The Phillies asked their bullpen Sunday night to protect a two-run lead with 11 outs to go. You’ll never guess what happened next. They protected it, getting by with a little help from their friend Andrew Knapp. Heath Hembree, Tommy Hunter, and Brandon Workman picked up the first 10 outs and then Knapp made a terrific tag at the plate for the 11th out to end the game and snap a five-game losing streak.

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— Matt Breen (extrainnings@inquirer.com)

Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp celebrates with relief pitcher Brandon Workman on Sunday night.
Brynn Anderson / AP
Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp celebrates with relief pitcher Brandon Workman on Sunday night.

Braves manager says Knapp’s tag was illegal

Andrew Knapp said Sunday night’s dramatic win over Atlanta could be the type of win that turns the Phillies’ season around. But on the other side of the ballpark, Braves manager Brian Snitker was feeling his stomach turning.

Knapp ended the 5-4 win with a tag at home plate of Dansby Swanson following a relay throw from Didi Gregorius, who fielded a cutoff throw just past the infield dirt from Roman Quinn. Swanson would have been the tying run, but Knapp made him the final out.

It was a great finish and a needed victory for a team that had lost five straight games. But the Braves didn’t think Knapp’s tag was legal.

“He was clearly in front of the plate before he had the ball,” Snitker told reporters. “He didn’t get the ball and then take the plate away. He was waiting in front of the plate as the rule says. The ball didn’t take him there. He was already there.”

Since 2014, baseball has enforced rules at home plate to limit contact between base runners and catchers. The catcher, the rule says, “may not block the pathway of a runner attempting to score unless he has possession of the ball. If the catcher blocks the runner before he has the ball, the umpire may call the runner safe.” But the catcher is excused if the throw takes him into the path of the runner.

“He was sitting there pretty good, but they’re not calling that anymore,” Snitker said. “They need to take that off the book and just start blowing up catchers again.”

Knapp said the throw took him in that direction. The throw from Gregorious skipped twice before reaching home plate and moved to the left of home plate. Knapp crossed the plate, slid to his knee, grabbed the catch, and tagged out Swanson as he slid head first. Phillies manager Joe Girardi, who spent 15 years as a big-league catcher, said it was “a textbook play” and Knapp “did everything right.”

The umpires reviewed it and the call was upheld. For the Phillies, it was a great play. For the Braves, it was a bitter finish.

“The ball took him into the runner, which he’s allowed to do,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “It was just a really good play all around. We needed this win, really badly. We had a tough week.”

The rundown

More than 20 years ago, the Marlins traded a star catcher to a National League East rival just before the catcher was set to reach free agency. What did that team do? Scott Lauber talked to Steve Phillips, who negotiated Mike Piazza’s mega-deal with the Mets and weighed in with his thoughts about the Phillies’ situation with J.T. Realmuto.

Bryce Harper grew up a Lakers fan and paid tribute to Kobe Bryant on Sunday night by wearing a Lakers jersey under his uniform and a pair of cleats that looked like Bryant’s sneakers. Sunday would have been Bryant’s 42nd birthday.

Important dates

Today: The Phillies are off.

Tomorrow: Jake Arrieta starts series opener in D.C., 6:05 p.m.

Wednesday: Aaron Nola pitches game two, 6:05 p.m.

Thursday: Spencer Howard starts the series finale, 6:37 p.m.

Friday: Phillies return home to open three-game series against the Braves, 7:05 p.m.

Bryce Harper has become a more efficient hitter this season -- fewer strikeouts and more walks -- and he's leading the National League in OPS.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Bryce Harper has become a more efficient hitter this season -- fewer strikeouts and more walks -- and he's leading the National League in OPS.

Stat of the day

Bryce Harper’s 1.119 OPS is the highest in the National League and the second-highest in the majors. Since 1900, seven Phillies - Mike Schmidt, Dick Allen, Chuck Klein, Cy Williams, Gavvy Cravath, Sherry Magee, and Ed Delahanty - have led the National League in OPS. But Schmidt in 1981 is the lone Phillies player to lead the majors in OPS. Harper has a .667 slugging percentage and .453 on-base percentage through his first 23 games. Harper has raised his contact-rate (68.3 percent in 2019, 71.2 percent in 2020) this season while drastically reducing his strikeout rate (26.1 percent in 2019, 15.4 percent in 2020) and increasing his walk rate (14.5 percent in 2019, 18.7 percent in 2020) to increase his production at the plate

“I’m never satisfied with what I do,” Harper said. “I’m able to go out there and just play the game that I love. When I’m not swinging at bad pitches, when I’m not swinging at pitches out of the zone, that’s when I’m at my best.”

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.

Question: The Phillies are off on Monday. Do they stay on the road or come home? What are they allowed to do? - Timmy H. via email

Answer: Thanks, Timmy. It’s a great question about baseball during the pandemic. The Phillies planned to fly Sunday night from Atlanta to Washington and will spend the majority of Monday’s off day in their hotel room. Major League Baseball is telling teams to stay inside as much as possible during road trips, so expect the Phillies to load up on room service.