BOSTON -- Asked the other day to sum up the first half of the Phillies’ season, Rhys Hoskins answered like this: “We’ve gone through some [stuff].”
Only the first baseman didn’t say “stuff.”
It was an interesting take. Yes, the Phillies dealt with injuries and crushing losses. But the former was mostly nagging issues that caused short-term absences, nothing as devastating as Atlanta Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr.’s season-ending knee injury, while the latter was self-inflicted by a bullpen that leads baseball in blown saves and porous defense at most positions.
Hoskins’ point, though, that the Phillies haven’t had their full lineup on the field very often, is well-taken. Layer on third baseman Alec Bohm’s positive COVID-19 test Saturday night and contact tracing that took out three players, including Sunday’s scheduled starter Aaron Nola, and there was even more stuff to overcome.
Yet the Phillies got to the All-Star break with a .500 record after hanging on for a 5-4 victory here Sunday over the Boston Red Sox. They scored early against old pal Nick Pivetta, got three solid innings from just-recalled lefty Cristopher Sánchez, and a gutsy 45-pitch save from Ranger Suárez to close the week with a 5-2 record at Wrigley Field and Fenway Park and the first half with a 44-44 mark.
“The last 10 days we have played extremely well,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We’ve taken some series from some good teams. We had a winning road trip. Extremely proud.”
Nobody will pop champagne over a .500 record in July. But the Phillies are entitled to pound their chest a little after their best road trip in, what, at least two years? Longer than that, probably. They hadn’t won five games on a seven-game trip since June 16-22, 2014.
The Phillies scored 60 runs and hit 16 homers in Chicago and Boston. They took three games from the free-falling Cubs, then backed it up with two victories over a Red Sox team that leads the American League in wins. They have won seven of nine games overall and three series in a row, including last weekend at home against the contending San Diego Padres. And for the first time since a four-game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers back in May, they can seriously claim to have momentum.
“We’ve gone through some high ups, and then we’ve had some heartbreaking, weird, just crushing losses,” Hoskins said. “Knowing that we kind of haven’t really put it all together yet and we’re still [3 1/2] games out of first place and we haven’t really played our best baseball yet is something we can hang our hat on and really could instill some confidence in us going into the second half.”
If only they didn’t have to take the next four days off.
“With the way our guys are swinging the bats, yeah, you’d like to keep going,” Girardi said. “But I think there are some guys that can probably use a rest, let them recharge, and we’ll come back to work on Friday.”
Ranger saves the day
Suárez may be the symbol of the Phillies’ resurgence.
The 25-year-old lefty has come back from injuries, COVID-19, and visa issues in spring training to post a 0.77 ERA in 21 appearances since getting called up from triple A. Designated as the closer last week, he’s actually a converted starter with the ability to pitch multiple innings, a skill that came in handy with Nola unable to start and Girardi hoping to piece together nine innings among six pitchers.
By the time the Phillies got to the sixth, they had a one-run lead and seven outs to get. It was at least one out more than Girardi planned to get from Suárez, but there wasn’t much choice.
“I just felt that he would be OK just because he is so good about keeping pitch counts down in innings,” Girardi said. “Fortunately he came up big for us.”
Indeed, Suárez worked out of a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the eighth inning by calmly getting Alex Verdugo to ground out. Then, he plowed through the heart of the Red Sox’ order -- J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, and Rafael Devers -- in the ninth.
Suárez picked up the Phillies’ first seven-out save in a one-run game since Don Carman on June 19, 1985. It would’ve made Tug McGraw proud.
Out of their depth
For a team that often suffers from a lack of depth on the bottom two-thirds of the roster, the Phillies got major contributions from a utility infielder and a last-minute call-up.
Ronald Torreyes stepped in for Bohm, just as he did last month when shortstop Didi Gregorius was injured, and collected three hits. Hoskins recently called Torreyes a “spark plug.” He’s been more like a savior. Torreyes has started 31 of the last 46 games and gone 31-for-115 (.270) with three homers and 18 RBIs in those starts while playing solid defense.
“Every time I play I know that I have to do at least a little bit to help the team win,” Torreyes said through the interpreter.
Sánchez got called up late Saturday night, arrived at Fenway Park at about 9 a.m. after throwing a bullpen session the previous day in Lehigh Valley, and found out he would the “bulk reliever” after Brandon Kintzler started the game as an opener.
In his second career major-league appearance, Sánchez allowed one run on four hits in three innings.
“I felt very good coming in,” Sánchez said through a team interpreter. “My plan was to attack the hitters early in their at-bats because I wanted to keep the number of pitches low. It’s great when you’re able to execute your pitches and do your job right.”