It dawned on Zack Wheeler in the eighth inning Sunday that he hadn’t put a runner on base for a while. How long? He wasn’t sure, nor was he aware that the last Phillies pitcher to retire as many consecutive batters in a game was the Hall of Famer whose uniform number was retired a few hours earlier.
“To do that on his day,” Wheeler said, “what can you say?”
Seriously, though, what can you say about this day -- or this past week? They almost defy words.
Before the game, the Phillies took the late Roy Halladay’s No. 34 out of circulation forever in a poignant ceremony. Then Wheeler, making his 34th start for the Phillies, twirled a gem that would have made Halladay blush. He threw a two-hit shutout in a 3-0 victory over the free-falling New York Mets -- his former team, no less -- and gave the Phillies their eighth victory in a row. At one point, he retired 22 straight batters, the most by a Phillies pitcher since -- you guessed it -- Halladay’s perfect game on May 29, 2010.
How’s that for baseball poetry?
“It was like Roy had his hand on him,” manager Joe Girardi said, fighting back tears.
That’s eight consecutive wins now for the Phillies, their longest streak since a nine-game roll from July 29-Aug. 6, 2011 -- the last year they made the playoffs.
OK, so it’s too soon to mention the postseason. But this is what kind of week it was for the Phillies: They began last Sunday in third place, 4 1/2 games behind Mets; they will wake up Monday 2 1/2 games in front of New York, two ahead of the second-place Atlanta Braves. It’s the first time in 105 years -- since September 1916 -- that they moved into first place within a seven-day span of being at least four games out in August or later, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
So, when Wheeler trotted back to the mound for the ninth inning, the announced crowd of 39,186 -- largest at Citizens Bank Park since Sept. 14, 2019 -- erupted in applause. A fan base that’s thirsting for winning baseball, that hasn’t seen the postseason since Halladay’s epic duel with St. Louis’ Chris Carpenter on that fateful night in 2011, finally seems ready to fall for a team again.
“We know what time of year it is. We know who we’re playing and what’s at stake,” Wheeler said. “To come out here and really bear down today and get this win and get the sweep and put ourself that much more in front ...”
Wheeler shifted gears. He didn’t want to get ahead of himself.
“We’ve still got a lot of baseball left. We’ve got to concentrate and just know the task at hand basically and just come ready to play every day.”
Girardi thought it was Wheeler’s best start of the season, which is saying something considering the All-Star right-hander has emerged as a favorite to win the National League Cy Young Award.
But with a chance to sweep the Mets two days after passing them to reach the apex of the division, Wheeler dialed up his blazing fastball and didn’t relent. He threw 18 pitches that registered 99 mph or faster through four innings, according to Statcast, his most ever in a start. He gave up a leadoff double to Brandon Nimmo and then nothing else until Michael Conforto’s one-out walk in the eighth.
And with his 108th and final pitch, he whiffed Pete Alonso with a sinker that registered 98 mph.
“I didn’t want to come out of the game. I wanted to finish that game,” Wheeler said. “With the fans as crazy as they were and as loud as they were, it gave me that extra little bit that I needed to get through that.”
Wheeler said he wanted to lean on his fastball regardless of the opponent. But the Mets, by their admission, have had trouble handling fastballs all season. Wheeler recognized the weakness and exploited it.
“I’m not shocked,” Bryce Harper said. “That’s him. Just vintage Wheeler out there doing his thing.”
Just like Halladay used to do.
“It just happened to be on Roy’s day. That gave me a little push,” Wheeler said. “I saw his number on the back of the mound every time, so it pushed me a little bit more.”
Segura sets tone
Jean Segura, who had X-rays Saturday night after a pitch hit his lip after ricocheting off his finger, returned to the lineup and drove Mets starter Taijuan Walker’s 12th pitch of the game out of the park to left field.
J.T. Realmuto went deep two batters later, and although it was only 2-0, it felt like the Mets -- losers of nine of their last 11 games -- had no chance.
“Jean giving us the lead right away, with the way that Zack looked today, I thought it was really important,” Girardi said. “Then you get another one from J.T. and it’s 2-0, and when Zack is on the mound, sometimes that’s a lot of runs because he’s that good.”
With a solo shot in the sixth inning, Bryce Harper reached the 20-homer mark for the eighth time in 10 years. He’s also the fifth active player with at least eight 20-homer seasons by age 28, joining Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, and Albert Pujols.
Harper has also reached base in 17 consecutive games, posting a .551 on-base percentage in that span.