The opportunity for a doubleheader sweep of sorts presented itself Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, and the Phillies had Zack Wheeler available to make it happen. Their ace, with the help of three scoreless innings from the bullpen trio of Connor Brogdon, Bailey Falter, and Héctor Neris, did the job, albeit in a most peculiar way.
Wheeler, fresh off his three-pitch, one-strikeout All-Star Game appearance in Denver, delivered five dominant innings and earned the victory in a 7-4 win that enabled the Phillies to take three of the four games in the series with the often-irritating Miami Marlins. Wheeler, however, also endured a bumpy ride through the top of the third inning when Miami scorched a number of his offerings and scored four times on five hits, including a two-run homer by Adam Duvall.
“It was weird,” said catcher J.T. Realmuto, whose walk-off home run in the completion of Saturday’s suspended game gave the Phillies a 4-2 win to start the day off right. “Usually a team is lucky to get one or two runs in an inning [off Wheeler]. They don’t typically put together that many hits in a row off him. But it was really important, the three innings he pitched for us after he gave up that four-spot, because it saved the bullpen a little bit and it gave us a chance to get back in the ballgame.”
In his other five innings, Wheeler looked every bit like the dominant pitcher who has entered the National League Cy Young Award conversation as he allowed just one hit and struck out seven batters.
Wheeler said his only regret was the hanging breaking ball that Duvall planted in the right-field seats.
Down 4-2 after their ace’s turbulent third inning, the Phillies scored twice in the fifth on solo home runs by Andrew McCutchen and Didi Gregorius to pull even and twice more in the sixth to pull ahead. Jean Segura plated the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly after the bench duo of Travis Jankowski and Brad Miller opened the inning with consecutive pinch-hit singles.
The Phillies needed only 14 minutes Sunday to win Saturday night’s suspended game on the 10th-inning homer by Realmuto. The two wins pulled the Phillies within two games of the first-place New York Mets, who rallied for a win in Pittsburgh Sunday after blowing a big lead Saturday night.
“We always say that J.T. is one of the best catchers in the game and he proved why right there,” Wheeler said. “We needed a clutch hit and he walked us off. We need guys to step up, and so far so good in the second half.”
The Phillies, who have four straight series for the first time since 2018, were blessed by a fortuitous sequence of events after closer Ranger Suárez was charged with the team’s major league-leading 23rd blown save of the season in the ninth inning Saturday night.
First, the Mets blew a 6-0 lead in Pittsburgh to allow the Phillies to gain a half-game simply by going to bed. And then José Alvarado, who had thrown two pitches before Saturday night’s game was suspended, arrived at the ballpark Sunday morning and told manager Joe Girardi he felt great.
Alvarado backed up his words by also pitching great. He retired all three batters he faced in the top of the 10th and stranded designated runner Sandy León to set the stage for Realmuto’s heroics on a 0-2 fastball from Miami reliever Yimi García.
Segura had started the bottom of the 10th with a sacrifice bunt that moved designated runner Jankowski to third base. Then Realmuto crushed a high, 98 mph fastball into the right-field seats for his ninth home run of the season.
The bullpen delivered three more scoreless innings in the second game, with Neris picking up the save by pitching a perfect ninth after also pitching two scoreless innings in Saturday night’s suspended game.
“It seems like his split-finger is back to what he had earlier in the year and has had in the past,” Realmuto said. “When he was struggling, it didn’t quite have the same bite to it ... and he didn’t control it as well. Now he can get ahead with the fastball and ... really rely on that splitty. When he’s throwing like that, this team is a lot better.”
For the month of July, the Phillies have been really good, going 10-4 while making the case that the front office should be buyers at the trade deadline.
“Hopefully, we’re making the right case,” Realmuto said. “We’d like to not have made the case this late. We’d like to have played better earlier in the season. But now that we’ve got everybody back on the field and playing well, we’re doing all we can to convince them to go out and get what we need to compete and get to the postseason.”