PHILADELPHIA — One by one, the Phillies’ pitchers took the mound Sunday afternoon.
It started with a 23-year-old making his major league debut.
Then came someone who hadn’t thrown in a big-league game since July, followed by more relievers from the back of the bullpen.
Eventually, one of these risky choices was going to backfire. It happened in the seventh inning with temperamental left-hander Jose Alvarado and with rookie Adonis Medina in the eighth.
The only way for the Phillies to survive was to hit and score plenty of runs.
They got shut out.
Philadelphia’s playoff hopes absorbed a critical blow as it lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-0 before 29,336 fans at Citizens Bank Park.
The Phillies (81-75) and the National League East-leading Braves will meet in a three-game series that starts Tuesday night in Atlanta. Philadelphia, which is seeking its first postseason appearance since 2011, will start that series at least two games back in the loss column, meaning the Phillies probably need to win all three games to maintain a realistic chance of making the postseason.
“We’re confident going into Atlanta,” outfielder Bryce Harper said. ‘We have to go down there and do our job and be ready to go from pitch one. A sweep would be nice.”
But is it realistic?
“You win one game Tuesday,” manager Joe Girardi said, “and then let’s see where we’re at.”
Sunday’s game turned in Pittsburgh’s favor in the top of the seventh.
Alvarado loaded the bases on three walks, one of them intentional.
Right-handed Ke-Bryan Hayes came off the bench to pinch hit. Girardi chose to stay with the left-handed Alvarado. Hayes laced the first pitch he saw, a 100.5 mph sinker, down the right-field line for a two-run double to give the Pirates a 3-0 lead.
Right-handed Hector Neris would have been an obvious choice to face Hayes. Neris did not pitch Saturday but threw 41 pitches Friday night.
Girardi said the plan was for Neris to close Sunday’s game. Girardi said regular closer Ian Kennedy as well as reliever Sam Coonrod, both righties, were unavailable.
Medina came out of the bullpen to pitch the eighth. He, too, struggled, allowing two runs on two hits and a walk.
Just for good measure, reliever Ramon Rosso balked in a run in the eighth.
Philadelphia was so strapped for pitching Sunday that it started Hans Crouse, who made his big-league debut.
The right-hander with a violent pitching motion came to the Phillies in the July trade that sent former pitching prospect Spencer Howard to the Texas Rangers.
Before Sunday, Crouse had pitched in one career game above Double-A and prior to this season had never pitched above Single-A.
Crouse learned Saturday night he would start Sunday.
“”It’s definitely been a whirlwind,” he said.
Pirates leadoff hitter Cole Tucker hit the first pitch Crouse threw, a 94 mph sinker, 359 feet into the right-field stands for a solo home run.
“I was just trying to throw a strike,” Crouse said. “I said to myself, ‘That’s one way to start a career.’”
After the home run, he settled down. He threw three innings, allowing just the one run. He struck out one and walked four but somehow escaped trouble, leaving two runners stranded in the first and third innings.
“I’m happy with the way I composed myself,” Crouse said.
The Phillies next turned to Cristopher Sanchez, who had not appeared in a big-league game since July 29. Sanchez threw two scoreless innings.
For six innings, the Phillies stayed close. But things fell apart with Alvarado and Medina. But the Phillies’ hitters must also shoulder much of the blame for the defeat.
Five Pirates, including rookie starter Max Kranick, held Philadelphia to six hits.
“We never got the hit when we needed it,” Girardi said. “We didn’t swing the bats particularly well. It’s unfortunate.”
Sunday was the last regular-season Phillies home game. The Phillie Phanatic danced to the Donna Summers “Last Dance” on top of the Philadelphia dugout after the top of the eighth.
Barring a Braves collapse, there won’t be baseball at Citizens Bank Park until April 8 when Philadelphia hosts the Oakland A’s in the 2022 home opener.
Everyone in the Phillies’ bullpen should be available that day.