NEW YORK -- Sometimes it boils down to a couple of throws. Maybe an angle or a better read.
At least that’s the way it seemed for Kyle Kendrick and the Phillies on Tuesday night at Citi Field during the 5-0 loss to the Mets (see Instant Replay). Kendrick suffered his 11th loss of the season and continued his string of rough outings during the second half. In six innings he allowed five runs with only one of those earned.
The unearned runs in the four-run sixth were more than enough for Mets’ starter Jonathon Niese, who pitched a complete-game shutout, allowing just three hits to even his record at 6-6. Worse for Kendrick, Niese scored the first run of the game on a two-out single by Daniel Murphy in the third inning before blasting a bases-loaded double to drive in three runs on an epic, nine-pitch at-bat in the sixth.
Indeed, it was Niese’s night.
“It was kind of a one-man show,” manager Ryne Sandberg said. “Niese [had a] three-run hit. He was on top of his game. Not too many pitches for strikes too high above the knees. Cutters and sinkers. Pretty stress-free on the mound.”
The stress came when the Phillies were on defense when every time they had to make a play, they didn’t. Niese scored from second -- after running through third-base coach Tim Teufel’s stop sign -- even though the throw from rightfielder John Mayberry Jr. arrived before he got to the plate. The problem wasn’t the alacrity of the throw, but it was the accuracy. Mayberry’s throw pulled catcher Erik Kratz too far up the third-base line to make a play on Niese at the plate.
Kevin Frandsen, playing at first base in Sandberg’s righty-heavy batting lineup, seemed to have a bead on Andrew Brown going to second on a grounder by Ike Davis. The problem was when Frandsen pivoted, his throw sailed, offering Jimmy Rollins no chance to make a play.
Instead of one out and a runner on first, the Mets had second and third and nobody out.
“From my vantage point, it would have been close,” Sandberg said. “But still, a good throw might have nipped him. It was wide. He did have a sure out at first base, but any time you can get the lead runner and keep the double play, that's a good thing too. It looked like an accurate throw gets the guy.”
Kendrick bore down on Wilmer Flores by getting him to ground out to third base. With one out, Juan Lagares was intentionally walked to load the bases. That’s when Travis d’Arnaud flied out to medium center field, offering Roger Bernadina a chance to get the runner tagging for home.
The problem was Bernadina took too long. He wound up, took a crow hop and then fired it in way too late to get Brown.
Still, the damage was manageable for Kendrick. With two outs, he intentionally walked the No. 8 hitter Omar Quinanilla to bring up Niese. Easy out, right?
Not on Tuesday night it wasn’t.
Niese made Kendrick work and then when he got a pitch he could handle, he blasted it to the fence in left-center to clear the bases. Just like that, Kendrick and the Phillies were finished.
“I mean, it was his night,” Kendrick said. “On the walk, he took some good pitches in. On the hit, the same thing, he took some pitches in and just got lucky. If he has a bat up there, he’s swinging. It was just his night out there, I guess.”
On the flip side, it hasn’t been Kendrick’s half. Each month has gotten progressively worse for the right-hander, who had some stellar outings early in the season. But August hasn’t been kind at all for Kendrick. In five outings he is 1-3 with a 4.94 ERA. His ERA actually dropped after Tuesday’s game, though it should be noted that he has allowed 22 runs in the month and the opposition is batting .317 off him.
Of course the errors don’t help matters much, either.
“We’re not trying to make errors, I know that,” Kendrick said. “You just have to pitch your way through it, and I wasn’t able to do that. I just have to keep battling. That’s what I’m going to do. I just need to put up zeroes. Almost doesn’t count.”
Almost would have been an improvement for the Phillies’ offense, though. They had one runner get to second base and Michael Young had two of the three hits. Sandberg hoped a right-handed heavy offense would work well against the lefty Niese. The problem was lefties have carved up the Phillies pretty much any way they line up.
“Our numbers all year against left-handed pitching are not impressive,” Sandberg said. “That's something that needs to be addressed. For sure, right-handed bats. We have some left-handed hitters that can show some improvement there. As a team, we have struggled against left-handed pitching.”
But let’s not leave out the righties, either. After all, Tuesday’s game was the 13th time this season the Phillies had been shut out.