Sometimes it’s the smallest things, a well-placed infield chopper or a broken-bat bloop over someone’s head, that shakes an offense from a long, deep, seemingly ceaseless teamwide hibernation.
For the Phillies, it was the smallest player.
Ronald Torreyes, all of 5-foot-8 and 155 pounds, hit his first major league home run in 1,402 days in the third inning Tuesday night. It was a solo number that barely curled inside the left-field foul pole, a cheapie even by the standards of Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park.
But the long and short of it was that the fill-in shortstop’s long ball turned on a spigot that was shut off for the season’s first two months. It started a club-record-tying seven-homer onslaught in a 17-3 knee-slapper against the Reds that halted a three-game losing skid and represented the Phillies’ largest offensive output since a 20-run barrage on April 7, 2018, at home against the Marlins.
“It’s refreshing,” said Alec Bohm, the cratering young third baseman who picked up three hits, including the go-ahead single in the third inning. “For everybody. For the team, myself, everybody.”
And it was bound to happen, first baseman Rhys Hoskins said one day earlier after a 10-run Memorial Day embarrassment in the same ballpark against the same opponent. Who could see it happening so soon, though? Surely anyone who watched the Phillies score a total of 13 runs in their previous six games couldn’t have guessed that Torreyes, Odúbel Herrera (twice), Hoskins, Andrew McCutchen (twice), and Matt Joyce would all go deep.
But as Bohm and McCutchen told it, there were two favorable pregame omens. Bohm’s story, and he’s sticking to it, is that utilityman Brad Miller predicted Torreyes would hit a home run. Not even Miss Cleo would’ve been so bold. Torreyes hadn’t gone deep in the majors since July 30, 2017.
“We’re hitting BP. It’s me, Brad, and Toe, and [Miller] said, ‘I’ve got Toe going deep today,’” Bohm said, laughing. “Sure enough, first at-bat. I’ll give that one to Brad.”
Then, according to McCutchen, a bird pooped on reliever Archie Bradley and one of the coaches. And if that isn’t some kind of gross good fortune, well, what’s the sense in believing in luck?
“It happened to a couple guys. Not just one guy. It was a couple guys,” McCutchen said. “We were like, ‘Yeah, it’s changing. It’s changing. Here we go.’ I was like, ‘It’s going to be a great game tonight,’ and it ended up being a great game. I’m not saying it was the bird, but I don’t know. Hey, you’ve got to take whatever you can.”
Especially after a miserable May in which the Phillies went 12-16, dealt with injuries to three of their best hitters (Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, and Didi Gregorius), and lost six games in the standings to the division-leading Mets.
“Whatever happened the first two months, it’s behind us,” Bohm said. “That’s kind of the mindset here. We’re moving forward and we’re not looking backwards.”
So the suddenly charmed Phillies overcame a two-run deficit against Reds starter Sonny Gray in the third inning with solo homers by Torreyes and Herrera, went ahead in the fourth on Bohm’s two-out single, and then poured it on with one run in the fifth, six in the sixth, three in the eighth, and Joyce’s grand slam off Reds infielder Alex Blandino in the ninth. The last time they hit seven homers in a game: July 26, 2018, also at the Cincinnati launch pad. They also did it Sept. 8, 1998, at Veterans Stadium against the Mets.
OK, let’s pause for perspective. It was one game. In Cincinnati. And the Phillies came into it ranked 10th in the 15-team National League in runs scored and 11th in OPS. They were averaging 3.9 runs per game, a steep decline from last season (5.1) with an almost identical lineup.
But given the depths of the Phillies’ struggles, especially during this road trip, it must have felt cathartic.
“I think today was one of those days where everybody could kind of take a deep breath, sit back, relax, and just enjoy it, have fun,” Bohm said. “That’s just a good thing for the team to keep us going.”
It wasn’t only the home runs. Bohm, hitless in 12 at-bats after a second-inning strikeout to leave his average at .202, finally broke through. Herrera finished with three hits out of the leadoff spot. And Torreyes added an RBI double for good measure in the sixth inning.
Lost amid all the scoring: Aaron Nola recorded his 1,000th career strikeout in fewer innings than any pitcher in Phillies history. And the milestone strikeout was a big one. It came against dangerous Reds outfielder Jesse Winker with the tying run on second base in the fifth inning.
“It was a big strikeout looking back at it,” said Nola, who snapped a four-start winless streak. “We were battling. I got down to him 3-1, and didn’t give in to him right there. I knew I couldn’t walk him. Too big of a situation. Luckily I got the strikeout to end the inning.”
Said manager Joe Girardi: “It’s a big momentum-shift for us. I think that’s when we started to really jump on and score some runs.”
For a change, though, the Phillies’ defense worked for Nola, turning inning-ending double plays in the second, third, and fourth. He recorded only two strikeouts, his fewest in a start since April 3, 2019.
But he became the ninth pitcher in Phillies history to reach 1,000 career strikeouts. In reaching the mark in 913 innings, he got there faster than the others, surpassing Cole Hamels (1,046 2/3 innings). Nola, three days shy of his 28th birthday, also joined Hamels and Steve Carlton as the only Phillies pitchers to rack up 1,000 strikeouts before turning 28.
And then the offense came alive in a way that it hasn’t all year. Seventeen runs and seven homers are a one-off. But maybe it’s the start of something.
“God, I hope so,” Girardi said.