Rhys Hoskins swung at a fastball Wednesday night, skying it out of play behind home plate and extending another at-bat. It was the 48th pitch thrown by Yankees righthander Luis Cessa. And it was just the second inning.
The Phillies began their 3-0 win at Citizens Bank Park by exhausting Cessa with the grind-it-out approach that the lineup seemed to shy away from after mastering it earlier in the season. The Phillies' logic is simple: They believe that the longer an at-bat wages, the better the chances are that the batter will see a mistake.
Cessa's 49th pitch came after Hoskins stepped back to the plate. It was a mistake. Hoskins jumped on pitch No. 49, a hanging slider that seemed to sit on a tee until it was clobbered to right field for a three-run homer. The Phillies' laborious approach worked. Cessa was yanked an inning later after averaging 4.63 pitches per plate appearance to the 15 batters he faced. And the Phillies had the only runs they would need.
"Right after the home run was hit, I looked over at Andrew Knapp, who is always following the pitch counts, too," manager Gabe Kapler said. "I said, 'There's about 50 pitches early in the game.' That matters. Pitchers do wear down. If you ask them, they'll tell you the same. That's who we are as a team. When we perform well offensively, it's because we are waiting for our pitch. We are jumping on our pitch. If we don't get it, we'll take a walk. We'll foul off a bunch of pitches."
Zach Eflin was brilliant, shutting the Yankees down for seven shutout innings and Seranthony Dominguez handled the rest. The Yankees pushed the Phillies around in the first two games of the series. Eflin pushed back. He struck out six and walked two, allowing just four hits.
The Phillies salvaged the series after being bullied by the Yankees in the first two games. It felt like a needed win with the Nationals coming to town on Thursday for a crucial four-game engagement. The Phillies went 3-3 through the first six games of a challenging 10-game stretch. They have survived.
Eflin gathered a season-high 13 swing-and-misses, keeping the Yankees off balance with a sharp slider, which he used for six whiffs. Eflin retired Giancarlo Stanton three times, including a strikeout in the fifth on a fastball that froze Stanton.
"Eflin was just outstanding," Kapler said. "I leaned over and whispered to [bench coach Rob Thomson] in the middle of the game that, 'Nothing rattles him. It doesn't matter who the hitter is.' In fact, at one point, I was joking with Eflin as he was coming off the field about how he walked Gardner to get to Stanton. I thought that was an interesting strategy. It worked out well."
This month has been Eflin's statement. He entered June with his rotation spot on the brink after an inconsistent May. Eflin responded by going 5-0 in June with a 1.76 ERA. He has accounted for five of the team's 11 wins this month and enters July with a firm hold on his rotation spot.
"I think just understanding who I am as a pitcher. Being able to be healthy and focus alone on pitching is probably the biggest thing," Eflin said. "Going in with a great game plan and two catchers who know how to call a great game is extremely beneficial and being able to do that and put the puzzle pieces together is awesome."
The homer from Hoskins was his 12th of the season, 11 of which have given the Phillies the lead. His 11 go-ahead homers are the most in baseball. It was also Hoskins' 30th career homer which came in his 119th game. He is the fastest Phillies player to reach that mark, besting Ryan Howard (134 games) and Chuck Klein (132 games.) Hoskins hung out with Howard on Tuesday morning at an event in Center City.
"He said just be yourself and you'll be just fine, in a game, after the game, and especially in the city," Hoskins said.
The Phillies started Wednesday with a surge as they loaded the bases with just one out in the first inning. They had been outclassed in the first two games of the series. Perhaps this was a statement that they could hang with one of baseball's premier teams. Aaron Altherr and Scott Kingery both struckout. The Phillies left the bases loaded and an early rally came up empty. But Cessa threw 27 pitches to record three outs. The Phillies were making him work. A mistake felt near. And Hoskins would not miss.