Kovacevic: Did Newman hustle the Phillies? ☕


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The Phillies' Jean Segura relays to first over Melky Cabrera in the ninth inning Tuesday night in Philadelphia. - AP

PHILADELPHIA -- The ball was bad news right off Kevin Newman's bat, and he knew it.

Truth be told, he blew it.

Score tied. Ninth inning. Two one-out walks drawn by Adam Frazier and Melky Cabrera breathed life into the Pirates against Philadelphia's closer, Hector Neris. And the way Neris was wildly winging it -- eight of the nine pitches to Frazier and Cabrera had been balls -- the very worst thing Newman could do was to swing at the first pitch and ... and ...

"Yeah," Newman would recall for me much later, "I'd ground sharply to second, right?"

Well, yeah, you'd do that. Because with a slow runner in Cabrera, there'd be no chance to disrupt the shortstop, Jean Segura, and you'd basically be a dead duck. Run this through a simulator 10,000 times, and it spits out 4-6-3 probably only 9,992 times. It should've been inning over. And, with Felipe Vazquez already having entered in the eighth, it probably would've been game over, as well, if he can't be the one to save it — or, in this case, win it.

So, other than that, way to go, kid.

As it turned out, though, the Pirates would beat the Phillies, 5-4, on this Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park pretty much because of this sequence. And by that, I mean their role in it.

This was what ensued:

Just awful.

No, not Frazier's slide, which rated at least a 9.5 on the Gregory Polanco scale of slide butchery, but I'll get to that in a bit.

I'm referring, of course, to Rhys Hoskins not catching Segura's strike from second and, worse, allowing it to "clang" -- Hoskins' own term -- off his glove into foul territory, allowing Frazier to take home plate. Or eat home plate, but again, I'll get to that in a bit.

What stood out for me here is not that Newman hustled on this play, so don't worry, I'm not going there. Rather, it's that Newman's fast and that he always hustles. And, as a result, somewhere maybe in the minds of all fielders in all such situations, there's going to be that subconscious extra slice of pressure to push it.

I brought this up with Newman, and he initially downplayed it.

"Just get down the line as fast as I can. Beat it out," he described his thought process. "Yeah, I saw where I hit it. But I knew the situation, too. It's late in the game, and every runner is important."

OK, great, but he's also one who's told me in the past that he believes in the pressure concept, if only because he'll occasionally feel it himself as an infielder.

"Yeah, I do," he relented. "I take pride in going all-out all the time. I like to think that, if I do that, someone else will know I'm always going to do that. Maybe that'll buy me an opportunity I wouldn't have otherwise."

Clint Hurdle's been preaching this extra hard of late, maybe to a fault if weighing that the Phillies' catcher, J.T. Realmuto is nailing his runners left and right. Hurdle's stance has been, as he reiterated Tuesday afternoon, "We're not going to be that team that beats you with home runs, so we've got to force the issue."

I asked Hurdle if maybe Newman had done that here.

"There's no telling," he began. "But that's why you continue to encourage our guys to get down the line, to do a hard 90. Because you never know what's gonna happen. Josh Bell got down the line like a madman the inning before, and there's a guy who's 6-foot-5, two-hundred-and-whatever. And Newman? Hitting the ball that hard? So hard there's no chance of putting any pressure on Segura at second? And he's still getting out of the box like that to see what he can make happen? Yes, it counts. It matters. Absolutely."

Little stuff, but good stuff.

• Same goes for Frazier, who busted it off second and, reading Joey Cora's omnipresent wave at third, kept right on busting once the ball escaped Hoskins.

"We were on the same page," Frazier told me, referring to Cora. "As soon as that thing's in foul territory, it's a full go."

And that slide?

"Um ..."

No, seriously, had he heard from Polanco yet?

"Haven't checked my texts yet, but I'm getting a lot from these guys already."

Not good?

"Definitely not good."

No, it wasn't. And the best of the ones I picked up was Steven Brault's play-by-play of the winning run: "And Frazier just absolutely ... tackles the plate!"

• One last thing on that whole scene: Newman and a few other Pirates were remarking that they thought Segura's throw to Hoskins came with a pitcher's-type sinker action. "Like a two-seamer," Newman said. Hoskins, to his credit, blamed no one but himself.

• Brault wasn't at his best in this five-inning start, to be kind, allowing three runs on eight hits, plus lots of hard contact in general. But neither did he take any significant step backward from his strong pitching over the past two months.

"It was a fistfight for Steven," Hurdle said. "Gutsy performance."

Brault was more blunt than that.

"I didn't have my stuff," he said. "I don't know how many of the balls they put in play weren't hit over 100 miles an hour."

But he found a way out, and I asked how:

• Reynolds Watch: With a two-run home run in his first plate appearance and a 3-for-5 evening, he finished the night at .332, overtaking the National League lead. The Mets' Jeff McNeil went 0 for 4 and dropped to .330, and the Brewers' Christian Yelich went 0 for 3 and also dropped to .330.

Long way to go, obviously, but here's his long ball:

Colin Moran also went deep, a two-run shot in the sixth that gave the Pirates a brief 4-3 lead. And maybe more noteworthy, it was a rare left-on-left show of power, ending Philadelphia starter Drew Smyly's night. It was only his second home run -- of 13 total -- off a lefty, but his .768 OPS against lefties isn't far off his .793 against righties, and that's a welcome sight.

"We know it's in there," Hurdle said. "He'd hit lefties all his life before getting to the majors."

Here's that, too:

Yefry Ramirez arrived in the clubhouse at around 4 p.m., his recall resulting from the optioning of Parker Markel back to Class AAA Indianapolis. Of course, Ramirez would've been a much more welcome sight the previous afternoon, given that he'd been stretched out down there -- his last two appearances were quality six-inning starts -- and could've allowed Hurdle to manage the Monday debacle far differently. For example, once Chris Stratton began drowning in bad command, Hurdle wouldn't have had to worry about burning other one-inning options heading into extra innings. But hey.

• Reason No. 23 to like Mitch Keller: He was named the International League's Most Valuable Pitcher on this day, following a fine 19 starts -- 7-5, 3.56 ERA, 123 strikeouts over 103 2/3 innings -- for Indianapolis. And when I approached to both congratulate and ask him about this recognition, he came back with this: "It's cool. It really is. It's an honor. But hopefully, I can win something like that at this level."

• Previous Indianapolis pitcher so recognized: Brault in 2017.

• The last Pittsburgh pitcher to win a Cy Young: Doug Drabek in 1992.

• Hey, the Royals are for sale. And David Glass, long regarded as one of Major League Baseball's cheapest owners, is about to turn his initial $96 million investment into more than $1 billion.

Yeah, that's mean. Sorry.

• I also have another column on Felipe Vazquez striking out Bryce Harper. If you miss it ... you'll be just like Harper.

• All of them. Every. Last. One.

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