Rhys Hoskins guessed that it lasted all of 15 seconds, not enough time to qualify as a full-fledged meeting. Heck, it barely even registered as a speech.
But it might have turned around the Phillies’ season.
Last Saturday night in Atlanta, after another bullpen meltdown led to another crushing ninth-inning loss, manager Joe Girardi closed the door to the clubhouse and told his players what he thought about them.
“He just said, ‘Look, keep believing in yourself. This is going to turn. There’s too many good players in here for it to not turn,’ ” Hoskins recalled Saturday. “And sure enough, it did.”
Indeed, look at the Phillies now. A week after Girardi’s pep talk, they got a strong start from Zach Eflin and a three-run homer from Hoskins, then survived another tense ninth inning from new closer Brandon Workman to record their fifth consecutive win, 4-1 over the Atlanta Braves, between the raindrops at Citizens Bank Park.
Don’t look now, but two games shy of the midpoint of this 60-game sprint season, the Phillies are tied in the loss column with the division-leading Braves, who have played five more games. They also have won five games in a row for the first time in two years, since the Sons of Gabe Kapler reeled off five straight from July 31 to Aug. 5, 2018.
And now, two days before the trade deadline, with general managers of teams with a shot at qualifying for the expanded playoffs conceiving of moves they could make to improve their rosters, the Phillies are simply making their move up the standings.
“I felt that we were a lot better than [how] we were playing,” Girardi said. “We had run into some tough luck at times; at times we hadn’t played well. But it was like [last] Saturday that was about as bad as it got, and I think guys just said, ‘Enough’s enough,’ and they turned it around.”
The winning streak started one night later when catcher Andrew Knapp tagged out the Braves’ Dansby Swanson on a game-ending play at the plate and later said it was “one of those wins that you look at at the end of the season and say, ‘Man, that really turned our season around.’ ”
It’s still premature to say that will be the case. But as the Braves scramble to find starting pitching, and the New York Mets try to replace opted-out pitcher Marcus Stroman and slugger Yoenis Cespedes, and the Washington Nationals cope with a season-ending injury to co-ace Stephen Strasburg, the Phillies appear to finally be hitting their stride after early-season fits and starts.
“I think we’re kind of finally starting to settle in,” Hoskins said. “We had some weird off-days and postponements at the beginning of the season. But if we can kind of settle in and gain that confidence back, you’re going to start seeing this team win games in bunches like we are.”
It helps to have Eflin pitching like he did Saturday.
As usual, Eflin leaned on his sinker. But six days after giving up three runs in 5 2/3 innings against the Braves, he threw more curveballs than usual – 19 of them, to be exact – and got five swings-and-misses and five called strikes.
“The curveball was pretty good in the bullpen,” Eflin said. “But having thrown it maybe two or three times the last outing, we knew that we were going to be in good shape if it was working during the game. Obviously it was.”
Eflin had such little luck with the curveball previously that he nearly shelved it before this season. But Girardi and pitching coach Bryan Price saw him throw it in the bullpen last month and encouraged him to use it more, not less.
The Phillies gave Eflin a 4-0 lead in the fifth inning. After missing a homer by inches with a smash off the padding on the center-field fence in front of the Phillies’ bullpen that went for a double, Hoskins left no doubt by tagging a two-strike fastball from Braves starter Josh Tomlin into the bleachers in left-center.
In between, Eflin struck out Matt Adams on a curveball in the dirt to strand a runner in the second inning, froze dangerous Marcell Ozuna with a curveball in the fourth, and won an eight-pitch duel with Austin Riley in the fifth by setting him up with sinkers and striking him out on a curve. At one point, Eflin retired 11 in a row.
It might be that the Phillies’ biggest moves came 10 days before the trade deadline, when they made two deals for three relievers to help out a bullpen so overmatched that it was killing the season. Workman, one of those newcomers, tightrope-walked his way to another save by putting two runners on before getting Nick Markakis to line out to Hoskins to end the game.
Girardi believed the bullpen additions would help bring the best out of the rest of the roster. He said as much last Saturday night.
Did it help restore confidence within the clubhouse?