This is how it’s going to have to be.
If the Phillies are going to rally in the final 2 1/2 weeks of the season and capture the second wild-card spot in the National League -- and mathematically, at least, there’s still a chance, however slim based on their bear of a schedule and inability to sustain even a shred of momentum -- they must outrun their pitching. That means big innings. It means timely hits. And it means home runs. Lots and lots of home runs.
The Phillies crushed four balls over the fence Tuesday night and another that would have cleared it if Atlanta Braves star Ronald Acuna Jr. hadn’t leapt to seemingly rob Scott Kingery in the third inning. And if the ball doesn’t drop out of Acuna’s glove on his way down, or if Kingery doesn’t run hard out of the box and keep going all the way until he slid into home plate with a go-ahead inside-the-park home run, well, then maybe the Phillies don’t come away with a 6-5 victory at Citizens Bank Park.
"I wasn't really sure what the rules were once the ball came out of his glove, so I just kept running," said Kingery, who noted that he slowed up around second base before kicking it back into gear. "Thankfully [third-base coach] Dusty [Wathan] sent me home. I just tried to run even faster when I saw him sending me. For the next full inning I was trying to catch my breath out there."
But it’s a sprint to the finish line now. With 18 games left, the Phillies were 2 1/2 games out of the final NL playoff spot pending the outcome of the Chicago Cubs' late game in San Diego. The Milwaukee Brewers, one game ahead of the Phillies in pursuit of the Cubs, lost MVP candidate Christian Yelich for the rest of the season after he broke his right kneecap on Tuesday night.
So, no, the Phillies' bats can't afford to let up. One night after getting shut down by the Braves, they pummeled lefty Max Fried for four first-inning runs. Corey Dickerson slugged two home runs; J.T. Realmuto and Bryce Harper went back-to-back; the Phillies matched their season-high with five homers and bailed out starter Jason Vargas, who fumbled the big lead by allowing four runs in the third.
"The offense was pretty special tonight and pretty special in general," Vargas said. "It just all really clicked for them in the first inning and they continued to put up runs when they needed to put them up. Can't say enough about what they're able to do at the plate."
Dickerson, in particular, continued to make a major contribution. Including his two homers against the Braves, he’s slashing .302/.316/.612 with 10 doubles, two triples, eight homers and 34 RBIs in 33 games since being acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates at the trade deadline.
"Just trying to be a good teammate, fit in with the great group of guys here," Dickerson said. "I try to do my job every single day, prepare myself the best way possible. I feel like if I do that and I’m a good teammate I can go out there and perform and give my best effort."
Vargas was knocked out after the third inning, leaving relievers Nick Vincent, Blake Parker, Ranger Suarez, Jared Hughes, and Hector Neris to combine to allow one run over the next six frames.
But they wouldn't have had a lead to protect if not for Kingery, who saved at least one run with a full-extension diving catch on Austin Riley's game-tying sacrifice fly in the third inning before lapping the bases in the fourth for the Phillies' first inside-the-park home run since Nick Williams in 2017.
"It's the first time I've ever done that," Kingery said. "It's pretty cool. Not everyone gets to do that."
Said Kapler: "We weren't sure if it was a home run. Kingery wasn't sure if it was a home run. Acuna wasn't sure if it was a home run. And he never stopped running, and that's why he walked away with an inside-the-park home run, one of the more exciting plays we've seen all year."
Dickerson's second homer of the game opened a 6-4 lead in the sixth inning. And the Phillies held on to win the sort of game that they're going to have to win more often in the season's final weeks.
"They’re a really good club," Kingery said of the division-leading Braves. "A lot of guys with a lot of home runs on their team. But, yeah, for us to come out in the first inning and put up that four spot, that’s huge."