Phillies have Bucs in tight spot, but fall short

Phillies have Bucs in tight spot, but fall short

PITTSBURGH -- Down one run with the bases loaded, no outs and their hottest hitter at the plate, the Phillies couldn't have asked for anything more. It was the perfect setup to not just tie Saturday's game with the Pirates at PNC Park, but potentially grab a few runs and the lead.

• Cast your Esurance All-Star ballot for #ASGWorthy players

Eight pitches later, Pittsburgh's fielders were trotting back to their dugout to a raucous applause from the sellout crowd: they held the Phillies scoreless -- and effectively ended the 4-3 Phillies loss to the Pirates.

The Phillies faltered Saturday when they absolutely could not. Lacking the key hit with runners in scoring position plagued them in a one-run, 13-inning loss the evening before, and it haunted them once again.

"We put ourselves in a really good position not only to tie it, but possibly win," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "Really the game came down to that."

Tony Watson, Pittsburgh's shutdown left-handed setup man, took the bump to start the eighth inning.

Watson isn't accustomed to hitters getting on base often -- he entered Saturday's game with opponents hitting .186 off him. But Ben Revere doubled to lead off the inning, Jeff Francoeur scored Revere with a pinch-hit single, and Chase Utley followed up with a base knock of his own.

And after walking Ryan Howard, Watson was in a precarious position.

"It was an ugly inning, definitely," Watson said. "Things got a little crazy there."

It was, until Watson got Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco reaching.

Franco, a 22-year-old rookie, extended his hitting streak to 11 games and, after Saturday, has hit .432 in that span.

But Pirates catcher Chris Stewart figured the youngster would be "geeked up" and ready for a fastball, so he and Watson went with a changeup. Franco attacked it and rolled over, sending a grounder to third baseman Josh Harrison, who made the force play at the plate.

"He did exactly what we wanted him to," Stewart said.

After Franco, 24-year-old left fielder Cody Asche grounded out to Watson, who flipped it home for the out, and Freddy Galvis rolled one to second baseman Neil Walker to end the frame.

Franco said that in that situation, you have to be aggressive at the plate, and Sandberg agreed to an extent. The manager said he thought Franco, Asche and Galvis might have been too overanxious to do too much, like driving in a few runs as opposed to getting just one.

The Phillies' inability to push a run across in that sequence was what kept them from a win, but Sandberg hopes, at the very least, that his younger hitters learn from their mistakes.

"It's a situation where young players were up there," Sandberg said. "It's something that they'll experience, that they'll grow from."

John McGonigal is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.