joe Girardi have allowed Wheeler to go out for the 9th after having thrown 93 pitches?
Francisco Mejia hit a tiebreaking three-run homer, Brandon Lowe connected for his 30th of the season and the AL-East leading Rays beat the slumping Phillies 7-4.
Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins homered for the Phillies, who have lost six of eight to fall five games behind the idle Atlanta Braves in the NL East.
The Phils are 4-10 since winning eight in a row earlier this month.
Mejia broke a 4-4 tie with no outs in the ninth, driving an 0-2, 96-mph fastball from Wheeler (10-9) into the second deck in right.
Wheeler looked like he was solidifying his NL Cy Young candidacy with eight strong innings until running into trouble in the ninth. Girardi sent Wheeler back to the mound after 93 pitches to try and finish the game.
“He trusted me and I didn’t do my job,” Wheeler said. “It stinks. It’s just one of those that you forget.”
Girardi stood by his decision.
“I still liked his stuff, and his stuff is as good as anyone we have,” he said. “It didn’t work, but I still liked his stuff.”
Yandy Díaz led off by just missing a homer but was held to a single by right fielder Harper when the ball bounced high off the wall. Kevin Kiermaier followed with an opposite-field liner down the left-field line that was ruled a double by third-base umpire Sean Barber, who had to jump out of the way of the ball. Girardi came out to argue with plate umpire Dan Bellino that the ball was foul, but the call, which isn’t reviewable, stood.
“My eyeballs told me it was foul,” Girardi said.
Diaz and Kiermaier scored on Mejia’s hit. Wheeler said he wanted to throw a pitch up and away; it was up but not away.
“If you make mistakes against this team, they make you pay,” Girardi said. “And that’s exactly what they did.”
Wheeler exited after the homer without getting an out in the ninth. He allowed five earned runs on 10 hits and has a 6.53 ERA in his last three starts. He struck out 10 batters to exceed 200 Ks for the first time in his career, becoming the 14th Phillies pitcher to do so. The 31-year-old right-hander has struck out 204 batters.
The Rays took a 4-3 lead in the eighth on Randy Arozarena’s RBI groundout to short.
Hoskins tied it in the bottom of the inning with a two-out homer to left off McHugh, his 27th this season. Hoskins returned to the lineup after not starting Tuesday’s game as he continues to recover from a left groin strain that sidelined him for 14 games.
Harper crushed a two-run homer an estimated 445 feet to center with two outs in the fifth to tie the game at 3.
Lowe led off the fifth with a solo shot.