MIAMI — In September, in a playoff race, it isn’t about style points. So if it takes nine relievers and 10 innings and a two-out single by a player who was hitless in his previous 10 at-bats, well, then that’s what it takes.
Needing a victory to ward off a sweep by the thorny Marlins and avoid losing ground to the division-leading Atlanta Braves, the Phillies got a 10th-inning RBI single by Odúbel Herrera and a two-inning stint by closer Ian Kennedy and escaped Miami with a 4-3 squeaker.
“It’s a huge win right there,” said Bryce Harper, who homered in the fourth inning but also made the head-scratching choice to pass up an RBI opportunity by bunting in the sixth (more on that later). ”It’s a good opportunity to put this series behind us and make sure we at least got one of the games of the three.”
Rather than using struggling No. 5 starter Matt Moore, manager Joe Girardi deployed a parade of relievers. It began with Sam Coonrod and continued with Bailey Falter, Ramón Rosso, Connor Brogdon, José Alvarado, Héctor Neris, Cam Bedrosian, Archie Bradley, and finally Kennedy, who recorded six outs in a game for the first time since Aug. 15, 2020.
It wasn’t conventional, but it worked. Bullpenning is easier when you carry 12 relievers, including Moore, and have a lockdown closer. Kennedy, acquired from Texas at the trade deadline, has gone 6-for-7 in save opportunities and brought stability to the ninth inning.
“You don’t plan to use your closer for two innings,” Girardi said. “When you draw it up, you draw it up better than that. But he had a quick first inning and I felt like he could go back out because he was pretty rested.”
Indeed, Kennedy had pitched once in seven days and not at all here, as the Phillies dropped the first two games of the series. He retired all six batters, the final two via strikeouts. He set up Sandy León with his fastball and punched him out with the curveball, then overpowered Deven Marrero.
“He doesn’t get overwhelmed or anything like that,” Harper said. “I love his fire and his passion on the mound, as well. He’s a guy that’s done it a long time. He’s going to be really good for us down the stretch. We just need to make sure that we’re winning games and bringing him in the ballgame in the ninth to keep it where it’s at.”
The Braves’ victory in Colorado kept the Phillies two games back in the National League East. But they picked up a game in the wild-card hunt and trail the Cincinnati Reds by two games with 26 games remaining.
“We’ve got a great opportunity to be great,” Harper said. “I don’t think we have any fear in our minds or anything like that. We’ve got to keep going, not really worry about what other teams are doing. We have to win games.”
Bryce’s ... bunt?
The Marlins cooled Harper, who went 2-for-11 in the three games. But Harper also made it easier on them by laying down a sacrifice bunt with J.T. Realmuto on second base, nobody out against right-hander Zach Thompson, and the Phillies leading by one run in the sixth inning.
“Lay it down, get him over for the guy behind me to get it done,” Harper said, explaining his thought process. “It’s a huge opportunity to get ahead in that game and make up the difference.”
Girardi said Harper bunted on his own, without input from the dugout. Asked what he thought of the decision, Girardi shook his head and smiled.
“No comment,” he said.
It was only Harper’s second sacrifice bunt of the season and just his third in the last seven years. And Realmuto was left stranded at third after Andrew McCutchen and Didi Gregorius grounded out.
“This whole series I didn’t play well at all,” Harper said. “I didn’t hit well at all. I need to be better.”
Defense hurt the Phillies once again, leading to two Marlins runs.
In the second inning, lefty Bailey Falter got a grounder to first base that could have bailed the Phillies out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam. One problem: He didn’t cover first. Brad Miller got the force at second but was too far from first base to get back for the return throw. Freddy Galvis came over from second base but didn’t arrive in time, and the Marlins scored the game’s first run.
Then, with the Phillies leading by one run on Galvis’ two-run homer, Miller was unable to handle Jazz Chisholm’s chopper to open the bottom of the sixth inning. Three batters later, he scored the tying run on a fielder’s choice.
Bedrosian ran the seventh leg of the Phillies’ bullpen relay, and it turned into a test of endurance.
With the game tied at 3-3, Bedrosian won a 12-pitch duel with Alex Jackson, finally striking him out to open the Marlins’ seventh inning. But Isan Díaz worked a nine-pitch walk. Bedrosian regrouped and got pinch hitting Jesús Aguilar and pesky Miguel Rojas to fly out to center field.