Phillies Game Story

Phillies fooled by the knuckleball in series-ending loss to San Diego

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Wednesday afternoon was the first time the Phillies faced a knuckle-baller in nearly seven years — prior to the arrival of every position player on the roster — and it showed in a series-ending 5-2 loss to the Padres.

Matt Waldron kept the Phils off balance over seven innings, allowing just a solo home run to Bryce Harper in the third. The only inning they put multiple men on base was the bottom of the first. Nick Castellanos struck out and Brandon Marsh flied out to end that threat, with both expressing dissatisfaction to umpire Jeremie Rehak on called strikes they felt floated out of the zone. One did, the other did not.

There haven't been many knuckle-ballers, period, in the major leagues over the last decade and the Phillies hadn't seen one since R.A. Dickey on August 30, 2017, a lineup that included guys like Nick Williams and Pedro Florimon. Waldron entered having thrown his knuckler three of every eight pitches but did so nearly 50% of the time Wednesday. He had little reason to abandon it. It fooled the Phillies, and the Harper homer came on a fastball. Harper added another solo shot in the eighth inning for the Phils' only other run.

“When you face a guy with a knuckleball, you tend to know what to do with it, but he’s a lot different than other guys because he has four or five other pitches that he throws,” Bryson Stott said. “He had good command of his knuckleball today. 

“It’s tough. Your gut is to sell out on that first pitch and hope it’s a cutter or four-seamer and then he’ll throw the good knuckleball and you hit it off the end (of the bat). He did a really good job of mixing and matching and throwing his knuckleball when he needed it. He tends not to throw the knuckleball in hitters counts and today he was.

“I don’t even know if he knows what it’s gonna do, really. You see it for so long, the laces aren’t moving. The one hit Bohm and then he’ll throw it in the same spot and it’s in the other batter’s box. Just a tough pitch.”

Pitching in front of his wife and two children for the first time as a pro, Ranger Suarez made another strong start, allowing just a solo homer to Jackson Merrill over six innings. He didn't factor into the decision, escaping a first-and-third jam in the top of the sixth to end his afternoon at 94 pitches. Suarez' ERA barely moved, decreasing to a major-league-leading 1.75 from 1.77. He has allowed two runs or fewer in 12 of his 15 starts.

Orion Kerkering came on in relief in the seventh inning and pitched his first clunker in a month, hitting a batter and allowing a pair of two-out singles, the second of which plated San Diego's go-ahead run. He owns a 1.69 ERA and remains one of the Phillies' most trusted relievers.

Seranthony Dominguez was charged with three runs in the eighth inning, all of them unearned because of an Alec Bohm error. Two batters after Bohm's bobble, Marsh sold out in center field attempting a diving catch with the bases loaded and two outs but the ball went just under his glove, resulting in a bases-clearing triple for Kyle Higashioka. (Does recently optioned Johan Rojas make that play?)

The Phils were unable to achieve their 10th sweep in the last 19 series but did win two of three over the Padres. They're 49-25 with an off-day Thursday and a three-game set looming this weekend against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the teams' first meeting since the shocking result of the 2023 NLCS.

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