From the moment he completed his twelfth save of the season on Monday night, Dodgers approaches Evan Phillips started thinking about Tuesday’s game.
The six-year veteran had never pitched three days in a row in his major league career. On Monday he pitched for only the ninth consecutive day this year.
But after going to bed feeling strong and waking up physically refreshed on Tuesday, the right-hander arrived at the ballpark, wrapped up his preparations for the game and told manager Dave Roberts he “feels good” if it needed to to pitch.
“I felt really confident that I could help the team win a ball game tonight,” Phillips said. “I take great pride in being healthy and available.”
The only problem: Fatigue eventually caught up with Phillips, helping him give up three runs and miss the save early in the ninth inning, costing the Dodgers in the red 9-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I found it a bit of a challenge to be ready for the third day in a row,” said Phillips. “It really hurts that it didn’t come out on the right page for us.”
Having entered the game with a team-best 1.85 ERA and just one botched save, Phillips looked out of character from the start.
He completed two one-time walks, the first time in a year he had walked multiple batters in a single appearance. In the next attack, Pirates third baseman Jared Triolo put a low slider back in center for a game-winning single, ending Phillips’ 10-game streak without points.
There was little that Phillips could do about the Pirates’ decisive goal, throwing a 0-and-2 cutter into the zone that Josh Palacios sliced the other way for a two-run double on the line.
But as the inning ended, second speculation about the Dodgers’ decision to field Phillips — especially after Roberts told reporters before the game that Phillips would be rested Tuesday night — was just beginning.
“I don’t know if it was the workload or whatever,” Roberts said of Phillips’ problems, “but when the player says he’s feeling good, you have to trust him.”
Phillips added after only his second outing in three races this year, “That fatigue is kind of underlying. It’s hard to be aware of. But it’s a challenge that I accepted and told myself that I could be aware of and make this outing. It just didn’t work out like that.”
The Dodgers’ pitching problems began long before Phillips took the mound.
Rookie starter Emmet Sheehan only lasted 3 ⅔ innings and gave up five runs after some mechanical inconsistencies led to four hits and four costly walks.
“I’ve felt like I’ve gotten better since I’ve been here,” said Sheehan, who now has a 4.35 ERA in four MLB starts. “This week was obviously my worst yet. But I just have to work on it and I’ll be back next week.”
With Sheehan facing a two-on, two-out jam in the fourth inning, Roberts decided to turn to the bullpen early and called in his only left-hander, Caleb Ferguson, to pin down one of the runners.
“If you have to use Ferguson in the fourth inning to minimize damage,” said Roberts, “then the error rate is certainly minimized.”
Still, the Dodgers (47-38) rallied.
Mookie Betts tied for fifth place in the majors with his 23rd home run of the year.
James Outman ended a 34-game home run drought by hitting two crucial hits: a two-run home run in the second inning to give the Dodgers a 3-2 lead, then another two-run shot in the fourth inning.
Early in the sixth round, the Pirates (40-45) pulled out again when Henry Davis hit an RBI single against Gavin Stone, the right-hander who returned to the Dodgers’ big league this week as a long in relief.
However, Stone was able to limit the damage later in the inning by escaping a bases-filled jam.
Then, at the end of the eighth field, rookie outfielder Jonny Deluca came off the bench and hit his first career home run down left field, where he earned a curtain from a crowd of 51,487 after leading the Dodgers 7-6 had brought.
“Those are obviously the places you always dream of,” said Deluca, an Agoura High School product who grew up a Dodgers fan. “You can’t really describe it in words. It’s just very special that it’s here.”
As soon as Deluca’s home run landed in the seats, Phillips got off his in the Dodgers’ bullpen and began warming up.
At that point Brusdar Graterol was the only other option for the team and he would have made his third appearance in four days.
With Phillips’ confidence still ringing in his ears before the game, Roberts decided to turn to his most trusted reliever for the last three outs.
“Especially after Jonny hit such a big home run for the team, I really felt like that was the momentum shift that we needed,” Phillips said. “That I could come in and finish the game for us.”
Instead, just like the Independence Day fireworks that lit the sky around the Chávez Gorge, the plan blew up before the team’s eyes.
“We did our best. We’re capable of winning the game,” said Roberts. “It just didn’t happen.”
Phillips reiterated, “It really hurts without a doubt.”