That, boys and girls, was one of the best body-language finishes I’ve ever seen. It took nearly four hours, and after leading, 7-0, it seemed the Phillies were destined to lose the series finale against the Chicago Cubs. They held on, however, for a 9-7 victory Thursday afternoon and salvaged a split of their four games in the freaky confines of Wrigley Field.
The entire afternoon was a wild ride, but it was worth it to see the variety of reactions at the end when Hector Neris recorded the final out and stranded runners at second and third base. After clutching the final out, left fielder Andrew McCutchen immediately looked into his glove just to make sure the ball was there, then tilted his head skyward with an expression that summed up the entire afternoon.
McCutchen joined his fellow outfielders for their traditional celebratory meeting in center field, but this time, it was simply a shoulder-to-shoulder, group sigh of relief with Odubel Herrera and Bryce Harper. The pictures were great, and so were McCutchen’s words during his postgame interview with sideline reporter Gregg Murphy.
“Goodness gracious, can’t we just win an easy one one time?” McCutchen said. “My gosh. It was a crazy game, but I’m glad we got the ‘W.’ ”
Regardless of the degree of difficulty, the Phillies earned a split against the first-place Cubs and, now it’s off to Milwaukee for a weekend rematch with the Brewers, who took three of four games from the Phillies last week at Citizens Bank Park.
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If you enjoy a good debate about managerial decisions, Gabe Kapler gave you lots of material during the Phillies’ win over the Cubs. Start with his decision to remove staff ace Aaron Nola from the game with one out and a runner on first base in the bottom of the sixth inning.
The left-handed-hitting Jason Heyward was coming to the plate and Nola had thrown 93 pitches, but the Phillies held an 8-3 lead. They were also just two days removed from being without their top four relievers in a game they led by a run in the late innings.
Nola expressed his honest opinion.
“I felt like I could have stayed in," he said. “I felt good. I kind of expected to face Heyward right there. I felt like I just needed to execute a pitch and get a double-play ball right there.”
It took five relievers to get to the finish line, and two of them, Adam Morgan and Seranthony Dominguez, recorded just one out as they combined to complete the sixth inning. Pat Neshek got two outs in the seventh, but not before giving up a couple of homers and three runs. Jose Alvarez got three outs, and Hector Neris recorded the final four.
“I don’t think Noles had his best command,” Kapler said. “He walked four batters. There was some hard contact in that inning and a near miss. It just felt like the right time to get Morgan in there. Felt like the right pocket of the lineup to get Morgan in there.
"Sure, Noles being who he is could have gotten through that inning, but we don’t have the ability to have the alternate universe and see what could have happened if we left Nola out there. These are the debates, the natural debates that happen after a game like this.”
With the promotion of Drew Anderson on Thursday, the Phillies will have a nine-man bullpen for the weekend series in Milwaukee, so they should not have a shortage of relievers. It is fair to wonder, however, if one-out appearances by relievers are the cause of bullpen shortages in the first place. And, yes, I would have left Nola in with an 8-3 lead.
I had a lot of fun going to Lancaster earlier this week for an interview with Bryce Harper’s older brother Bryan, who is pitching this season with the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League. Bryan Harper is not making Bryce money, but his professional baseball journey has been a rich life experience.
Cole Hamels has checked off just about every box on a baseball career to-do list, but he could become a free agent for the first time this offseason if the Chicago Cubs do not resign him. Our Matt Breen asked Hamels if he’d be open to a return to Philadelphia. Not surprisingly, he said he would.
Breen’s game story captured the essence of the crazy afternoon at Wrigley Field and also highlighted a huge defensive play by Sean Rodriguez, who got the start at third base Thursday.
Less than 24 hours after being roughed up by the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field, rookie lefty Cole Irvin was optioned to triple-A Lehigh Valley on Thursday morning. Pitcher Drew Anderson filled the roster spot. Gabe Kapler said Vince Velasquez or Nick Pivetta will take Irvin’s spot in the rotation.
Aaron Altherr was placed on waivers after just one at-bat with the San Francisco Giants, and Thursday, the former Phillies outfielder was claimed by the New York Mets.
The great Katie McInerney put together a social media sequence of events during the Phillies’ wild win at Wrigley.
Tonight: Jerad Eickhoff faces Chase Anderson in series opener at Milwaukee, 8:10 p.m.
Tomorrow: Jake Arrieta vs. Jhoulys Chacin, 4:10 p.m.
Sunday: Zach Eflin vs. Brandon Woodruff in series finale with Brewers, 2:10 p.m.
Monday: Happy Memorial Day. Phillies are off.
Tuesday: Phillies begin a brief three-game homestand with St. Louis, 7:05 p.m.
Andrew McCutchen remained the Phillies’ hottest hitter Thursday, contributing two doubles, a walk and two RBIs in his team’s 9-7 win over the Cubs. McCutchen went 7-for-16 with three doubles, a home run, three walks and five RBIs during the four-game series.
“I think I got my swagger back,” he told Murphy after the game.
After a rough April, he has had a solid May, hitting .293 with a .396 on-base percentage and .811 OPS. He has scored 11 runs and driven in 14 in 20 games this month. McCutchen’s .383 on-base percentage out of the leadoff spot ranks fourth among the 21 leadoff hitters who have at least 100 at-bats this season.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.
Question: I know it is still EARLY but is pitching starting to be a concern for the Phils? Vinny and Pivetta are again still unknowns. [Tommy] Hunter and [David] Robertson are out for extended periods. Other bullpen arms seem to get hurt every other day and Kapler’s use of those arms results in one, two, even four unavailable people for a game. Has the front office overvalued its pitching?
— Dennis, via email
Answer: Thanks for reading, Dennis. Yes, it is early and the Phillies’ pitching has actually exceeded my expectations. The team ERA is 4.05, which might not sound great, but it ranks 10th in baseball and fifth in the National League. That said, pitching is always a concern and the rotation beyond the top three of Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin and Jake Arrieta is worrisome.
Your points about the bullpen are also valid. Neris and Morgan have been terrific, but this team could really use a healthy Robertson and the 2018 version of Dominguez. I’ll be shocked if general manager Matt Klentak does not add a bullpen arm and a rotation arm at the trade deadline.