Stop the presses! The Phillies won a series on the road.
All it took was a game-tying home run with one out in the ninth inning and a three-run rally in the 10th, but they came back for a 5-2 victory Wednesday night in Washington to win their first road series of at least three games since Sept. 17-19, 2019, in Atlanta. That was 16 series ago.
“I didn’t even know that, to be totally honest with you,” pitcher Zack Wheeler said.
OK, to be fair, the Phillies did win back-to-back games in a miniseries in Washington last year. But you get the point. They have been crummy away from Citizens Bank Park. But if they beat the Nationals again today, they will have their first road sweep of three games or more since April 13-15, 2018, at Tampa Bay.
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Harper: Herrera is ‘one of us’
When Odúbel Herrera met with his Phillies teammates in spring training and apologized for his actions that led to a 2019 suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic-violence policy, few players spoke more forcefully than Bryce Harper about the moral struggle with accepting the disgraced center fielder back into the clubhouse.
“Of course I don’t agree with what he did. I don’t condone it,” Harper said in March. “It’s something that just can’t happen. You cannot do that kind of thing in this world or in this life. But I’m not the maker. I’m not a person that can make that decision of forgiving him or not forgiving him. I’m not God. I’m going to let Odúbel do his thing and be him, and that’s about it.”
Surely many Phillies fans could relate. But MLB’s domestic-violence policy also allows for second chances. In his relationship with his girlfriend, Herrera says he has undergone counseling. In his baseball career, he has come back from being removed from the Phillies’ 40-man roster to reclaiming the center-field job.
And here was Harper, some 10 weeks after his spring-training comments, talking about how Herrera has fit in with the team in the nearly three weeks since the Phillies called him up.
“He’s been good,” Harper said. “He’s been playing the game hard, playing it right. He’s one of us. He’s a Phillie.”
It helps, of course, that Herrera has also played well over the last week.
After going 2-for-24 upon his return to the majors, he began working before games with hitting coach Joe Dillon on using his legs more. Over the last seven games, he’s 9-for-24 (.375) with two doubles, two homers, and four walks. He has reached base in six of his last 10 plate appearances.
Herrera’s biggest base hit yet came in the ninth inning Wednesday night. With the Phillies down to their last two outs and trailing by a run thanks largely to a miscommunication in the outfield between him and Harper, Herrera tied the game by becoming the first left-handed hitter to go deep against tough Nationals lefty Brad Hand since Ji-Man Choi on Sept. 10, 2018.
“In that at-bat I was ready to hit,” said Herrera, who punctuated his homer with an emphatic bat flip. “I was ready to see the ball and hit it. He threw me a hanging breaking ball. I recognized it, and I put a good swing on it.”
The Phillies have been starving for offense from the center-field position. They cycled through three center fielders before giving Herrera his second chance. Adam Haseley left the team for personal reasons on April 14; Roman Quinn got off to a horrendous start; Mickey Moniak appeared overmatched in his 10-day trial.
Despite Herrera’s poor start, manager Joe Girardi said he saw him more confident at the plate before this road trip. The work with Dillon was beginning to pay off.
“It was different than what I saw in spring training,” Girardi said. “Using the whole field, driving the ball the other way, taking his hits the other way. He just looked different.”
Herrera’s career has been marked by extreme hot and cold streaks. The last week may be only the latest example of the former.
But Herrera may also be settling in again around his teammates. It’s clear that he has been accepted, even though his behavior two years ago was unacceptable by every measure.
“I think you’re seeing him get more comfortable with us, get more comfortable with the team and in the batter’s box, as well,” Harper said. “It’s a tough game to take time off, not being able to play and then come back and get thrown into the fire. I think he’s getting more and more comfortable every day.
“And the thing about Odúbel, too, is he brings that emotion and that passion the correct way. On his walks he’s fired up, he’s clapping and he’s ready to go. That helps a team take that step every single day to be fiery and passionate.”
Harper thought Zack Wheeler deserved better than to be on the hook for a loss Wednesday night. So, he helped make sure that the Phillies pulled out a win, as Matt Breen writes.
When the Phillies didn’t use J.T. Realmuto as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning last night, it was clear that he was unavailable to play. But his bruised knee won’t land him on the injured list either.
If you missed it, Spencer Howard threw three hitless innings Tuesday night, part of the process to “slowly build him up” as a starter, as Girardi put it.
Today: Zach Eflin vs. Patrick Corbin in series finale in D.C., 1:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Vince Velasquez faces Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla., 7:37 p.m.
Saturday: Aaron Nola starts against Blue Jays, 7:37 p.m.
Sunday: Phillies wrap up nine-game, 10-day road trip, 1:37 p.m.
Monday: Day off for Phillies before the Marlins visit Citizens Bank Park.
Stat of the day
Since the beginning of the 2018 season, only 15 pitchers have made at least 20 starts in which they completed at least seven innings while allowing two runs or less. Aaron Nola and Wheeler are among them.
Here’s the list: Jacob deGrom (40 starts), Max Scherzer (29), Trevor Bauer (28), Nola (28), Gerrit Cole (27), Kyle Hendricks (27), German Márquez (25), Wheeler (25), Justin Verlander (23), Zack Greinke (22), José Berríos (21), Shane Bieber (21), Marco Gonzales (21), Clayton Kershaw (21), and Corbin (20).
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Question: Extra Innings is a welcome arrival in my inbox every morning. Keep up the great work!
Were the Phillies stupid (or at the very least shortsighted) to give up on Nick Pivetta? His 5-0 record and 3.19 ERA with the Red Sox so far this season would make him a legitimate second or third starter on the Phillies’ staff right now.
— Jim L., via email
Answer: Hi, Jim. Thank you for being a loyal reader.
It’s difficult, even in hindsight, to fault the Phillies for “giving up” on Pivetta. In 3½ seasons here, he posted a 5.50 ERA in 92 games, including 71 starts. The Phillies always believed in his talent but were unable to unlock it. Maybe that was an organizational failing. Sometimes, though, players just need a change of scenery. Based on comments Pivetta has made since the trade to Boston last August, it’s clear that he was one of those players.