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October 20, 2023

Instant observations: Craig Kimbrel blows late lead, Phillies drop Game 4 to D-backs, NLCS is tied

The Phillies lost. The NLCS is tied. And suddenly a Philadelphia club that looked completely unstoppable just a week ago is vulnerable.

The Phillies turned to Craig Kimbrel again, and for the second straight game, he burned them...again. 

This time it was a two-run lead gone in an instant off the bat of Arizona's Alek Thomas, and then two more runners left on for José Alvarado, who couldn't strand them as Arizona took the lead into the ninth. 

The Phillies lost, 6-5. The NLCS is tied 2-2 with Game 5 on Saturday night still in Arizona, and suddenly with a very vulnerable Philadelphia club that looked completely unstoppable just a week ago – heck, just a couple of day ago.

It is very much a series now, and here's why...

The Bad

• Will just get right to this at the top, because the Phillies had it, then turned to Craig Kimbrel in the eighth and completely lost it. 

For the second straight game, he just could not get guys out and it cost the Phillies severely. 

On Thursday, it was the walk-off defeat, and on Friday:

And the damage didn't stop there. 

He struck out Geraldo Perdomo for the second out, but then got tagged for a base hit by Ketel Marte and hit Corbin Caroll with a pitch, which left manager Rob Thomson and the Phillies' bullpen flailing to get José Alvarado warmed up and out there, but with two more runners on for him to account for. 

Alvarado couldn't hold them there. 

Gabriel Moreno lined one into center and Marte scored from second to give Arizona the lead, 6-5, heading into the ninth. 

D-backs closer Paul Sewald cleaned up from there. The Phillies lost. The series is tied, and how do you turn to Kimbrel again after that?

• Trea Turner finally got caught stealing for the first time all year. After reaching first on an opening base knock and with Bryce Harper at the plate, Turner took off for second but Joe Mantiply had him on the pick-off.

Across the regular season and postseason combined, Turner was a perfect 34-for-34 on stolen base attempts, but the one that snapped the streak early Friday night recorded the second out and cleared off the bases for Arizona, greatly reducing the damage Harper could've done.

Mantiply got him to ground out to second to end the inning clean.

• Cris Sánchez looked sharp early, getting through the first inning in just nine pitches. But the second got messy, and it felt like it began slowly falling apart from there.

It started with Alec Bohm's throwing error that pulled Harper off the bag and allowed Christian Walker to reach first safely, got uneasy when – after Tommy Pham's strikeout – Sanchez fielded a grounder from Lourdes Gurriel Jr. but forgot how many outs there were, throwing to first for one instead of to second for the double play, which would've gotten the Phils out of the inning.

Then it got worrisome when Evan Longoria drew a walk, but not before a passed ball let Walker make it to third, to put runners at the corners.

Emmanuel Rivera made them pay for all three mistakes, driving a low sinker through the gap up the middle to put the D-backs up 1-0.

The slide continued into the third, as Marte singled to lead-off then reached third on a wild pitch and a ground out. Sanchez was pulled then and there for Jeff Hoffman, who did get them out of the inning, but at the cost of another run from Moreno's single that made it a 2-0 game for Arizona.

• The D-backs were extremely aggressive with their bullpen, pulling Mantiply after just the opening inning for Luis Frías, then going to Kyle Nelson for the last two outs of the third and Miguel Castro for the fourth following Kyle Schwarber's solo home run.

In total, Arizona exhausted eight pitchers in the bullpen start, and in all honesty, the approach was mostly pretty effective outside of Schwarber's solo home run, Brandon Marsh's tying double, and the struggle with the walks in the sixth that loaded the bases.

Granted, the same exact thing could be said of the Phillies, who burned through seven relievers after pulling Sanchez – giving up a couple of spot runs until the Kimbrel collapse truly hurt them. 

How either's relief corps hold up for the remainder of the series after this will have to be seen – length is definitely going to be a requirement for each starter Saturday night in Game 5 (it will be Zack Wheeler vs. Zac Gallen back at the top again) – but for right now, all the D-backs were playing for was the series tie with little to lose. The Phillies were after a very-needed win in Arizona and the 3-1 advantage.  

The D-backs won that battle, and are now very much back in the war.

The Good

Provided you even want to read about it right now, that is. Anyway...

• Outside of the run surrendered right when he took over in the third (more on that below), Jeff Hoffman was incredibly solid in his 1.2 innings of relief, allowing just that RBI hit while walking none and striking out three – especially amped after the last two Ks that retired the side in the fourth.  

Entering Friday night, Hoffman had seven strikeouts and a minuscule 0.69 WHIP through 4.1 innings pitched over six postseason appearances, and outside of Game 2 against the Braves back in the NLDS, has been one of the main reasons the Phillies' bullpen has been as strong as it is to this point. 

He kept it going in Game 4, passing the baton to lefty Matt Strahm for the fifth, who was great in his own right on Friday night with a 1-2-3 inning. 

Things got shaky with Cris Sánchez in the start, but the relievers that backed him up in the immediate innings that followed did an excellent job in holding it down until the Phillies' offense could finally get something going against Arizona again.

Because they weren't going to stay dormant forever.

• Just probably not in the way most would've expected.

After falling into the 2-0 hole, Schwarber tagged Nelson for the solo shot in the fourth to make it a one-run game. That's par for the course. 

Then in the fifth, with two outs but with J.T. Realmuto at second, Brandon Marsh was trusted with the lefty-on-lefty matchup against Andrew Saalfrank and drove a ball to deep left-center for the RBI double that tied it up – continuing his own quietly quality postseason run (he had four doubles and a 1.069 OPS in the postseason entering Friday night).

But this was the real kicker, and where the Phillies took over – well, for a while, that is: The D-backs were burning through relievers and getting by, but in the sixth, it finally caught up to them. 

Saalfrank remained in for Arizona, but issued three straight, pitch-consuming walks to Schwarber, Turner, and then Bryce Harper to load the bases with no outs. 

It was major trouble against a Phillies batting order that's been so strong 1-9. A grand slam or a bases-clearing double from either of the next couple of at-bats felt inevitable. 

But how about two runs off of some heads-up baserunning instead?

Alec Bohm hit a grounder to third, but Rivera's throw home couldn't be handled by Moreno as the catcher, leaving the ball to hop right by him on the bounce. Schwarber was safe at home regardless of the force out, and Turner was left with the time to round the corner and score from third as well. 4-2 Phils and momentum shifted drastically – for a bit.

The only complaint on that play was that Bohm did get caught trying to stretch to second after the chaos had settled down to put one out on the board. Well, that and the fact that no one was able to drive Harper in from third after to pad the lead. Stott walked, but Realmuto struck out and then Nick Castellanos grounded out to stop things there. (Should this be in the bad section, actually?)

• Speaking of Castellanos though, the right-field slide catch returned:

• Seranthony Domínguez has had a rough year and has looked shaky during the postseason, but even though he can make it look scary, he did get through 1.1 innings scoreless, which included a big three-pitch strikeout of Walker in the sixth with a runner on and then another that had Gurriel go down looking. 

• Fielding has been Johan Rojas' key contribution to the Phillies this postseason out in center, while at the plate, he's struggled with a 0.86 batting average entering Friday. 

But he hit a hard liner to third in the fifth, even though it was caught for the out, then in the seventh, he finally broke through. 

Rojas turned a ground ball that rolled down the first-base line and into right into a one-out triple, then took Turner's actually pretty shallow sac fly to left as the opportunity to tag up and score. He made it 5-2, Phils for a cushion they were very much going to need (though ultimately squandered in the end).   

• Because after taking over for Gregory Soto in the seventh with two outs and runners at the corners, yeah, Orion Kerkering got out of it. But after a walk to Moreno to load the bases and then another walk to Walker to bring a run across and make it a 5-3 game, man, did he not make it easy. 

The same, however, could not be said for Kimbrel. See above.

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