Good teams find ways to win when things aren’t clicking, and for the Phillies, that thing, right now, is their offense. So, on Thursday night they beat the reigning World Series champions, 1-0, with their pitching.
Clinging to a one-run lead — that came on a Matt Vierling sacrifice fly in the bottom of the second — Phillies pitchers allowed just six hits and two walks against the Braves, a team that ranks second in baseball in OPS at .760. Ranger Suárez gave the Phillies one of his best starts in weeks, Zach Eflin — activated off the 15-day injured list just 10 days ago — did well in a high leverage spot, and José Alvarado closed the door with a four-out save, allowing just one hit with two strikeouts.
Facing the Braves at home in the midst of a race to the postseason, after the Phillies had been swept in Atlanta just four days earlier, was always going to be a tough assignment. But the Phillies showed grit, and they did it at a time when they don’t have much room for error.
As Alvarado struck out Robbie Grossman for the final out, he jumped, slapped his glove and pumped his fist. It was a celebration fit for a playoff game, and after Wednesday and Thursday night, the playoffs aren’t too far away. The Phillies’ magic number is 10.
Another good outing for Suárez
On Wednesday night after the Phillies came from behind to win a must-win game in extra innings, interim manager Rob Thomson was asked if he thought it could spur some momentum.
“Well, they say momentum is as good as your next starter, and we have Ranger (Suárez) going tomorrow, so I feel pretty good about that,” he said.
Thomson felt good for good reason. After a string of rough starts in late August and early September, Suárez went to Atlanta last weekend and gave the Phillies six innings of one-run ball. This game he was even better. The left-handed pitcher went six innings and allowed just five hits, no runs, and two walks. He threw 83 pitches and 53 were for strikes.
“I just focused on throwing quality pitches, that’s the main thing,” Suárez said through a translator. “Obviously it’s really tough when you face the same lineup back to back and we knew coming in that it was going to be like that, but I had a good plan with J.T. (Realmuto).”
The most trouble Suárez ran into came in the top of the sixth inning. He allowed a double to Austin Riley, and with two outs, he walked both Matt Olson and Vaughn Grissom to load the bases. But Michael Harris II grounded out to first base to end the inning.
Long gets tossed
In the bottom of the fifth inning, while Dalton Guthrie was facing Braves starter Max Fried in a 3-2 count, home plate umpire Andy Fletcher called one of Fried’s 86 mph sliders a strike. The ball was outside the strike zone, and Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long started yelling at Fletcher from the dugout. Eventually, Long got tossed (but in his defense, it was probably one of the worst ball-strike calls of the season).
Eflin success story continues
The Eflin bullpen experiment has been successful so far, so Thomson said prior to Thursday’s game that he would start using Eflin in higher-leverage innings. That decision paid off. The right-handed pitcher needed only six pitches to retire Marcell Ozuna, Grossman, and Dansby Swanson in the top of the seventh.
From there, Eflin struck out William Contreras, hit Riley with a pitch, and struck out Travis d’Arnaud. The Riley hit-by-pitch was yet another call by Fletcher that was Phillies took issue with, but after Thomson challenged it, the call was upheld.
In all, Eflin threw 1⅔ innings, allowing no hits, no runs, and no walks with three strikeouts — and needed only 15 pitches to do so. At a time when the Phillies are in need of innings-eaters, and reliable bullpen arms, Eflin’s emergence as a shutdown reliever has been a welcome development.
“It was awesome,” Eflin said. “I’ve been waiting on that moment. I’ve prepared myself to kind of pitch in any situation, and fortunately I’ve done it before as a starter. I’ve finished games before. I’ve been waiting for that opportunity and I’m glad it went well tonight. We got the win.”
Bats freeze up (again)
The Phillies had strong pitching, but it was another rough night for the offense. They had only six hits and went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position -- but so did the Braves. The Phillies also racked up 12 strikeouts against Fried and the relievers that came in behind him.