MILWAUKEE -- The first seven innings of Saturday’s 7-2 win at Miller Park seemed to come easy for Jake Arrieta. His sinker was full of life, his pitch count was low, he was racking up strikeouts, and he was forcing the Brewers hitters to make weak contact.
The veteran right-hander did give up a homer with two outs in the seventh inning, but that was after retiring 16 straight batters, and he needed just one pitch to end the inning. The Phillies had a three-run lead, and Arrieta, just when the team needed him the most, was cruising.
And then the grind began. Arrieta completed eight innings, but his final inning seemed to be more taxing than the previous seven combined.
The Brewers started the eighth with a leadoff single and a one-out double. Manager Gabe Kapler watched from the dugout. This inning belonged to Arrieta. A run scored on a groundout, trimming the Phillies’ lead to two with the top of the dangerous Brewers lineup coming up.
It no longer seemed to come easy for Arrieta. He fell behind Lorenzo Cain, 3-1, and was one ball away from bringing up reigning National League MVP Christian Yelich. Cain watched the next pitch, a sinker, and thought he had ball four. Instead, umpire Mike Estabrook called strike two. Arrieta threw another sinker, and Cain pounded it into the ground, and the inning was over. With some late grit, Arrieta’s work was done.
“I think he recognized the magnitude of the moment,” Kapler said. “I think the bigger the moment, the more Jake elevates his game. He's shown that historically he's pretty good at that.”
Arrieta struck out eight and allowed just two runs on five hits and one walk. The Phillies bullpen needed a rest, and Arrieta provided it. The Phillies have won seven of their last nine games and have won or tied eight of their last nine series. They salvaged a series split at Wrigley Field and will try Sunday to finish the challenging seven-game road trip with a sweep of the Brewers.
“We’re one of the best teams in baseball,” Arrieta said. “We showed it in Chicago. We probably could’ve won another one of the games there, but to split a series with them at Wrigley and get the first two at this ballpark against one of the best teams in baseball, one of the best offenses in baseball, speaks volumes about the group we have... . We’re rolling, and we feel good about where we’re at. I think we just showed the rest of baseball that we’re one of the best teams, and we deserve to be in that category.”
Arrieta had a lead before throwing a pitch, as Andrew McCutchen hit the second pitch of the game 431 feet for a leadoff homer. In the second, Jean Segura’s bases-loaded walk forced in another run. Cesar Hernandez homered and had an RBI single. Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto homered in the ninth, making it easier for Kapler to turn to his bullpen for just three outs.
Hoskins went 15 games without an extra-base hit before homering on Friday night. He found something to fix in his swing while watching video in Chicago with hitting coach John Mallee. The Phillies built a lineup that can withstand a slump from any one of its hitters.
“It’s baseball; it’s going to happen," Hoskins said. "Each of us is probably going to do it again throughout the season. But, it’s a lot easier to walk with your head high come the next day, ready to work, because you know you have a ton of talented guys around you that are going to get the job done.”
Kapler used five relievers on Friday night, after Jerad Eickhoff’s start lasted just three innings. Entering Saturday, the bullpen logged 47 1/3 innings in the previous 12 games. The first five games of the road trip were taxing. A game like Saturday’s was badly needed. The Phillies were able to stay away from their priority relievers, and they have an off-day on Monday.
But, when trouble brewed in the eighth inning, a relaxing day for the bullpen no longer seemed like a guarantee. Arrieta said he assumed Cain would be his last batter. And he made sure it was the last batter of the inning.