Luke Williams’ parents flew back to Los Angeles last weekend after watching their son help Team USA secure a berth in the Summer Olympics. It was a great trip. And then Luke called home to tell them he was headed to the majors. They flew the next morning to Philadelphia, getting to Citizens Bank Park in time for his big-league debut. Another great trip. And then they saw their son hit a walk-off homer Wednesday night. Another great trip got even better.
The Williamses are staying for the weekend as their son’s major-league ride continues against the Yankees. The Phillies hope it’s a great trip.
You’re signed up to get this newsletter in your inbox every weekday during the season. If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @matt_breen. Thank you for reading.
— Matt Breen (firstname.lastname@example.org)
And here come the Yankees
Taking two of three from the Nationals was a good way to start June. Walking off twice against the Braves was even better. But holding your own this weekend against the Yankees? That might be enough for people to start believing in the Phillies as the summer nears.
The Phillies are in the midst of a challenging month, and business is about to pick up on Saturday when they open a two-game series in South Philly against the Yanks, who come to town after taking two of three from the underwhelming Twins.
“They’re important games,” manager Joe Girardi said after Thursday’s 4-3 win over the Braves. “We’re chasing the Mets, so every game is an important game.”
The Yankees enter Thursday with the sixth-fewest runs in the majors, but they scored 22 times over three games this week in Minnesota. Their lineup — which still includes Aaron Judge, DJ LeMahieu, and Giancarlo Stanton — seems to be warming up after a slow start. It could be getting hot just in time for hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park.
The Phillies reshuffled their rotation Thursday to have Aaron Nola start Sunday instead of Spencer Howard. The Phillies are still a game below .500, but they’re also in second place. And they seem to be planning for their best shot against the Yankees, who are likely to start right-handers Jameson Taillon and Domingo German.
The Yankees went 12-14 in a disappointing April before responding in May by going 17-11. They used three days in Minneapolis to right themselves after getting swept last weekend by the Red Sox in the Bronx. They homered eight times, with Stanton going deep three times in the last two games.
They come to Philly three games above .500, and they’ll likely bring their fans, too. The Phillies have struggled this month to draw fans despite the ballpark’s operating at full capacity. That should change this weekend with baseball’s biggest draw in town.
It might not be friendly confines for the Phils, but the two games will provide them a chance to pull a seemingly tepid fan base back to the ballpark.
And the rest of the month will present a clear indication of whether the Phillies can make a run.
Frank Fitzpatrick, beat writer for the 1993 Phillies and a Pulitzer Prize finalist who has written so many great stories about the game we all love, announced this week that he’s retiring from The Inquirer after 41 years. We’ll miss Frank, who Mike Jensen perfectly said this week “was the best at turning Philly sports history into literature.”
We know our readers will miss him, too. (Good news: Frank plans to contribute occasional pieces to The Inquirer.)
Let’s turn the links over today to some of Frank’s Greatest Hits (curated with help from Jensen).
Ghosts of Philly’s Catholic Past (9/29/17)
Today: The Phils are off.
Tomorrow: Vince Velasquez starts vs. the Yankees, 4:05 p.m.
Sunday: Aaron Nola starts series finale vs. Yanks, 1:05 p.m.
Monday: Spencer Howard opens series at Dodger Stadium, 10:10 p.m.
Tuesday: Zach Eflin starts vs. the Dodgers, 10:10 p.m.
Stat of the day
How good was Zack Wheeler on Thursday? He became the first Phillies pitcher since 1891 to have two starts of 10 strikeouts and no walks or runs allowed in a season. He also became the first Phillies pitcher since Cliff Lee in 2011 with at least five double-digit strikeout games before July.
Over his last seven starts, Wheeler has posted a 1.39 ERA, striking out 71 in 51 2/3 innings and holding opponents to a .174 batting average.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.
Question: Why did the Phillies bump Spencer Howard this weekend? — Dan V. via email
Answer: Girardi said the Phillies wanted to have Velasquez and Nola pitch on normal rest after giving both of them extra days off before their last starts. He said Howard isn’t hurt and will pitch Monday at Dodger Stadium.
It can’t hurt to get Howard an extra day or two as his velocity continues to dip after the second or third inning. Perhaps some rest can help that.