MIAMI — It was about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, roughly 3 ½ hours before game time, and as they milled about their clubhouse at Marlins Park, members of the Phillies' traveling party peeked at a bank of televisions. Right there, before their eyes, the Atlanta Braves were blowing 7-1 and 8-7 leads in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively, at home against the Boston Red Sox.
In the midst of a playoff race, could there possibly be a greater gift than that?
But the Phillies, who are winless in their last nine series and haven't won a series since a four-game sweep of the Marlins on Aug. 2-5, still needed to cash in. If they were really going to make the division-leading Braves regret their worst loss of the season, they had to defeat the lowly Miami Marlins, who were sending a 22-year-old rookie starter to the mound for the finale of a three-game series.
So much for that.
File away the Phillies' 2-1 loss, played before an announced crowd of 6,427, among the many opportunities they have missed over these past few weeks. They mustered only six hits, three through the first seven innings against Sandy Alcantara, went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, and remained three games behind the Braves with 23 games remaining.
"We saw it," slugger Rhys Hoskins said of the Braves' outcome, "but at the end of the day, if we do what we need to do, if we play the way that we can, we're going to be right where we need to be regardless of what they're doing. Yeah, we were watching their game, but for the most part, we're focused on what we need to do on the field to come away with a win each night."
It was a particularly rough night for speedy rookie Roman Quinn. He made a costly mistake on the bases in the eighth inning, getting doubled off first on a line drive by Carlos Santana, then struck out to end the game with the tying and go-ahead runs on base against Marlins closer Drew Steckenrider.
"I knew I was supposed to freeze on a line drive, and I took a step forward when I should've taken a step back," Quinn said. "It was just bad baserunning on my part."
But Quinn was hardly the only culpable Phillies hitter. With the tying run on first base in the eighth inning, Hoskins struck out on three pitches, waving at a fastball way out of the strike zone from reliever Kyle Barraclough. It was Hoskins' third strikeout of the game, leaving him in a 2-for-27 funk over his last eight games.
And although Jose Bautista stroked a pinch-hit double and scored on Asdrubal Cabrera's single in the eighth inning, the Phillies didn't get much from the rest of their deep bench. Odubel Herrera grounded into a double play in the fifth inning, and Wilson Ramos struck out on three pitches in the seventh. Before Quinn's game-ending strikeout, pinch-hitter Pedro Florimon struck out against Steckenrider.
In anticipation of facing Alcantara, manager Gabe Kapler stacked the top of the lineup with high on-base percentage hitters. But Alcantara (2-0, 0.75 ERA), making only his second career start, stymied the Phillies with a hard sinker that he kept down in the strike zone.
At one point, between Justin Bour reaching on a fielder's choice in the first inning and Jorge Alfaro's leadoff single in the fifth, Alcantara retired 11 of 13 batters.
"He was pretty good," Kapler said. "The ball was moving all over the place, had a ton of life. It was kind of the way you think of [Phillies reliever] Seranthony [Dominguez] when he comes out there. They had a guy that was throwing the same level of velocity, same looseness, same life on the ball, but doing it for a long period of time."
The Marlins pushed across runs in the second and fourth innings against Phillies starter Nick Pivetta. The rallies, neither of which featured an extra-base hit nor a particularly hard-hit ball, began in predictable ways — with a leadoff walk in the second inning and a hit batsman to open the fourth. In both cases, those leadoff runners came around to score.
And so, after the Braves suffered what they labeled as their worst loss of the season, the Phillies let them off the hook.