Hector Neris returned Tuesday night to the Phillies clubhouse as another loss loomed. The Phillies were three outs from toppling the mighty Dodgers before a rainstorm passed through Citizens Bank Park in time for Neris to allow a three-run homer, blow a save, and promptly be tossed for plunking the next batter.
Neris, dejected and ejected after blowing his second save in four days, sat at his locker and watched the game unfold from a flat-screen TV. He watched Andrew Knapp drive a one-out double in the ninth inning off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. It was the team’s first hit since the second inning. They still needed two more runs just to tie the game. But for Neris, there was hope.
“I said, ’Come on. It can happen to him, too’,” Neris said.
Neris’ plea — for the Phillies to rally against one of baseball’s best closers — sounded more like a prayer of desperation. But it came true. The Phillies scored three times in the ninth for their most stunning win of the season, 9-8.
Bryce Harper delivered the winning hit with a two-run double that skipped off the glove of Dodgers’ centerfielder A.J. Pollock. Neris was off the hook. The win did not change the fact that the Phillies lost a night earlier by 14 runs. It does not wash away that they have won only 12 of their last 31 games. Or cover the fact that Jay Bruce, their best power hitter, could be out for a significant time with a rib-cage injury. And it will not move them out of third place.
But the victory could be the night they have been hoping for weeks could right their season. No, the way the Phillies won on Tuesday is not sustainable. Their starting pitcher was roughed up, their offense did not have a run or hit between the second and ninth innings, and their shorthanded bullpen was stretched to the limit. But it was a win. And the Phillies, desperate to stop the losing, will take it.
"You can definitely make that case,” Kapler said, when asked if it was the biggest win of the season. “It’s a fair case to make.”
The biggest play of the ninth may have been the out that preceded Knapp’s double. Adam Haseley smoked a line drive off the foot of Kenley Jansen, but the pitcher recovered in time to throw Haseley out at first. Jansen remained in the game, but said afterward that he should have exited. Perhaps Jansen was hobbled enough for the Phillies to crack him.
Knapp doubled, moved to third on a single by Cesar Hernandez, and then scored when Scott Kingery dropped a single into shallow center that fell between three fielders. The Phillies, minutes after Neris allowed a three-run homer to pinch-hitter Matt Beaty, had a chance to win. And they had Harper at the plate.
“It's what it's all about. It's baseball,” Harper said. “I think going in there, Jansen's one of the best closers in all of baseball, it's always fun. The Dodgers-Phils and things like that. Big series. Any time you're facing one of the best in baseball, it's always a blast.”
Harper smoked the ball 110.4 mph. It was the hardest hit ball by a Phillies batter. Harper ripped off his helmet when he saw it bounce away from Pollock, pumped his fist, and roared towards the dugout. His teammates mobbed him at second base and pushed him into the outfield. The most shocking win of the season seemed to bring out the most emotion.
“It was a huge moment for Bryce and you could see it coming off the field after everybody was celebrating on the field, how important that was to him," Kapler said. “It meant a lot to him. He was clearly emotional and I understand there had been a lot of buildup that led to that moment. It was quite a release for him.”
Harper’s two-run double was his first hit since a three-run homer in the second. The Phillies jumped Dodgers right-hander Walker Buehler with homers from Harper, Brad Miller, and Kingery.
The Phillies, Kapler said, were frustrated Tuesday afternoon when they arrived at the ballpark. They had been humbled a night earlier by the National League leaders, jeered by visiting fans in their own park, and watched outfielder Roman Quinn pitch the final four outs. Maybe it was that frustration that pushed them to an early five-run lead.
“We never think we’re down,” Harper said. “I think as a team we just try to come in here every single day and have the same attitude each day. Sometimes you’re going to lose, and sometimes you’re going to lose badly like yesterday, and sometimes you’re going to win games like tonight. It’s a lot of fun.”
But then Velasquez trimmed that lead to just one. Kapler lifted him after allowing four homers in 4⅔ innings. He leaned on three relievers — Jose Alvarez, Juan Nicasio, and Adam Morgan — to hand Neris a one-run lead in the ninth.
Just as Neris finished his warm-up pitches, a storm poured over the ballpark. The game would be delayed for 22 minutes. Neris returned from the dugout, but soon the Phillies would trail. When he was ejected, Kapler argued his pitcher’s case. The pitch, they said, was not intentional. Soon, Kapler would be tossed, too. He followed Neris out of the dugout, but stayed a bit closer to the team than his closer. And soon an unlikely win would be realized.
“I was close enough to feel every moment of that,” Kapler said.