By Hal McCoy
Nick Lodolo pitched the game of his life and suffered the disappointment of his baseball life Saturday afternoon in Citizens Bank Park.
But that’s life with the Cincinnati Reds bullpen. Alexis Diaz and Ian Gibaut gave up three runs in the bottom of the ninth and the Philadelphia Phillies walked it off, 3-2, a heart-stabbing third straight Cincinnati defeat.
Beating the defending champion Phillies is like pulling teeth with bare hands for the Reds — eight losses in their last confrontations with Philadelphia, six straight in Citizens Bank Park.
Lodolo had the defending champion Phillies completely flummoxed and floundering for seven innings — no runs, three hits, two walks (one intentional) and a career-best 12 strikeouts.
He crushed the top three batters in the Phillies order, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber and J.T. Realmuto, holding them to 0 for 8 with six strikeouts.
But after 106 pitches, Reds manager David Bell turned it over to the bullpen, and he went with his best, bringing in closer Alexis Diaz in the eighth inning to face the top of the order.
That worked. He struck out all three, Turner, Schwarber and Realmuto.
Then he sent him back out for the ninth to protect a 2-0 lead. That didn’t work. The Phillies scored three runs, ending it with a walk-off single by Bryson Stott.
Diaz hadn’t pitched in five days and he sat for a long spell in the top of the ninth while the Reds scored what they thought was an insurance run.
Spencer Steer, the second batter of the game, gave Lodolo a 1-0 lead in the top of the first with a 438-foot home run to dead center. It came on a big-bending curveball against lanky left-hander Bailey Falter.
And the Reds put two more runners on base in the first, but Falter didn’t falter and at one point retired 12 straight.
The Reds made it 2-0 in the ninth on a walk, TJ Friedl’s seemingly daily bunt hit and Jake Fraley’s sacrifice fly.
It was apparent quickly that the ninth-inning Diaz was not the eighth-inning Diaz. He walked Nick Castellanos and advance him to second with a wild pitch.
Alex Bohm singled to center, sending Castellanos to third. Pinch-hitter Brandon Marsh singled to right, scoring a run and sending Bohm to third.
Marsh stole second, putting the tying run on third and the winning run on second. That’s when Bell brought in Gibaut. On the first pitch, Edmundo Sosa flied to center, a sacrifice fly that tied it, 2-2.
Bryson Scott singled to right and Marsh sprinted home into a bevy of Phillies greeters with the winning run.
“I came into the ninth with the same mentality (as the eighth) and they just found some holes,” said Diaz through a translator during a post-game clubhouse interview. “They found holes where the ball couldn’t get caught.”
Of the long spell between the eighth and ninth, Diaz said, “I felt just as comfortable in the ninth as I did in the eighth. I was ready to pitch. My arm was warmed up and I was ready to go in the ninth. I didn’t feel any difference.
“I had the same plan for the ninth inning and they made their adjustments to the way they were attacking us,” he added. “They made their adjustments and got their hits and runs in the ninth.”
Bell said the plan was for Diaz to face the top of the order and to go back and finish the deal in the ninth. Instead, the Phillies finished him.
“He dominated in the eighth (three strikeouts) and it’s a tough ask for him to back out for the ninth,” said Bell. “He just didn’t have the same stuff in the ninth. The long wait between innings could have been (a factor). He was on a lot of rest, probably more than he’ll have the rest of the year.
“We started getting him ready in the seventh and to stay ready throug the top of the eighth,” Bell added. “The long top of the ninth caught up to him. Too many pitches (32), too much rest in between, but he was so good, really dominated in the eighth. We wanted him to at least get a couple of outs in the ninth.”
He got none, showing that a pitcher can go from hero to hobo with a couple of errant pitches.
Lodolo’s mastery was evident in the first inning when he struck out the side. He retired the first seven Phillies before Bryson Stott singled in the third.
Lodolo then committed a throwing error on Christian Pache’s bunt. A passed ball on catcher Tyler Stephenson put runners on third and second. Lodolo struck out Turner for the second out. Schwarber grounded to third and Steer made a diving lunge on Pache, who made a head first slide.
Pache was called safe and Stott trotted home. The Reds challenged and Pache was called out. The run didn’t count. It would have counted had Stott sprinted home and crossed the plate before Steer tagged Pache. But Stott trotted and didn’t touch home before the tag. No run.
That was Lodolo’s only inning of mischief by the Phillies.
“Lodolo dominated a really good lineup,” said Bell, although the Phillies are missing two of their best offensive parts, Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins.
“He had it all working, threw his change-up, but mostly used his fastball and was really good with his breaking ball,” added Bell. “Those are really good hitters and he had complete control of the game. We got a tack-on run in the ninth with Fraley’s sacrifice fly. But that’s a really good team and we were unable to hold on to it.”