PHILADELPHIA — Odubel Herrera stood in front of his locker, took a deep breath, smiled and waved the media in.
It was time for the Phillies’ center fielder to explain another spectacular base-running mistake that was the ignominious highlight of a 6-2 loss to the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday afternoon.
Herrera’s miscue snuffed a potential big inning and caused the Phillies to end up with two runners on third base.
“I know I messed up. That was a situation for us where we could have tied the game or gone ahead,” Herrera said. “But I messed up, and I have to learn from it.”
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The play happened during the bottom of the fifth inning with the Mets ahead 4-1.
The Phillies loaded the bases with no outs. Philadelphia rookie Rhys Hoskins had just gotten his first career hit. A sense of optimism swept through the crowd of 24,106.
Nick Williams lofted a fly ball to center field. Freddy Galvis poised to tag up at third base, but he never made a move toward home plate. Galvis probably should have run as he would have scored easily. But that wasn’t a fatal error. He was just playing it safe.
“It was a shallow pop fly,” Galvis said. “In that situation, there was nobody out. There would have been one out with the bases loaded, but you saw what happened after.”
What happened was Mets outfielder Michael Conforto threw wide of the plate. Catcher Travis d’Arnaud didn’t catch the ball cleanly but kept it in front of him.
Herrera stood on second base. He inexplicably took off for third. There was one big problem, however.
Galvis already was standing on the base.
“I noticed that the catcher didn’t catch the ball right away, and I wanted to make it to third,” Herrera said. “When I got there and I saw Freddy, I knew it was too late and that I had made a mistake.”
As Herrera closed in on third base, the crowd shouted as if trying to tell him to turn back. But at that moment, it seemed as if Herrera was the only person in the ballpark who didn’t know the base was occupied.
“He didn’t keep his head up,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He just put his head down and ran to third. That was the only mistake he made.”
The Philadelphia Phillies transformation continued Thursday night.
The Mets threw to third and tagged Herrera out. Herrera slapped his helmet in frustration. The Phillies went from the bases loaded with no outs to first and third with two outs.
The crowd groaned in dismay.
It was latest in a series of boneheaded base-running plays by Herrera this season. He has failed to hustle on a few plays. He has run through a stop sign from third-base coach Juan Samuel. He has been picked off third base.
“I know I’m little over aggressive sometimes,” Herrera said. “I definitely have to be smarter on the bases. I know that. (But) I want to keep my aggressiveness.”
Herrera is a source of frustration for Phillies fans. Many want him benched after he makes a mental mistake. But he is one of the team’s most talented players.
Herrera currently has a 16-game hitting streak — the longest Phillies single-season streak since Raul Ibanez hit in 18 straight in 2010. Herrera reached base three times Sunday and is batting .342 (81 for 237) since June 1.
He is an analytics standout. He leads the team with a 2.6 WAR (wins above replacement) rating. Of all of baseball’s center fielders, only Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies has more extra base hits (65) than Herrera (50) this season.
“Herrera has more positive than negative, and if you look back on the last six, seven weeks, he has not made many mistakes,” Mackanin said. “(Sunday) was an innocent mistake. He just didn’t keep his head up. That’s the only thing he did. I’ll take him any day.”
The Phillies begin a seven-game West Coast trip in San Diego against the Padres on Monday night. Philadelphia (43-72) has baseball’s worst record.
Herrera’s mistakes can be explained away on a rebuilding team. But when the Phillies improve and games in August become meaningful, it will become more and more difficult to tolerate his enigmatic play.
No matter what his WAR rating is.