The formula was working perfectly Monday night. Another Phillies victory was nigh.
Jake Arrieta pitched eight sparkling innings, the latest gem from a Phillies starter in a week filled with them. Asdrubal Cabrera and Odubel Herrera fueled a mellifluous two-run rally in the seventh inning. And rookie phenom Seranthony Dominguez was two outs from nailing down another save.
Then it all went haywire.
Dominguez gave up two runs on three hits, including a solo home run, and blew his second save in as many games. The game lurched into the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th and finally the 14th inning. The Phillies lifted three of their best hitters — Rhys Hoskins, Cabrera and Nick Williams — for defensive replacements. The Arizona Diamondbacks gave a Japanese reliever his first major-league at-bat with the winning run in scoring position even though they had a hitter left on the bench.
As the East Coast slept, things got weird in the desert. And then, at last, Diamondbacks outfielder David Peralta slugged a solo homer that barely cleared the left-field fence against reliever Austin Davis to beat the Phillies, 3-2, snap their five-game winning streak and get their six-game West Coast trip off to a rough start.
“The only thing that I can think of that went wrong is that I hung a slider,” Dominguez said through a team translator, referring to the pitch that Peralta hit out in the ninth inning to cut the Phillies’ lead to 2-1. “It should’ve been lower. It should’ve been on the plate. But it stayed up. That could have been huge.”
Let’s pause here, for just a moment, to acknowledge something that has gotten lost in this delightfully surprising Phillies season. Dominguez, manager Gabe Kapler’s bullpen ace, has been a reliever for five months. He was a starter coming up in the minor leagues, and until this year, he hadn’t pitched above high-A ball. And here he is, in the heat of a playoff race, making almost all of his appearances in high-leverage, high-stress spots.
If he could use a breather, it wouldn’t be surprising.
“I feel normal, I feel fine, I feel healthy, strong,” Dominguez said, although the numbers — five runs allowed in his last seven appearances after giving up six runs in his first 29 outings — indicate otherwise. “Sometimes I don’t get the results that I want. But I have to keep working hard to get to that.”
Yet Dominguez also admitted he has solicited advice for how best to get through the dog days of August and a playoff push in September. This is all new to him. He has never pitched after Labor Day in a season before.
“The majority of the people that I’ve spoken with have given me some advice, which is to save my bullets — try to throw just a few pitches when I do a bullpen or when I’m throwing [between appearances],” he said. “And during the game, try to get guys out quick. We want to save our bullets for October and the playoffs.”
Dominguez trotted in from the bullpen after Arrieta blanked the Diamondbacks for eight innings and promptly retired Paul Goldschmidt. But Peralta hit a solo home run and Eduardo Escobar followed with a double. Steven Souza Jr. tied the game with an RBI single before Kapler pulled Dominguez in favor of Luis Garcia.
“This is not his best. I’m not blind,” Kapler said. “The reality is he’s not pitching his best right now. But we are not wavering in our confidence in him whatsoever. We cannot wait to get him back out on the mound because we understand how good he is and the talent will prevail.”
OK, but what about Dominguez’s confidence? He has never struggled before, at least not as a reliever.
“I think naturally it’s going to be slightly shaken, but he’s a pretty resilient kid,” Kapler said. “He’s pretty strong mentally. He’s pretty tough across the board, and I don’t expect this to keep him down.”
In extra innings, relievers Adam Morgan, Victor Arano and Tommy Hunter passed the baton until they got to Davis in the 14th inning. Davis, who grew up in nearby Scottsdale, had a vocal rooting section seated along the right-field line. And as the Diamondbacks gathered at home plate to greet Peralta, Davis stared out at the outfield, disbelieving the way the 4-hour, 38-minute marathon at Chase Field had ended.
“Losing a game just stinks, really,” Arrieta said. “But two first-place teams going at it, and it’s no easy task to score a couple of runs off Seranthony and the guys that came in behind him. So, credit them for sticking with it.”
The Phillies’ rotation is rolling right along. Kapler beamed with pride the other day when he cited one of his favorite metrics — fielding independent pitching — to illustrate the success of the Phillies’ starters. But the traditional numbers look just as gaudy.
Over the last seven games, Aaron Nola, Arrieta, Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin have combined to give up nine runs in 49 1/3 innings for a 1.64 ERA. Nola is third in the NL with a 2.37 ERA. Arrieta’s ERA is down to 3.11, seventh in the league. Velasquez (3.80) ranks 16th. If Eflin had enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, he would be 14th at 3.61.
Arrieta has a 2.28 ERA in his last seven starts and was in complete control once again. What he lacked in overpowering stuff (he got only seven swings and misses) he made up for in efficiency. He retired the side in order on 10 pitches in the first inning, 11 in the fourth and 12 in the fifth. He got even better late in the game, retiring 13 of the last 14 batters and allowing only an infield single after Souza’s two-out double in the fourth inning.
“I feel bad for Jake,” Dominguez said. “He pitched a great game. What I really wanted the most was to get him that win and to help the team win.”