For the Phillies to succeed on a challenging path to the postseason, Andrew Knapp said, they need to win games the way they did on Wednesday night.
No, they don’t need to blow two saves each night or beat teams on walk-off passed balls like they did in a 6-5 win over the Cubs, but the Phils will have to show some resolve over their final 17 games if they are going to chase down a playoff spot.
“Sometimes you’re going to get punched in the face,” said Knapp, who scored the winning run. “We’ve been talking about being able to flush everything and really focus on the next inning and the next pitch and going out and continuing to battle. I think it would have been really easy for us to crumble after giving up the lead a couple times. For us to fight back and win in that fashion, I think it shows a lot of heart.”
It didn’t come easy, but the win moved the Phillies a game over .500 and within 3½ games of Atlanta after the first-place Braves fell at home to the Rockies.
The Phillies blew a save in the eighth, took a lead in the bottom of the inning on a homer by J.T. Realmuto, and blew it again in the ninth. Knapp started the ninth with a single before moving to third with two outs and scoring on a passed ball. Cubs catcher Robinson Chirinos was unable to glove Trevor Megill’s curveball and Knapp scored with ease.
Since Aug. 30, the Braves have lost nine of their last 15 games yet their division lead remains the same. Atlanta has stumbled this month, but the Phillies have failed to take advantage and that’s why their playoff odds remain slim. But they’d be even slimmer if they didn’t fight back on Wednesday.
“We won the game and that’s all that matters,” manager Joe Girardi said. “That’s the important part at this point and it doesn’t really matter how you do it.”
Girardi said Wednesday afternoon that J.T. Realmuto’s right shoulder bothers him most when he swings and misses. So Realmuto’s swing in the eighth inning must have been pain-free.
Realmuto didn’t miss when he connected on a first-pitch fastball to lead off the inning with a go-ahead homer after the bullpen blew its 31st save of the season in the top of the eighth.
Realmuto’s shoulder bothered him enough last week that he had an anti-inflammatory injection after Sunday’s game and was out of the lineup for Tuesday’s loss. The Phillies think the injection can keep him active the rest of the way and it wasn’t hard to see the impact of having Realmuto in the lineup. He had three hits, including an RBI single in the fifth.
“We ask him how he’s feeling and he keeps it pretty close to his chest,” Knapp said. “For him to have to go and get a shot, it’s obviously been bugging him ... He’s just a grinder. He’s a leader and we need him on the field. That was huge for us.”
The Phillies’ late-inning troubles could soon move from frustrating to historic. After two blown saves on Wednesday, the Phillies have 32 for the season, which is just two shy of the major-league record set in 2004 by Colorado.
José Alvarado started the eighth by hitting the leadoff man before Chirinos homered with one out. The erratic left-hander hit one more batter before he was lifted. Ian Kennedy, facing a save situation for the first time since his blown save last Thursday, allowed a leadoff homer on the first pitch he threw in the ninth to tie the game.
They were able to overcome it on Wednesday, but it’s hard to imagine the Phillies reaching the playoffs if they’re unable to solidify the late innings.
“It’s how we’re set up,” Girardi said. “People might say, well why didn’t you use Héctor Neris in the ninth? Well, you think about the seventh inning and the hitters that Héctor went through, they were really important. Sometimes a save can be earlier in the game and you have to get to the ninth, that’s the other thing. It’s kind of how we’re set up and we need guys to step up and make pitches.”
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Ranger Suárez’s night could have easily unraveled when Didi Gregorius botched a grounder that should have ended the third inning.
Instead of turning a double play, Gregorius kept the inning alive and soon the bases were loaded. But the Phillies moved Suárez this season from long reliever to setup man to closer to starting pitcher because of his unflappable mound presence. So why would this test him?
Suárez didn’t blink. He retired two of the three batters he faced after Gregorius’ error and ended the inning without a run.
“I have a lot of confidence in my teammates and the players on the field. Didi is a great shortstop,” Suárez said. “He might have made that error, but then he had two really good defensive plays.”
Suárez pitched six innings, allowed two runs, and gave the bullpen a lead to blow. He threw 14 extra pitches after Gregorius’ error as the play may have cost Suárez from pitching another inning. He has a 1.85 ERA in nine starts since sliding last month into the rotation, appearing to solidify his place in next season’s starting rotation.
The Phillies won’t expect Freddy Galvis to carry their lineup as they play him nearly every day at third base down the stretch, but they’ll take nights like Wednesday. Galvis had three hits, including a two-run homer in the fourth that gave the Phillies a three-run lead. It was Galvis’ fourth homer in his last 10 games.
“I’m feeling much better right now,” said Galvis, who was on the injured list with a groin injury when the Phillies acquired him at the trade deadline. “Being out for almost two months, it was hard to get my timing. But trying to get my timing, trying to do my job, and trying to help get the team some wins, and trying to play the best way I can play.”