PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Philadelphia Phillies were in perfect position for a rare road comeback. Bases loaded. Tying run on third. Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Tony Watson on the ropes.
Then the missteps that have highlighted a rapidly disintegrating season reappeared. Two forceouts at home and a routine grounder to second later, Watson was off the hook and the Phillies were on their way to a 4-3 loss.
“We put ourselves in a good situation to not only tie but possibly win,” Philadelphia manager Ryne Sandberg said. “It’s a situation where young players were up there and it’s something that they’ll experience and grow from.”
If the Phillies want to snap out of a funk that has dropped them to the worst record in the majors, they don’t have a choice. Ben Revere got three hits for Philadelphia and Maikel Franco and Freddy Galvis each had two, though both came up empty with the game in the balance in the eighth.
Trailing by two, Revere led off with a double off Watson and scored on a pinch-hit single by Jeff Francoeur to pull Philadelphia within one. With the bases loaded, Franco and Cody Asche hit choppers that turned into force plays at the plate and Galvis rolled a Watson offering to second base and the inning was over.
Philadelphia went 1 for 13 with runners in scoring position and has dropped eight of nine overall.
“Those are game situations and it’s been over-anxious,” Sandberg said. “It’s been a combination of things but sometimes it’s just putting the ball in play to pick up a run.”
Sean O’Sullivan (1-5) muddled through six innings, walking four with just one strikeout for Philadelphia but couldn’t quite match Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole, who became the first pitcher in the majors to reach 10 wins.
Cole (10-2) allowed two runs, one earned, in six innings. He struck out seven without a walk to trim his ERA to a major-league best 1.71 while winning his fifth consecutive start.
Starling Marte had three hits and an RBI for Pittsburgh. Gregory Polanco added two hits and Andrew McCutchen drove in two runs the Pirates handed the Phillies their ninth straight road loss. Mark Melancon worked a perfect ninth for his 20th save.
Philadelphia actually hit Cole harder than the Pirates hit O’Sullivan, but Pittsburgh took advantage of the few opportunities it was given. The Pirates scored a pair of runs in the first when the Phillies twice unsuccessfully tried to throw out the lead runner on a fielder’s choice. They added two more in the second on a single, a walk and two infield hits by Marte and McCutchen.
Staked to a 4-1 lead, Cole dug in. Franco doubled leading off the fourth and scored on a groundout by Galvis in the fourth but Cole would not allow another baserunner as the Pirates won their third straight and improved to 21-11 since May 9, the best record in the majors.
Philadelphia reliever Ken Giles is an emotional guy. Those emotions got the best of him during Friday night’s 1-0, 13-inning loss when Giles drew the ire of Sandberg for his actions during an eventful inning of work. Giles committed a throwing error, then became animated when ordered to intentionally walk Pedro Alvarez. Giles eventually escaped a bases-loaded jam when he struck out Jordy Mercer to end the eighth. The right-hander waved at Mercer as if shooing him back to the dugout. Sandberg took exception and confronted Giles in the aftermath, leading to a heated exchange in which neither player or manager held back. Giles admitted he got “a little too fired up” when the call for an intentional walk came in.
“I’m just out there to compete,” Giles said. “I don’t like giving freebies. I understand the situation of the game. I just don’t like giving freebies. That’s about it.”
The Phillies recalled OF Domonic Brown from Triple-A Lehigh Valley following the game and sent OF Darin Ruf to the minors. Brown, who had 27 homers for Philadelphia in 2013, hit .257 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 52 games at Triple-A. Ruf hit just .235 in 43 games for the Phillies.
The series concludes on Sunday when Pittsburgh’s A.J. Burnett (6-2, 2.11 ERA) faces Cole Hamels (5-5, 3.11). Burnett — who spent last season with the Phillies before turning down a player option to return in 2015, opting to sign with the Pirates instead — earned a 7-2 decision against Philadelphia on May 12. Hamels is 3-2 with a 2.73 ERA in eight career starts against Pittsburgh and gave up two runs in seven innings of a victory over the Pirates on May 13.