Five batters into Wednesday night’s game, Didi Gregorius gave the Phillies a five-run lead with one of his patented grand slams. And after rounding first base, about 140 feet into his home-run trot, he looked out to the bullpen in right-center field, raised his right arm, and held up two fingers as if to tell a group of mostly overused relievers that they could finally exhale.
Talk about wishful thinking.
The Phillies’ last four wins have been one-run games. The total margin of victory in their last nine wins is 12 runs. They haven’t won a game by more than two runs since April 16. Laughers don’t exist here. Neither will manager Joe Girardi’s fingernails if this keeps up.
True to form, then, the five-run outburst in the first inning was the extent of the Phillies’ offense. Starting pitcher Chase Anderson recorded only 13 outs. And after taxing his best relievers lately, Girardi was left to put a one-run lead in the hands of a starter who hadn’t pitched in 18 days and a just-recalled reliever whose last appearance in a major-league game was 681 days earlier.
What could possibly go wrong?
But lefty Matt Moore got a big double play in the seventh inning, and Enyel De Los Santos stranded the tying run on third base in the eighth. Jose Alvarado returned from a two-game suspension to pitch a scoreless ninth inning, and the Phillies escaped with a 5-4 victory, their third consecutive one-run win over the Milwaukee Brewers, at Citizens Bank Park.
OK, now exhale — at least until Thursday’s matinee series finale.
If this were football and Girardi was handing out game balls, they would go to Moore and De Los Santos, unlikely setup men in a bullpen stretched thin by the frequency of close games and a two-week stretch without the Phillies having a day off.
“I didn’t know what to expect, to be honest,” Girardi said of Moore, although the same sentiment applied to De Los Santos. “How sharp would he be? Would he be able to throw strikes?”
It shouldn’t have come to that. The Phillies scored five runs before Brewers starter Freddy Peralta could blink — or record an out. Gregorius punctuated the first-inning ambush with his eighth career grand slam, fourth among active players and the most by any player in baseball since 2017.
But Peralta struck out six consecutive batters after Gregorius’ drive into the right-field bleachers. The Phillies had only one hit the rest of the game, a two-out single by Odúbel Herrera in the fourth inning.
The Brewers cut the margin to 5-4 in the fifth inning against lefty reliever JoJo Romero. And after Brandon Kintzler stabilized things with a scoreless sixth inning, the bullpen still had nine more outs to get. And neither Sam Coonrod nor closer Héctor Neris was available after recording five-out saves in the previous two games.
Moore began the season in the starting rotation and struggled before being placed on the COVID-19 injury list. He didn’t test positive. He said he even has been vaccinated. But he was deemed to have been a close contact to someone who was infected and spent seven days in MLB’s virus protocol.
Despite rejoining the Phillies last week, Moore neither regained his rotation spot from Vince Velasquez nor appeared in a game. He was caught in the no-man’s land of trying to build back his arm strength but also needing to remain available in case Girardi had to use him out of the bullpen. It’s a difficult balancing act.
“From a reps standpoint or trying to keep some kind of endurance built up in my arm, you can’t really replicate that,” Moore said. “It’s just more trying to do the things I can in prep work, getting off the mound every other day for 10 pitches or so. You’re just trying to be ready for when it’s your turn to pick up the rope.”
Girardi planned to get Moore into Wednesday night’s game somehow. Ideally, it wouldn’t have been with a one-run lead. But he liked Moore in the seventh inning because the Brewers had two left-handed hitters due to bat. After a leadoff walk to Lorenzo Cain, Moore got one of the lefties (Daniel Vogelbach) to ground into a double play and struck out the other (Travis Shaw).
“I didn’t feel sharp to Cain,” Moore said. “Just kind of after the warmup pitches I kind of felt like, alright, it’s not new. It’s just been a little while. Then from there you just try to pick up the dirty spot in the glove.”
Then it was De Los Santos’ turn. At last. After being denied entry to the game one night earlier because his name mistakenly didn’t appear on the umpires’ lineup card, the big right-hander came on and allowed a leadoff double to Avisaíl García. He got the next two batters out before wild-pitching García to third and hitting No. 8 batter Luke Maile with a two-strike fastball.
But De Los Santos got out of it by getting Tyrone Taylor to roll a grounder to shortstop for an inning-ending force at second base.
“Just a gutsy performance, especially given the situation,” Girardi said. “Someone who comes up and is not on the original roster is not usually the eighth-inning guy. He did a really good job.”
The Phillies took De Los Santos off the 40-man roster last year. But he impressed them in spring training with a spike in his fastball velocity and an improved changeup and slider.
“Last year he was 90 to 92, maybe 93,” Girardi said. “We saw 97s this spring.”
Just like the pitch he threw to strike out Billy McKinney in the eighth inning.
An overturned call took a run off the board in the third inning. Herrera threw a rainbow from center field to the plate, and Vogelbach appeared to slide in safely under J.T. Realmuto’s tag. But Hudson’s call was reversed, and Anderson got out of the inning with a 5-1 lead.
Anderson gave up a leadoff homer to pinch-hitting Taylor in the fifth inning, then issued a one-out walk to Cain, at which point Girardi went to the bullpen. Romero was the first man up, and he allowed two hits and a walk, as the Brewers drew to within one run.
But Moore and De Los Santos got six late-game outs. Just as the Phillies drew it up, right?
“Those guys picked me up tonight,” Anderson said. “Hats off to those guys tonight, Hopefully next time I pick them up.”