It is the cruelest game, a game that inserts a lefthanded pitcher with a 6.50 ERA against a first-place team that mashes lefthanders, and permits that pitcher to come within one strike of securing the best start of his career. Some fans at Citizens Bank Park clapped Wednesday night for Adam Morgan, who headed toward the dugout in the seventh inning of a 2-1 Phillies loss to Washington.
"The best I've seen him - probably ever," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said.
But Morgan's effort was unfinished.
The Phillies were swept. They mustered four hits on Monday, three on Tuesday and two on Wednesday. They, at least, are not scheduled to play Thursday.
This was Morgan's 31st start in the majors, and few before this one were as sharp. He retired 13 in a row until Anthony Rendon doubled to left with two outs in the seventh. That brought Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos to the plate.
They fought for eight pitches in a tie game. Morgan began with a change-up and a fastball. Ramos whiffed at both. Morgan fired a 92-mph fastball, up and in, that was close. Ball one.
Ramos worked a full count. He slashed a 93-mph fastball on the outer edge to right for a single that scored the decisive run.
"I definitely want to improve, get out of the seventh inning, and finish strong," Morgan said. "But it's a good one to build off of."
Morgan learned a two-seam fastball during his recent demotion to triple-A Lehigh Valley, and it is a pitch he often relied upon Wednesday. He recorded 10 of his 20 outs on the ground. What he has noticed most is how the new pitch generates weaker contact on the ground than before.
"I see it working wonders," Morgan said.
It could be that Morgan's future is in the bullpen. Last week, Mackanin said he shared with Morgan the story of Zach Duke, a player Mackanin once coached. Duke had, in Mackanin's words, "vanilla stuff" that was much like Morgan's. He kept searching for improvement. He found a lucrative path to big-league success as a lefty reliever.
"You never give up on lefties," Mackanin said.
Morgan's current task is to eat innings for a team that desperately needs it. Washington entered the game with a .794 OPS against lefties. That ranked fourth in baseball. Jayson Werth murdered Morgan's 12th pitch of the night, a 91-mph fastball that flew to the camera well above the green-covered brick batter's eye in center field. It was a prodigious homer, the 37-year-old Werth's 20th of the season.
And, until there were two outs in the seventh, Washington did not have another hit.
The Phillies tied it in the fifth when Freddy Galvis launched his 15th homer, a remarkable number considering that the team's player-development staff once was so concerned about Galvis' strength that it had him build muscle by pushing a car around a field in Florida.
Galvis has his warts, chief among them being that he chases too many pitches. But his power uptick at age 26, combined with elite defense at shortstop, makes him an interesting player.
It is just the eighth time in Phillies history a shortstop posted 15 or more homers and 20 or more doubles in a season. Jimmy Rollins did it in six seasons. Granny Hamner did it in 1952. And, now, Galvis.
That served as some consolation on another lost night.
"Nine hits in a three-game series isn't going to cut it," Mackanin said. "We're just not hitting the ball. We need more offense, obviously."