They needed rope — and a lot of creativity. That’s what it took to jury rig the backstop netting into an acceptable position to finish Sunday’s series finale between the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
Remarkably, when the netting collapsed midway through the top of the eighth inning, that was just one of several head-scratching moments in a bizarre 12-6 Phillies victory. Earlier, home plate umpire Brian O’Nora ran off the field in the first inning, shortly after he took a foul ball off the mask. Nationals starter Austin Voth broke his nose when a pitch hit his face in the third inning. The Phillies erupted for seven runs in a miscue-laden fourth inning. Washington scratched three runs back before giving up a three-run home run to push the game out of reach again.
But the issue of the netting was perhaps the most inexplicable portion of Sunday’s game, putting the grounds crew to the test in peculiar circumstances. They needed to raise the net, and quickly, to finish the final two innings.
So the grounds crew looped the rope around the top of the collapsed netting. The net eventually rose. A cheer rose with it.
All told, the delay took just over 15 minutes, a sideshow to the lopsided Philadelphia win playing out on the diamond, a reminder that nothing in baseball is routine.
“We had a lot of issues in this game,” Starlin Castro said. “First of all, the home plate umpire that got hit in the head. After that we got a really long inning. And then the net. I think this was a weird day for the whole team.”
The disastrous fourth inning lasted 39 minutes and featured an error, four walks, a fielder’s choice, a dropped-third strike, three hits and seven runs.
The mess started with reliever Sam Clay allowing two on with one out. Then Kyle Finnegan entered, and he should’ve recorded an out with his first pitch. Instead, Jordy Mercer dropped the pop up — which wasn’t called an infield fly — to load the bases.
Then Andrew McCutchen singled. And Brad Miller walked. And Alec Bohm walked. And Ronald Torreyes reached on a fielder’s choice, with third baseman Starlin Castro’s throw to second arriving too late to record an out. Odubel Herrera chopped a two-run single down the line to score two.
“The bounces didn’t go my way that inning,” Finnegan said. “But the walks are inexcusable. I got 3-2 counts, got two strikes, and just couldn’t get that third strike, couldn’t get the ball in play with those two guys. And then when it was put in play, just a little bit of tough luck there.”
Washington had built an edge in the third and fourth innings. But even then, there was a feeling of what could have been, with more missed opportunities proving costly later in the game.
The Nationals entered Sunday’s contest hitting .143 with bases loaded — the lowest mark in the majors. They loaded the bases in the third, through two walks and a Trea Turner single. And while Juan Soto singled in one runner — part of his 2-for-4 day, including an RBI triple — Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber struck out swinging before Castro popped out, an all-too-familiar aversion to big innings.
“I think they’re trying to hit the ball 800 feet, I really do,” manager Dave Martinez said. “I think definitely right now at this point, we get guys on base, our three, four, five hitters just today are pressing a little bit, trying to knock in those runs. We’ve got to get more relaxed.”
The Nationals made it 3-0 with consecutive doubles from Mercer and Victor Robles in the top of the fourth, but Philadelphia soon got those runs back — and then some. J.T. Realmuto crushed a three-run dinger in the bottom of the sixth, too, answering a three-spot Washington posted in the top half.
Martinez planned for Sunday to be a bullpen day, and he hoped for two or three innings out of Voth. He got two before the pitcher broke his nose, filling Martinez with worry. Voth will have his nose reset Sunday night, and he’ll spend the night in Philadelphia.
“It’s really scary,” Martinez said. “I almost fell over my seat on the bench just to try to get out there.”
With Voth out, Washington used six relievers to close out the contest. Clay, Finnegan, Paolo Espino and Tanner Rainey allowed a combined eight earned runs, a bullpen malfunction that nullified the Nationals’ relative offensive outburst, scoring six or more runs for the second time in two weeks.
Those details, however, almost fell into the background once the netting collapsed — one more oddity in a game full of them.
“I start worrying about Voth,” Martinez said. “But you have to keep playing the game, and then all of a sudden, we start giving up all these runs, and then the net falls on our head. That was like the topper of the day right there.”