MIAMI -- Corey Dickerson’s fly ball bounced off the warning track, kicked over the left-field wall, and Saturday night began to feel an awful lot like Friday.
The ground-rule double brought in two runs and put the Phillies ahead by five runs in the fourth inning of an eventual 9-3 win over the Marlins. But no lead was big enough for the Phillies to feel safe after blowing a seven-run advantage a night earlier.
So they held their breath on Saturday and watched Zach Eflin pitch six strong innings to keep the lead safe. It was not enough to make up for Friday’s embarrassment, but it was enough for the Phillies to recover and put themselves in position to win a series over the last-place Marlins on Sunday behind Aaron Nola.
It was also enough for the Phillies to gain some ground in the wild-card race as they picked up a game on the Cubs to get within 1½ games of the National League’s second wild card. Friday night was brutal, but it was not enough to disqualify the Phillies from playoff contention.
“It’s a hard game. But also we deal with failure every day,” Dickerson said after driving in five runs. “It’s tough. But that’s what makes this game great. We all have short memories. If you didn’t, you couldn’t play this game professionally. Losing one game, it’s still one game. Wash it, keep going. Guys here are really close. Good friends. They’re positive. That attribute and the one common goal to win is huge.”
Dickerson’s double in the fourth capped a six-run half inning that took 39 minutes to complete. He has multi-RBIs in three straight games and looks comfortable at the plate for the first time since the Phillies added him before the trade deadline.
Dickerson said the last month has been “a scuffle.” He was nursing a groin injury when the Phillies acquired him from Pittsburgh and was hit by a pitch on the hand earlier this month. He leaned on his teammates, and new hitting coach Charlie Manuel to power through what he called “a few not-so-great days in a row." He stopped worrying about his mechanics and went to the plate with a clear mind.
“Don’t worry about my swing so much. I mean, I’ve toe-tapped before. I’ve leg-kicked. I’ve had a two-strike approach. All those things,” Dickerson said. "It’s one of those things, you look at who is pitching that day and what feels comfortable. You go in the cage. You hit. You try to be perfect. And I quit trying to be perfect. I just tried to have a good feel. I think having that good feel brings some positive attitude. Being positive helps a lot. "
The Phillies saw 62 pitches in the fourth inning, walked four times and sent 12 batters to the plate as the Marlins struggled to find the strike zone. Dickerson had two hits in the inning. Scott Kingery hit a three-run homer for his 15th of the season, and J.T. Realmuto walked with the bases loaded one batter before Dickerson’s ground-rule double gave the Phillies a 6-1 lead.
The inning was a window in the disparity between the teams. The Marlins entered the series on an six-game losing streak and have won just 13 of their 40 games since the all-star break. The Phillies might be maddening, but the Marlins are hapless. Yet the Marlins blew out the Phillies on Friday night and have won eight of their 15 games this season against them.
The Phillies are the only team in the National League East with a losing record against the Marlins. They entered Saturday with a season-high 10½-game deficit behind Atlanta. There are plenty of reasons why the Phillies are buried in the division standings, but their struggles this season against the Marlins are near the top.
Eflin allowed two runs in six innings as he made his second start since returning to the starting rotation for the injured Jake Arrieta. He struck out two, walked none and allowed six hits. He induced plenty of ground balls while relying on his sinker. Eflin had become reliant on his four-seam fastball as the Phillies tried to have him try to rack up strikeouts instead of ground balls. Eflin reverted back to what worked best in the past.
“It had been the couple outings previous with me going to the bullpen that I was kind of really wanting to go back to sinkerballing and getting early contact,” Eflin said. “That’s when I got moved to the bullpen and it was kind of tough to figure out what I wanted to do from a bullpen standpoint, whether I wanted to keep doing the swing-and-miss stuff or start implementing my sinker. It had been three or four weeks in the making, and then going back to the rotation I was pretty dead set on it.”
Ever thin on starting pitching, the Phillies need someone like Eflin to step up over the season’s final stretch. A night like Saturday -- he even had a pair of hits -- was a move in the right direction.
Eflin left the mound with the Phillies ahead by four runs. They needed nine more outs, but a win still did not feel safe. And then Dickerson drove another fly ball to the outfield. This time, it dropped in right-center and bounced off the wall. Three runs scored. The Phillies had a seven-run lead, the same margin they blew on Friday night.
This time, it was safe.