All it took was one pitch.
Well, 443 days and one pitch.
Andrew McCutchen began Sunday’s game on the Phillies’ bench, a respite at the end of a 12-day, 13-game homestand with a 10-game, four-city road trip looming. But he replaced hobbled left fielder Jay Bruce in the fifth inning, stepped to the plate in the sixth, and ambushed a first-pitch slider from New York Mets starter Rick Porcello for a tiebreaking two-run home run in a sweep-completing 6-2 victory at Citizens Bank Park.
It was a long time coming for McCutchen, who hadn’t gone deep since May 31, 2019 at Dodger Stadium, three days before blowing out his left knee. But it also was somehow worth the wait to punctuate the Phillies’ never-ending homestand and provide the winning margin for ex-Met Zack Wheeler in his first start against his former team.
“To say it felt great is an understatement,” McCutchen said. “I’ve been putting the work in every single day, showing up to the field early, doing everything that I need to do to get myself feeling like myself. And sometimes it takes a little longer for that to translate to the game. It just doesn’t click right away.”
Indeed, McCutchen conceded that it hasn’t clicked as quickly as he hoped. At the plate, he has struggled to find his timing after going 417 days between tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and playing on opening night. On the bases and in left field, he has appeared, as he puts it, “a little weird and awkward at times,” especially while starting and stopping.
“I know it’s a matter of time,” he said. “I want to rush through it. I want to be better than what I’ve been. But I also have to respect the fact that I am coming back from an injury, it’s a 60-game season, and I had basically three weeks to prepare.”
Like McCutchen, the Phillies have looked shaky at times. Last week, in fact, they got swept by the Baltimore Orioles in a series that right fielder Bryce Harper labeled “an embarrassment.”
But they outscored the Mets by an 18-9 margin in the last three games and will attempt to carry that momentum -- along with 8-9 record that has left them two games behind the Miami Marlins (9-6) and Atlanta Braves (13-10) in the National League East -- to Fenway Park in Boston on Tuesday night for the beginning of their first road trip of the season.
The sweep -- and Sunday’s victory, in particular -- had to be sweet for Wheeler, who signed a five-year, $118 million with the Phillies in December and exchanged passive-aggressive swipes with Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen for two days in spring training in February.
Asked by a New York Post reporter if the Mets made an effort to match the Phillies’ offer last winter, Wheeler said he “heard crickets” from New York. Van Wagenen fired back, claiming Wheeler should be thankful to the Mets for helping him “parlay two good half-seasons over the last five years into $118 million.”
Wheeler let his pitching do the talking this time. He held the Mets to two runs on six hits in seven innings, and after relievers Adam Morgan and Hector Neris recorded the final six outs, improved to 3-0 with a 2.81 ERA in four starts for the Phillies.
“I’m not trying to prove anybody wrong,” Wheeler said. “Yeah, you’re facing your old team, you want to go out there and do well. There’s no way around it. It’s nothing personal against those guys. I enjoyed my time over there, made a lot of good friends. It was just fun competing against them.”
Trailing 2-1 in the sixth inning, the Phillies’ offense went to work against Porcello. J.T. Realmuto ripped a leadoff double and scored the tying run on a one-out double by Alec Bohm, who went 2-for-4 and is 4-for-14 in four games since making his major-league debut Thursday.
That brought up McCutchen, pressed into action after Bruce exited with a balky left quadriceps and with Roman Quinn at home as a precaution while awaiting results of COVID-19 testing. Second baseman Jean Segura also left the game in the eighth inning with a sore right hamstring.
“I was down in the dugout kind of just stretching here and there, and they’re like, ‘Hey, you’ve got to come into the game,’” McCutchen said. “Most times those are the best games you have, when you just show up, you’re like, ‘All right, I got what I got and let’s go,’ and that’s kind of what I did today. It was good to have a moment like today. I was ready to go.”