Phillies win in 9th after Jeanmar Gomez coughs up lead

The ninth inning of a 4-3 Phillies win began with a Jeanmar Gomez jog from the bullpen to the mound as his trademark religious ballad filled the air inside Citizens Bank Park. The soundtrack, by the middle of the inning, was harsher. Those who dotted the blue seats Sunday afternoon launched loud groans at the Venezuelan closer.

"Today," Gomez said, "was really tough."

The Phillies won because Cesar Hernandez shot a broken-bat single to left that scored Daniel Nava with the decisive run and saved Gomez. But Gomez, who surrendered a game-tying, three-run homer, reopened a festering issue that could force a decision Monday on a new closer.

It is a role that lacks gravitas on a rebuilding team, but Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has watched Gomez allow two home runs in his two save opportunities this season after he lost his job last September. The Phillies deferred to Gomez's 37 saves from a season ago as evidence for his continued status as closer.

That thinking could change just one week into this season.

Mackanin said the team would discuss a possible move. He planned to have a resolution before Monday night's series opener against the Mets.

"It's not something you want to think about," Mackanin said. "We just have to be practical and do what is best for the team."

Mackanin hinted last week that Gomez's margin for error had thinned. When Gomez allowed a two-run homer on opening day cut a three-run lead to a one-run lead, the manager activated two arms in the bullpen in case Gomez fell into deeper trouble.

Gomez said his confidence is not shaken, despite Mackanin's disclosure that a possible change could be near.

"You can control what you can control," Gomez said. "You don't have control of that. You have to get ready for the next situation. When you come to the ballpark, you get ready for the role that you have. You watch the video and that's what the video is for. You try to fix it."

The least-disruptive solution would be to bump Gomez into a middle relief role that he held before he emerged as closer last season and push the other relievers back an inning. That would elevate Hector Neris to closer, with Joaquin Benoit and Edubray Ramos as setup men.

But Neris has flashed his value as a durable reliever deployed in the tightest situations. He did just that Sunday when asked to inherit runners on the corners and two outs in the seventh inning. Neris threw one pitch and extinguished the jam created by Pat Neshek with a groundout to short.

Neris, Benoit, and Neshek have combined to pitch nine scoreless innings in the season's first six games. They have struck out 10 and permitted just eight base runners. The Phillies spent $14 million on Benoit and Neshek to upgrade their middle relief corps. That investment, after one week, looks shrewd, especially if Gomez regresses to a spot in the middle innings.

Gomez said he felt a little squeezed by home-plate umpire James Hoye. He walked Jayson Werth on five pitches before Zimmerman's blast.

"I thought they were good pitches," rookie catcher Andrew Knapp said. "The zone was pretty tight today, but it was consistent. He stayed pretty true to the zone; we just had to work around that."

A day after the Phillies blitzed the Nationals with a 17-run outburst, this proved to be a greater challenge. The Phillies overcame an injury to their starting pitcher and their closer's failure to capture a series victory from Washington, the division's titan.

Hernandez delivered two run-scoring singles, one on a weak grounder and the other on his broken-bat bloop to left that fell in front of Werth. The former Phillies outfielder snatched the ball, tossed it toward the stands, and retreated as the home team stormed the field.

"It shows the importance of contact," Washington manager Dusty Baker said. "When you make contact, anything can happen. They played us tough this series, but we definitely let that one get away today."

That sentiment is why the Phillies could anoint a new closer Monday.

(STEVEN M. FALK/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER) Cesar Hernandez celebrates with teammates Odubel Herrera and Tommy Joseph after a walk-off base hit to beat the Nationals.


Hail Cesar: Phillies 4, Nationals 3

This team, right? This team! I love this team!

The Phillies pulled off a 4-3 walk-off win against the Nationals today, stringing together walks and hits in the bottom of the ninth to overcome a blown save that almost ruined the entire game.

It started so, so well. Stephen Strasburg allowed two walks in the second inning, and Freddy Galvis knocked in a single to make him pay. In the fifth inning, Andrew Knapp doubled and would come around to score on a single from Cesar Hernandez. Then Hernandez would score when Howie Kendrick (who is hitting .429 by the way) doubled.

That whole time, Jeremy Hellickson was straight dealing. Through five innings, he allowed just one hit and one walk. He looked so good. But during his warm-up pitches before the sixth, he called out the trainer, who looked like he was trying to massage his hand. He left the game due to what we now know was a forearm cramp, so thankfully it doesn’t seem to be much to worry about. Joaquin Benoit, Pat Neshek, and Hector Neris held down the next three innings without incident.

And then Jeanmar Gomez stepped onto the mound. He had a great outing a just a few days ago, right? He was sure to be back to normal, right?

NOPE. N. O. P. E.

In the ninth inning, Gomez he gave up a single to Adam Lind, and then walked Jayson Werth. There were two outs, he could have gotten out of it. But he didn’t. He allowed a three-run home run to Ryan Zimmerman, and the game was tied.

Gomez’s ERA is now a crisp 15.00, by the way.

So we started over in the bottom of the ninth. The Nationals sent Koda Glover to the mound, and the Phillies sent Daniel Nava to the plate to lead-off. He drew a walk, and after Andrew Knapp flied out, Freddy Galvis singled and now there were two men on with one out. Strike that, two outs, because Brock Stassi popped out to second.

Cesar Hernandez came up next, and if you want to know if there might be in a little magic in this team, this should prove it. Cesar’s game winning hit splintered his bat, and landed just barely in front of Werth in left field. Daniel Nava scored, and there was much celebration.

This is the first time since April 10-12, 2015 that the Phillies have won a series against the Nationals, which is incredible. Last year, the Nationals punished the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. They won only one game against them at CBP the entire year. Just a few games into 2017, the Phillies have surpassed that mark. So no matter what happens the rest of the season, we can look at that and remember the series where the Phillies punished the Nationals.


PETE MACKANIN SOUNDS READY TO REMOVE JEANMAR GOMEZ FROM CLOSER'S ROLE

Ninth innings like Sunday can happen when your fifth-best reliever is your closer.

Four Phillies pitchers -- Jeremy Hellickson, Joaquin Benoit, Pat Neshek and Hector Neris -- had completely silenced the Nationals' potent offense Sunday afternoon through eight innings.

The Phils were on their way to a 3-0 win when Jeanmar Gomez put two men on the in the ninth and allowed a massive three-run home run to Ryan Zimmerman.

It was the second homer Gomez has allowed already this season in three appearances. In two of those appearances, he entered with a three-run lead. One became a one-run save. The other was a blown save Sunday in a game the Phils came back to win, 4-3, on Cesar Hernandez's walk-off single.

So, of course, the first question manager Pete Mackanin was asked after the game was about the closer's role.

"I'm going to have a talk with him tomorrow," Mackanin said of Gomez. "I'll have something for you tomorrow. I need to talk with him."

Mackanin deflected a few more questions by saying news would come Monday after he's able to have a conversation with Gomez, but it's pretty clear just by his saying this that a change is coming. The Phillies simply can't afford to be using Gomez in the ninth inning when Neris, Benoit, and even Neshek and Edubray Ramos have better stuff.

Yes, Gomez saved 37 games last season. But it wasn't a dominant 37-save season. Most spent the season wondering when his decline would begin, and in September Gomez completely fell apart, his ERA soaring from 2.97 to 4.85. Mackanin had hoped Gomez's command would be closer to what it was last April through August but it hasn't been. He wanted to begin the season with Gomez closing because he felt he couldn't go back to Gomez if someone else failed early in the season.

But a week into the season, that change could already be on the way.

"We just have to do what we have to do," Mackanin said. "Like I said, I'm going to talk to Jeanmar tomorrow. I didn't talk to him today. I'll have something for you tomorrow. We'll discuss it. It's not something you want to think about. We just have to be practical and do what is best for the team and we'll know tomorrow."

Neris would seem to be the obvious choice because he's a closer-in-waiting with an elite strikeout pitch (his splitter), a mid-90s fastball and a whole lot of confidence.

The problem is, if Neris becomes the closer, then the Phillies won't have that weapon in high-leverage situations in the seventh or eighth innings. Look at Sunday, for example. Neris came in for Neshek with two men on base and two outs in the seventh and got out of the jam, then picked up two huge strikeouts of Adam Eaton and Bryce Harper in the eighth. A lot of times the highest-leverage situations come before the ninth inning.

That's where Benoit comes in. Benoit has 51 career saves in 16 seasons. He saved 24 games with a 2.01 ERA for the 2013 Tigers and saved 11 with a 2.34 ERA for the 2014 Padres. He's 39 years old but he's been an elite reliever for eight seasons now, posting a 2.39 ERA over his last 442 appearances. And he's still throwing in the mid-90s.

Neris' value as a setup man has to weigh on Mackanin's decision. Plus, using Benoit as a closer would increase his trade value ahead of the deadline.

When asked if Neris' dominance as a setup man will impact the decision, Mackanin again sidestepped. He doesn't want to give reporters the decision before he gives it to Gomez.

Gomez felt he was squeezed by the home-plate umpire Sunday, particularly on Jayson Werth's at-bat in which two pitches just off the outside corner were called balls. Werth walked, setting up Zimmerman's homer.

Gomez has been used in all sorts of roles throughout his career -- last season was his first as a closer -- so he's not exactly fretting over the likely change.

"You can control what you can control," he said. "You don't have control of [the manager's decision]. You have to get ready for the next situation. When you come to the ballpark, you get ready for the role that you have. You (don't) know the future."

You don't know the future, but you can assume what news is coming Monday.

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