MIAMI - The Phillies rolled into South Florida feeling really good about themselves after a two-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox. Phillies pitching held one of the best offenses in baseball to just four runs in that series and now it was time to keep the party going against one of the worst offenses in baseball.
For a while Friday night, the party rocked on and everyone was having a good ol' time.
Then, out of nowhere, the septic system backed up.
Actually, there was nothing wrong with the plumbing at Marlins Park, but you get the odious imagery. Phillies pitcher Vince Velasquez let a seven-run lead get away in the third inning and the Phils went on to suffer an embarrassing 19-11 loss to the lowly Miami Marlins in the heat of a playoff race.
It was the first time the Phils blew a 7-0 lead and lost since August 2003.
"Unacceptable," manager Gabe Kapler said afterward. "That's a game we have to win."
The night could not have started any better for Velasquez. He allowed just one base runner in the first two innings and took a 7-0 lead into the bottom of the third.
The Marlins tagged him for seven runs in that inning to tie the game. They also overcame a 9-7 deficit in the fifth inning on their way to hanging a 19-spot on the Phils. It's worth noting that the Marlins had lost 16 of their previous 19 and six in a row. They'd scored just 13 runs total in that six-game losing streak.
Their offense got well against Phillies pitching. The Marlins had seven extra-base hits, including four homers. The only Phillies pitchers not to give up runs were reliever Juan Nicasio, who threw just two pitches before leaving with a sore shoulder, and utility man Sean Rodriguez, who threw two pitches in mop-up duty.
In addition to the poor pitching, the Phils played poor defense, particularly at third base, where Brad Miller and Maikel Franco both struggled. Franco made an error that helped fuel the Marlins' five-run fifth inning. Four of those runs were unearned.
But the biggest problem the Phillies had on Friday night was Velasquez.
"I take full responsibility for the outcome of the game," he said. "As a pitcher you want that run support. What more do you want than a 7-zero lead and you end up giving it up.
"I feel pretty embarrassed and disappointed.
"It's a good sign that the bats are still alive. That's a great sign that everyone is pulling through offensively. But I'm embarrassed that I couldn't hold the lead and do my job as a pitcher and help the team on my behalf. I think as a team, we have to continue what we're doing offensively. I'm flat-out embarrassed on my end. There should be no excuses for that."
Kapler called it a "tough, tough loss," and added, "We go up, 7-0, and we just didn't make enough pitches. We weren't able to put hitters away. We weren't making enough plays on defense. We let a team back in the game that we shouldn't have let back in the game. It's that simple.
"We have to do a better job. We have to find ways to do a better job and then we have to quickly turn the page and come back and be ready to play tomorrow. Probably the most important thing we can do right now is have a short memory. Understand that this one sucks and that we have to protect an early lead and be better than that, and then come back tomorrow and be ready to play again."
The Marlins' seven-run rally in the third started when Velasquez hit a batter with an 0-2 pitch. Velasquez hit two batters in that inning and gave up five hits, including a three-run homer. Two innings later, Nick Pivetta allowed a go-ahead, two-run double to Neil Walker on an 0-2 pitch. Pivetta was charged with five runs in that inning, but only one was earned after an error by Franco.
Kapler probably could have gotten Velasquez out of the game sooner as the Marlins were pouring it on in the third.
"I think you wanted to display some confidence in a pitcher that's been pretty good for us, give him a chance to get out of that, give him a chance to give us a little bit of length and not have to burn through the bullpen," he said of Velasquez. "At that point, we had still all agreed he was our best option to get outs. He just wasn't able to get it done."
The Phillies, 2 1/2 games back in the wild-card race, needed to get greedy in this series, needed to play for the sweep. Now, they have to trust in struggling Zach Eflin on Saturday night before ace Aaron Nola goes on Sunday. The Phils have had a lot of problems with the Marlins this season. They are 6-8 against them. There are 35 games left and these next two games feel like must-wins.
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